Nighthawk puts down an owlhoot. Artists: Gil Kane and Joe Giella.


Medium: Comic books
Published by: DC Comics
First Appeared: 1948
Creators: Robert Kanighter (writer) and Charles Paris (artist)
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Westerns were prominent among the genres that comic book publishers tried after World War II, to replace the superheroes that had sustained the medium at first but were rapidly falling out of fashion. But possibly to make writers feel a little more comfortable with the switch, a lot of the early comic book western …

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… heroes, e.g. The Lone Rider and Johnny Thunder, carried over one superhero trope from the more familiar genre — the secret identity. Many of these heroes took pains to see that their friends and neighbors didn't know who was responsible for their heroic deeds.

Hannibal Hawkes, aka The Nighthawk, was such a hero. His itinerant lifestyle discouraged steady relationships among stationary folk, but what few people he did associate with got only a partial view of him. Under ordinary circumstances, he was just a gentle, mild-mannered tinkerer who went from town to town, earning a living by repairing whatever needed repairing, using the full array of tools and equipment he always kept near him, in the wagon he used for traveling.

But when action was called for, he'd reach into the wagon's less visible depths for the costume and equipment needed to cover the Hawkes persona under the guise of The Nighthawk, a sixgun-wielding hero who would parade before the public for exactly as long as it took to right what wrongs there be. Then he'd resume his normal demeanor and be Hannibal Hawkes, fix-it man, once again.

Nighthawk first appeared in the fifth issue of Western Comics (October, 1948), the DC Comics title where Rodeo Rick, The Cowboy Marshall and several other western stars also debuted, and where a couple, such as Pow Wow Smith, were moved in from more mainstream anthologies. Nighthawk replaced one of those, Vigilante, who still maintained his position in the back pages of Superman's Action Comics.

The writer who crafted his first story, like many from that era, isn't known with absolute certainty — but it's strongly believed to have been Robert Kanigher, co-creator of such disparate series as Viking Prince, The Bouncer and Rex the Wonder Dog. It was drawn by Charles Paris, who has done a variety of work for DC but is probably best known for having inked Dick Sprang's work on Batman.

When Nighthawk started, The Wyoming Kid was the cover-featured star of Western Comics. Later, Pow Wow Smith took over that position. The only time Nighthawk ever appeared there was #36 (December, 1952), which was drawn by Ruben Moreira (Roy Raymond, Rip Hunter). The best-known artists to handle the character during his years in the back pages were Gil Kane (The Atom) and Carmine Infantino (Adam Strange). His writers included France Herron (Captain Marvel Jr.), Don Cameron (Johnny Quick) and Gardner Fox (Justice League of America).

During the years when DC heroes tended most strongly to have kid sidekicks (like Tomahawk with Dan Hunter and Congo Bill with Janu the Jungle Boy), Nighthawk rode the trail with Jim Peyton, who had been orphaned by outlaws. Jim eventually grew up and went his own way, after which Nighthawk's Hannibal Hawkes identity was de-emphasized. But the masked version of him remained in action until Western Comics #76 (August, 1959). In #77, his slot — as well as the magazine's cover — was taken over by Matt Savage, Trail Boss.

With that, DC was finished with The Nighthawk as a series character. The following year, Charlton Comics launched a similar character, The Gunmaster. And much later, DC tied him in with its universe of characters by positing he was one of many reincarnations of the ancient Egyptian hero who eventually became Hawkman.


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Text ©2007-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © DC Comics.