John Byrne is notorious for claiming that nobody but the creators of the major comics characters (e.g. Siegel and Shuster, Lee and Kirby) truly understands them, so everyone else who handles them inevitably gets it wrong (except of course Byrne himself, the one true heir to the titans). The Hawk and the Dove are a good example of how that’s not true.

Ditko created them in Showcase #75 (though this article says it wasn’t his idea alone). Gil Kane, Steve Skeates and other talented creators worked on the short-lived Silver Age series that followed. But it wasn’t until other creators handled them in the 1980s that the characters became interesting.

This isn’t a unique situation. Jerry Siegel and Bernard Bailey created the Spectre, but it’s the Michael Fleisher/Jim Aparo Bronze Age version that everyone remembers (even though I prefer the John Ostrander/Tom Mandrake take). Lee and Kirby created the X-Men, but it was Chris Claremonet, Byrne and Dave Cockrum who made them superstars. Sometimes the successors surpass the originators.

Like Beware the Creeper, Hawk and the Dove was a surprisingly mundane series for the end of the Silver Age, with Hank and Don Hall fighting thugs even less memorable than the Creeper’s foes. That may be because this was a series about ideology rather than just crimefighting. Hank was a macho jock who supported the Vietnam War, Don a sensitive, anti-war intellectual. When their moderate, centrist father, Judge Irwin Hall, gets kidnapped, the brothers try to rescue him and fail. A voice from nowhere declares that as Hank and Don are a hawk and a dove — terms laden with political weight in the Vietnam era — so it shall be: they have but to say the names to become superheroes, with their natural skills and abilities enhanced. The costumed duo save their father, then continue to fight crime.

When the book went to series, the focus on the philosophical and personal differences between the brothers remained a core of the stories. The bad guys they went up against weren’t the selling point. Unfortunately, the clash of Right vs. Left was seriously unbalanced: where Hawk would charged in and hit people, Dove pondered ethics and avoided violence. In the link above, Skeates says Ditko and editor Dick Giordano simply couldn’t see Dove as anything but a wimp so whatever Skeates wrote to the contrary got rewritten. On top of which the Comics Code didn’t allow heroes to disrespect the government, so Dove couldn’t stick it to the man. He couldn’t even criticize the man. It was a recipe for blah.

The brothers jumped to Teen Titans for a while and would have shown up in Bob Rozakis’ proposed Titans West series in the Bronze Age. But for an actual good Hawk and Dove story we had to wait for Brave and Bold #181, by Alan Brennert and Jim Aparo, “Time, See What’s Become of Me.” It’s Brennert. It’s good.

In this story, the brothers have retired as heroes, aged in real time and gotten on with their lives … except they really haven’t. Hank clings to the same macho beliefs he had as a teen and can’t understand why his life isn’t working out. Don, despite his brains, is as a low-level clerk in the government bureaucracy; isn’t serving the people superior to the class snobbery of a job that uses his intellect? Circumstances force the brothers back into costume, but things go horribly wrong.

At the end the Voice tells them it failed. Instead of learning to appreciate each other’s perspective, its gift of power convinced each brother his position was right, locking them in place. Dick Giordano said he wanted to give the Hall brothers a send-off as they were too much a product of a specific time and the politics of that time to use any more.

It’s a great story, but Marv Wolfman promptly retconned it away: the brothers show up that Donna Troy’s wedding, clearly not aged any more than the other Titans. This seems to have been an issue with Wolfman as he justified a couple of other retcons with “clearly this character isn’t the right age for that to be true.” I could understand tossing out the Brennert story if Marv had some grand plan for their future, but all he wanted to do was kill Dove in Crisis on Infinite Earths.

With his brother, Hawk became a joke, a macho straw man conservative about one step above Steve Englehart’s psycho Commie-busting take on the 1950s Captain America; liberal though I am, I still found Hawk’s portrayal clumsily over the top. But then Barbara Kesel, Karl Kesel and Rob Liefeld rebooted the characters with Hawk and Dove: Ghosts and Demons and they became interesting again. Interesting enough to make it through another 28 issues cowritten by the Kesels.

This time Dove is a woman, Dawn Grainger. As Dove she’s quick-witted, clear-thinking and analytical, a perfect counterpoint to Hawk’s acting on impulse. At first Dawn assumed the Doves were some kind of Corps, like the Green Lanterns; when she learns Don’s power passed to her at his death, she’s shaken. And both she and Hawk want to know why.

It turns out that Hawk and Dove are avatars for two deities of (respectively) Chaos and Order (DC in the late 1980s was doing several series dealing with that cosmic clash). After centuries of battle they’d come to realize they were less Superman/Luthor and more Batman/Catwoman, which was not going to go over well with their respective pantheons. Creating Hawk and Dove was a way to show the gods what Order and Chaos could accomplish working together — and also to give mortal form to the gods’ child (not welcome news as Dawn and Hank were not a couple).

That series was an absolute blast: fun supporting characters, good villains and the cosmic stuff. Switching them away from War and Peace helped too: it’s a lot easier to see Order and Chaos as a duality that can work together. Unfortunately, after 28 issues the cancellation axe fell. Dawn and Hank could have stuck around but nope: due to some last-minute changes to the Armageddon: 2001 event, Hank became the super-villain Monarch and killed Dove, none of which made sense (Monarch is an ultra-lawful type — I’d think a future dominated by Hawk would be more like Road Warrior or Hunger Games).

Dawn did return eventually and Hank got back to his old self, but I’ve yet to see a story with them that didn’t feel pointless. They’re DC intellectual property, co-created by a legend, so they have to show up, never mind whether there’s a reason. And they’re back to War and Peace, which doesn’t work for me either.

But during the 1980s, they were awesome.

#SFWApro. Covers top to bottom by Ditko, Aparo, Sal Buscema and Liefeld.