Out of all the characters with convoluted histories in the DCU, perhaps the most often cited for its confusing continuity is Hawkman.
But in the “Rebirth” era, the character has a brand new approach that tries to incorporate most (if not all) of the character’s past incarnations. Spinning out of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Dark Nights: Metal event, the series has established that not only does Hawkman reincarnate, but all those previous versions of Hawkman that DC published were merely some of the character’s past lives.
There’s another new twist — his past lives were experienced on different planets, meaning Hawkman moves across time and space. And the reincarnations extend back through history even further than previously known.
Now, with this week’s Hawkman #5, the story behind Hawkman’s reincarnations was given yet another interesting wrinkle. After a visit to Ray Palmer, the hero known as the Atom, Hawkman learned that it’s possible his past, present and future exist together, on an “ocean” of time.
And — here’s the kicker — Ray told Hawkman that his reincarnations might not have even occurred in chronological order.
Confused? Well, it might help to back up and review how Hawkman got here.
Hawkman was visiting Atom in issue #5 after he was suddenly shrunken down to subatomic size last issue (thanks to an artifact he found on Thanagar). He emerged in the Microverse, where Ray Palmer polices space-time from a subatomic level.
Hawkman asked Ray to help him understand what’s been happening to him since he began investigating a vision he experienced of something called “The Deathbringers” (who apparently intend to destroy the Earth).
In the Hawkman series by Robert Venditti and Bryan Hitch, the character has been experiencing strange periods of time travel that allow him to visit past lives that give him clues about the Deathbringers.
In issue #2, for example, Hawkman suddenly traveled back in time to briefly interact with Prince Khufu, who is a long-established past life of Hawkman. By the end of the next issue, Hawkman encountered Katar Hol, establishing that he was just another of Hawkman’s past lives.
In Hawkman #5, Carter explained to Ray that he even lived on Krypton during one of his past lives, and in another, he lived on Rann. And now, he’s somehow revisiting them, one by one.
“I’ve been slipping through time and meeting my past selves,” Carter Hall explained to Ray in Hawkman #5. “Help me understand what’s been happening to me.”
In answer, Ray first explained the “River Theory” of time to Hawkman. According to Ray, the River Theory “asserts that time flows in one constant direction — from the past, through the present and into the future.”
But then Ray said another theory says time is an ocean, “stretching in all directions, and each moment is floating on the surface.”
According to Ray, this would mean that past, present and future always exist together. “You in ancient Egypt. You on Thanagar. You in the Microverse. You on Krypton.”
The character explained that Hawkman has been “skipping across the surface of the time’s ocean, reuniting with [his] other selves.”
Ray also theorized that each time Carter reincarnated, he left a piece of his consciousness behind, which explains why he remembers less and less.
Now that Hawkman is investigating his past, each clue “triggers something” that connects him to a fragment of his missing consciousness.
That Kicker We Talked About
As if that wasn’t enough scientific theory for Hawkman to digest, Ray goes one step further and begins to question whether Hawkman’s reincarnations were linear.
“Over thousands of years,” Ray said, “who knows how many times you visited each planet? You might not even have done it in chronological order. As a matter of physics, time is time, and space is space.”
So not only has Hawkman experienced interplanetary reincarnation, but Ray has introduced the possibility that his reincarnation is somehow simultaneous — or at least non-linear.
Still confused? You’re not alone.
“I can’t handle this,” Hawkman said in response to Ray’s theories.
Whether the scientific wonderings of Ray Palmer are canon or not, they do offer an answer to questions about Hawkman’s previously convoluted continuity. Want to know if something from past Hawkman series is in continuity? Ray’s theories seem to answer, “Sure! It all exists!”
It also ties into the core of Hawkman’s character. As Ray pointed out, Hawkman has almost always had some connection to historical mysteries, whether through the plotlines about his reincarnation or his life as an accomplished archaeologist when he’s out of costume.
“You’ve lived all kinds of lives,” Ray said. “As it turns out, on all kinds of planets. You have fortitude inside you that I could only dream of. But more than anything else, you’re the best there’s ever been at untangling the mysteries of the past.”
By the end of Hawkman #5, Carter had found a clue related to the Nth Metal he wears, but it required him to fight alongside Ray in the Microverse. That part of his quest will end in Hawkman #6, which has a solicitation that promises the character will finally learn “the secret of his origin.”
Then in Hawkman #7, the character (and readers) will learn “the truth behind Carter Hall’s reincarnation ability” as well as his connection to the Deathbringers that have been teased since the first issue of this new Hawkman series.