In one way, it’s surprising that Nighthawk did not manage to survive the period 1955 – 1959: Dawn of the Silver Age. With his double identity, costume and mask, the western hero had the attributes that were proving so popular with super-heroes. But for some reason every single story dealt with trying to prove that Hannibal Hawkes was Nighthawk. The sheer repetition of the tales make them far less engaging than they might have been. It’s a real shame, as the series did have strong art, and a few stories even had Gil Kane grace them.
Of the tales, I have covered some of the more enjoyable. In Western Comics 53 an artist paints a portrait of Hannibal Hawkes, but then uses it as the basis for a portrait of Nighthawk. The artist had wanted to get the hero to sit for him, but had never been been able to arrange it. Observing the similarity between Hawkes and Nighthawk, the painted added a mask, turning one into the other.
Thieves see the paintings, and think that it proves Hannibal is Nighthawk. So, as in pretty much every story from this period, Hannibal has to defeat the thieves while at the same time covering his double identity. At the end Hannibal draws a mask on thief’s picture, to show how anyone could be made to look like Nighthawk.
In Western Comics 58 Nighthawk has to reveal his identity, so that a charity can receive a million dollar donation. Hawkes identifies himself as Nighthawk, and gives details of his last adventure as proof. This all turns out to be a big scam, to learn who Nighthawk is so they can keep him out of the way.
Realizing this, Hannibal arranges to go down into a lawyer’s well to fix it, claiming it will take four hours. But he does the job ahead of time, and then, after catching the thieves, goes back into the well and emerges to show he could not possibly by Nighthawk. Very nice Gil Kane art on this story.
One of the few tales that finds an original angle on the double identity story appears in Western Comics 71. Nighthawk gets a head injury and loses his memory. He has no idea who he really is when he is not Nighthawk.
He dresses in normal clothes and wanders around the town until someone calls him by name, and mentions that he runs a fix-it business.
Nighthawk defeats some bad guys along the way, but his memory does not come back till he actually sees his fix-it wagon.
Nighthawk's series comes to an end in Western Comics 76. The Gil Kane tale centres on Nighthawk's secret identity, yet again. In this one, Nighthawk is in a town where no one knows Hawkes, so he feels safe unmasking. Silly man.
He doesn't realize that one of the people watching actually does know Hawkes. Mention is made in the story of the Wyoming Kid, which was a nice surprise. But rather than make his discovery known, the man who sees Nighthawk change chooses to frame Hawkes for his own crimes, leaving a button from Hawkes' vest at the scene.
He figures this will get Nighthawk out of the way, and he can commit his crimes with impunity. It's good luck more than anything else that enables Hawkes to cover his identity, after catching the man as Nighthawk. Not a great story to go out on.
Nighthawk is not seen again until the 1980s, in Crisis on Infinite Earths, but would gain a new element to his character in the decades after that, being made an incarnation of Hawkman.