Remember those goofy lightning pants worn by the Flash during his first fleet-footed appearance? Well, rest assured...since Flash Comics #1 (1940) was a multi-feature anthology title, he had company in the "Somewhat Embarrassing Original Costume" department: his pal Hawkman!
One of the most visually striking characters in comic book history, Hawkman stood apart from the futuristic supermen and sci-fi gadget masters so popular at the time and, instead, evoked the mystery and mythology of the ancient world. Instead of using a rocket-harness or a raygun, archeologist Carter Hall used wings, a mystical Nth Metal flying harness and archaic weapons like spears, swords, battle-axes, nets, and a mace to battle criminals.
In addition to its mythic roots, it's likely that Hawkman's look was also inspired by the Hawkmen of Mongo, central characters of the Flash Gordon comic strip and movie serial.
As you can see from the live-action Hawkmen of the movie serial (above right), designing a hawk-themed costume (complete with feathered wings and winged headgear) was tricky business, proving it can be a fine line between "cool" and "comical".
This cool/comical conceptual struggle was on full display throughout Hawkman's debut. While most superhero costume designs evolve gradually over months or even years, Hawkman's hawk-themed headgear morphed and changed several times within the same story...as if illustrator Dennis Neville couldn't settle on a look. Here's a brief "fly-over" of his varied approaches...
The story "splash page": Not counting a tiny cameo on the cover, this was the first official appearance of the Hawkman headgear...and as you can see, it's quite a mess. An entire hawk's head sits like a mini parade float on top of Carter Hall's completely exposed face.
After creating his costume on the previous page, this close-up shows quite a different take on the headgear. Now covering half of his face, Carter is able to see through the hawk head's "eye" slits. This was essentially the look the mask settled on...but not in this story.
By the time Hawkman showed up for the inaugural meeting of the Justice Society of America later that same year (All-Star Comics #3), the headgear's design had settled on the look it would have for most of the Golden Age era...though it would still shift around depending on who was drawing him. The hawk's head now covered most of Carter Hall's face, with only his chin and ears giving any indication there was a human face behind it. The protruding beak still was still "large and in charge", but a bit more under control than the original headgear in Flash Comics #1.
As if settling on a headgear design wasn't challenging enough, another problem with the early Hawkman costume was just making sure his pants stayed on! As you can see from this trio of All-Star Comics covers, colorist errors made Hawkman look more like a flying Chippendales dancer than a battle-ready wartime superhero!
At some point, someone finally had enough of the full-beaked hawk head mask and came up with these dramatically simplified alternatives. The final version (right) dumped the beak and wings altogether...which was a far cry from the original "parade float" headgear from Flash Comics #1. Speaking of that final mask, leave it to writer and retro-continuity king Roy Thomas to use the progression of Hawkman's headgear as an explanation for the new mask of his protege' Hawkgirl. From All-Star Squadron #11 (1982):
(click on the panels for a larger view)