Like Steve Ditko’s Creeper, his Hawk and Dove was a mundane series with mundane crooks for the heroes to fight. But in this case, there was a reason for it.
The protagonists of the 1968 series are brothers Hank and Don Hall. Hank’s a macho jock who supports the Vietnam War; Don’s a sensitive anti-war intellectual. When their father (a moderate and a judge) is kidnapped they try to help and fail. A mysterious voice proclaims that as one brother is a warhawk, the other a dove (terms laden with heavy emotional freight during that era), all they have to do is say those names in times of crisis and they’ll become super-heroes, with their natural abilities multiplied many times.
The boys save their father, then begin using their powers for good. But the focus is less on the action, more on the philosophical and personal differences between the brothers, so it’s not surprising the bad guys were uninteresting. They weren’t the point.
Unfortunately, Dove was just as uninteresting. Steve Skeates who scripted several issues, said in an interview that he’d have liked to have Dove challenge the establishment (i.e., stick it to the man) but the Comics Code didn’t allow disrespect for authority. On top of that, Ditko and editor Dick Giordano both sided more with Hawk, further hamstringing Skeates. As a result, Dove/Don spent most of his time being wimpy or trying not to give up pacifism (the last two issues, by Gil Kane, had him walloping hoods more conventionally).
Writer/artist John Byrne has often argued that the original creators are the only one who truly understands a character, so everyone who follows in their wake is automatically inferior (except Byrne, who seems to consider himself the heir to Lee/Kirby, Siegel/Shuster and so on). Hawk and Dove are proof he’s wrong. Just as some groundbreaking characters or books are surpassed by later imitators, some writers do better with characters than their creator.
Case in point, Alan Brennert in Brave and Bold 181. In this story, Don and Hank have aged in real time, but they haven’t grown up or adjusted their ideology one iota. Over the course of the story, they come to realize this has led them into a dead end. It’s excellent.
It was almost immediately retconned away by Marv Wolfman in Teen Titans (H&D having teamed with the Titans multiple times over the year), showing they hadn’t aged any faster than the other Titans (Wolfman imposed several retcons over aging issues during this period). Then a short time later, he killed off Dove in Crisis on Infinite Earths.
Hank then became a convenient straw man for any writer who didn’t like the Reagan/Bush years, a stereotypically unhinged, belligerent, macho conservative. He popped up in several guest roles over the next few years and then, finally, got a new series and a new Dove. And the characters finally got interesting.
In a 1988 miniseries and follow-up regular series, Karl and Barbara Kesel introduced a female Dove, and revealed the secret behind the voice. Hawk and Dove were avatars for deities of Chaos and Order respectively. The gods had fallen in love and knew how their pantheons would react, so they created the heroes to show how much the two primal forces could accomplish in tandem instead of opposition.
The concept dropped Ditko’s politics and replaced it with lots of fun, stronger lead characters and new issues as cosmic battles swirled around them. Unfortunately in DC’s Armageddon 2001 series a few years later, Dove dies and Hawk turns evil (I’m guessing the series’ sales were poor).
They would return, eventually, but like the Creeper it felt less like anyone wanted to use them and more like DC didn’t want recognizable characters lying fallow. And they’ve been redefined as War and Peace avatars which gets back to the Ditko roots but doesn’t, I think, work as well (War is sometimes necessary, but I don’t think it’s an equal partner with Peace).
But for one brief shining series, they were awesome.
(Covers by Steve Ditko and Jim Aparo, all rights with current holders)