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12Aug/11Off

The Blackhawks: Never Say Die

By Glenn Walker

Cover to the upcoming Blackhawks #1, art by Ken Lashley.

One of DC Comics New 52 coming in September is Blackhawks written by Mike Costa with art by Ken Lashley and Graham Nolan, among others. DC describes it like this:

Welcome to a world waging a new kind of war that’s faster and more brutal than ever before. It’s fought by those who would make the innocent their targets, using computers, smart weapons and laser-guided missiles. The new enemy is hard to find – and closer to home than we think. Between us and them stand the Blackhawks, an elite force of military specialists equipped with the latest in cutting-edge hardware and vehicles. Their mission: Kill the bad guys before they kill us.

Sounds a bit vague, doesn't it? It's obviously a war comic, but… really what is it? Mike Costa is a fairly new name in the world of comics, but what he has done more than prepares him for the book described above – he's writing G.I. Joe Cobra for IDW. Yeah, now it makes sense, doesn't it? Costa has given several interviews talking up the new Blackhawks. He's very excited, and is hoping for the best with this new series.

I'm excited too, not necessarily for the new series, although it is one of my most anticipated comics of the relaunch. It's the name I'm excited about; yeah, I'm an old-school Blackhawks fan – and I'm not talking about Chicago hockey either, folks. It's time for another history lesson from the Glenn Walker Vast Storehouse of Useless Knowledge.

Lobby card by Robert Kelly, based on the 1952 movie serial "Blackhawk." Kirk Alyn was also the first cinema Superman.

 

Blackhawk is a very old and legendary name in the world of comic books. Blackhawk had his own movie serial, radio show, prose novel, action figures, animation, toys – and along with Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Green Arrow, was one of the handful of heroes to survive the Golden Age through into the Silver Age. All this, and he's not even a costumed superhero.

Blackhawk debuted in Military Comics #1 in August 1941, another in the wave of aviator heroes we've talked about before. However, the character stood out and above others of his ilk, experiencing phenomenal popularity, as evidenced in the radio, movie, and other exposure of the time. His adventures continued throughout the decade in both Modern Comics (changed from Military after the war) and his own self-titled comic. When Blackhawk's publisher, Quality Comics, closed up shop in 1956, DC Comics bought them out and kept publishing Blackhawk without missing a beat.

The character of Blackhawk himself has gone under a number of identities, and it's debatable which one is real in the original continuity. But, one thing is sure: Blackhawk is a hero, a defender of freedom, and one of the best pilots in the world. Before and during World War II he leads a squadron of pilots against the Axis powers. This squadron, known as the Magnificent Seven before any movies co-opted the name, was the Blackhawks. Each member represented a nation subjugated by the Axis.

Joe Kubert cover to Blackhawk 244, the 1976 reboot of the character.

The Blackhawks included Andre from France, Olaf from Sweden, Stan from Poland, Hendrickson from Denmark, Chuck from the U.S., and Chop-Chop from China. Blackhawk himself was rumored to be Polish, American, or both. One-time squad members also included Boris, Zeg, and Gaynor, as well as allies Lady Blackhawk, Miss Fear and the team's hawk mascot, Blackie. Created in the less-than-enlightened 1940s, the ethnic stereotypes were rampant, and especially hurtful when it came to poor Chop-Chop. Retcons and more contemporary stories changed things for the better in later decades.

After the war, and especially after DC's ownership, the Blackhawks began to face a variety of costumed villain more familiar to comics readers, and Blackhawk became less a war comic and more an adventure series in the vein of the superhero genre. Sales declined as the years progressed, and as the "Batman" TV camp craze was in full swing, editors made the decision to turn the Blackhawks into super-powered heroes. It was a change that killed the book. Not even a last minute return to stories of World War II could save Blackhawk from cancellation.

The Blackhawks vanished from comics shelves and racks for the first time in decades. DC Comics revived the team as contemporary mercenaries fighting high tech terrorists in 1976. This was my first exposure to the team, and in this short run, just under a year, I fell in love with the characters. It was something new to me, and discovering their long history became a journey that many comics readers experience when they find a favorite hero or heroes. These were regular guys, but heroes just the same, fighting a more realistic threat (still super-powered to an extent) than the ones Superman and the Justice League usually fought. I was sold.

Howard Chaykin's three-part prestige-format story was yet another reboot 1988.

The Blackhawks were revived again, again set in war stories, but again disappeared after a while. War comics were no longer in vogue in the 1980s sadly. Late in the decade Howard Chaykin completely revamped the team in a more realistic style that stuck for a little while, re-introducing the Blackhawks to a new generation of readers. The characters became a solid part of DC Comics history and continuity, even appearing in a few episodes of Cartoon Network's popular "Justice League" animated series.

Continuity has established that at least some legacy of the Blackhawks exists in the current DCU, as part of an elite military force using high-tech jet fighters, and also as a courier service called Blackhawk Express. And even more recently, a time-tossed Lady Blackhawk has become a major player and team member in Gail Simone's Birds of Prey series. Literally, the Blackhawks seem to be the characters that never say die.

The newest incarnation of the team might not have any (if at all) relation to the originals, but one can hope. Either way, I'm looking forward to it. The new Blackhawks debuts on comic shop shelves, and especially at All Things Fun!, on September 28th. Check it out!

And if I may quote the original Blackhawks' battle cry, "Hawkaaa!"


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