Within the genre of DC super heroes, there are basically two types of super-powers: those of a mystical origin and those based on an explanation founded upon science (-fiction).
Superman is a prime example of a super-hero whose power is of an origin based in science fiction. He came from a distant planet of Krypton with its red sun and he derives his powers from our yellow sun. Also, one of Superman’s Achille’s heal, besides kryptonite, is any sort of magick.
An example of a super-hero possessing super powers of a mystical origin is Wonder Woman, a daughter of the Queen of the Amazons.
Given that Wonder Woman’s super-powers are of a mystical origin and Superman is powerless against magic, I am pretty sure that she could beat the crap out of Superman. In much the same way that Black Canary trounced Green Arrow, Batman, Atom, and Superman after she acquired her mystical super-power, the sonic scream, from the Aquarius star-entity in JLA issue #75 (1969) (see both issues #74 and #75)
During the golden age of comics, a period that is roughly the 1940’s and early 1950’s, super heroes were of a mix of mystical and science fiction origination.
At the start of the silver age of comics, and when DC was re-introducing characters, for some characters it decided that if the golden age character had a mystical origin, its silver age counter-part was to be given a new science-fiction origin. There were exceptions made. The origin stories for Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, the triumvirate of the DC pantheon, were left untouched. The origin stories for Aquaman, Green Arrow, and the Flash were only slightly modified from their origins in early 1940s.
The Green Lantern of the 1940s, first seen in All-American Comics #16 in 1940, derived his powers from the Starheart, a magical entity once imprisoned in a meteor by the Guardians, unlike the Green Lantern introduced in Showcase #22 (1959) who received his powers from a dying alien named Abin Sur who crash-landed his spaceship in the California desert.
Hawkman & Hawkgirl first appeared in The Flash Comics #1 in 1940.
The original story of Hawkman and Hawkgirl is both mystical and romantic. In the golden age origin story, archaeologist Carter Hall has a dream that he is an ancient Egyptian prince, Khufu, who has a lover, named Shiera in the original story, or Princess Chay-Ara in modern retellings. The next day, Carter meets a woman named Shiera who looks exactly like the woman in his dream. Carter dons the identity of Hawkman and Shiera becomes Carter’s girlfriend. Later on, Shiera masquerades as Hawkman and afterwards she regular appears by his side as Hawkgirl. (See synopsis of “The Origin of Hawkman” at DC Wiki)
I recently read Brave and the Bold #34 (1960) and this is where the silver age, earth-1, Hawkman and Hawkgirl were introduced with a new origin story. Their new backstory was of science fiction origin, rather than what I thought of as the more romantic origin story of the reincarnated lovers from twenty years earlier.
The silver age Hawks were aliens from a planet called Thanagar and their names were Katar and Shayera Hol. They were police officers on their home planet and their hawk “costumes” were actually the uniforms that they wore in the line of duty.
They came to Earth while in pursuit of a criminal name Blyth Rok. Before landing on Earth, they put their spacecraft in orbit around our planet and then taking their time, they used a Thanagarian device called the Absorbascon which allowed them to telepathically read the minds every sentient being on the planet in order to educate themselves about Earth and its inhabitants.
Using the device, they were able to locate the criminal whom they were pursuing. Blyth was hiding in an area somewhere in Michigan called Hawk Valley. This was an undeveloped, nature preserve outside of a town call Midway City.
Instead of just going in and snatching the criminal, rather they went to Midway City and based on information that they had “absorbed” using the absorbascon, they located a police commissioner named George Emmett. Waking the man up at his home in the middle of the night, and in full costume, they explained their purpose. George Emmett believed every word of the Hawks.
Telling the couple that they would need secret identities and without any lengthy deliberation, he told them of how his brother, curator of the Midway City museum, had recently retired and had move somewhere else. He told the Hawks that Katar Hol would use the name Carter Hall would be the new curator the museum. Shayera would use the name Shiera and would become Carter’s secretary. Carter being the same height and weight would wear clothing left by Commissioner Emmett’s brother in the apartment and Shiera could wear clothing borrowed from Emmett’s daughter.
Not only could Katar and Shayera, communicate with humans, they could also communicate with other sentient Earthlings; particularly the winged species. Many times, the Hawks would get information from their feathered-friends many of whom resided in Hawk Valley. Much of the action would take place in either Hawk Valley or Midway City.
Because the golden age Hawks had an origin involving ancient Egypt, their preferred “tools of the trade” were ancient weapons. The use of different types of ancient weapons was crucial to their stories. Just as Batman has his utility belt, or Wonder Woman has her Bracelets of Submission and her Lasso of Truth, for the Hawks their “gimmicks” were the anti-gravity belts that enabled them to fly and their use of ancient weapons. Conveniently the Midway City museum was fully stocked with ancient weapons.
Every super hero needs a Lana Lang or a Carol Ferris to regularly snoop around and create problems for the hero. For Hawkman and Hawkgirl that “foil” was a person who also worked at Midway City museum. Her name was Mavis Trent, a naturalist, who was sometimes described as “Mavis Trent, girl anthropologist”. Mavis knew very well that Carter and Shiera were married, yet she openly flirted with Carter. Shiera was well aware of what Mavis was up to and sometimes she would laugh at the silly woman, but other times she would get angry at Carter because she thought that Carter was doing nothing to dissuade Mavis from flirting with him.
The Hawks were together and living in Midway city from their first appearance in The Brave and Bold #34 in 1960 throughout the sixties, seventies and the eighties. They both last appeared in Justice League International #24 in 1989 when they quit the team.
The Post-Crisis Hawks of Earth-One (silver age) and Earth-Two (golden age) were merged and the never-ending story continued in one form or another. However, at this point, my reading is focused on the Pre-Crisis bronze age period of comics which is the period from the mid-seventies to the mid-eighties. As a result, I have not gotten into the period of the Nineties and the Millennium.
I did however run across a comic book from 1999 titled JSA Secret Files and Origins which tells the story of a restructuring of the golden age/earth-two Justice Society of America (JSA).
In this story-line, there is no Hawkman (at least not yet?), but there is Hawkgirl whose origin story is that she is Kendra Saunders, a young woman who committed suicide. When her soul left her body, her great-aunt, Shiera Hall’s soul, entered it. The only thing that I will add to that is that “it’s complicated” and hopefully someday I will understand it all.