So I saw the Dunkirk movie yesterday.
I liked it, it was very well directed, and it’s probably the most British movie since Chariots of Fire.
The movie got me thinking about this blog. The simple truth of the matter is that this blog deals with heroes that were created in a time when the world needed a bit of escapist fantasy and the comic book industry responded by creating a whole bunch of heroes who could do the fighting for them.
While there was a time and a place for these types of stories it’s important to remember that the fantastical violence shown in World War 2 era comics was very real for a lot of people and many of those people didn’t make it out alive.
Now, we’ve covered some of the more “realistic” war comics with characters like Sgt. Fury and the Howling Commandos,
but this week I thought it might be fun to talk about another war comic that was actually published during World War 2 with Quality Comics’ fighter squadron/expertly dressed hero Blackhawk.
Origin and Career
Blackhawk made his first appearance in Quality Comics’ Military Comics #1 in August of 1941.
Right off the bat the main character made the cover and looks good doing it.
There is some debate as to who created the character in the first place. While many credit comic book legend Will Eisner with the character’s creation,
Eisner himself gave most of the credit to artist Charles Cuidera and writer Bob Powell.
For a time when the United States hadn’t entered the war in Europe, this comic was certainly very much for it. In the very first page the comic shows the Nazis steamrolling through Poland and introducing the main villain of Captain von Tepp, who is the very definition of a bastard.
Seriously, even kicking puppies seems a bit tame for this guy.
Von Tepp and his Butcher Squadron discover a mysterious black plane that they shoot down. The Captain makes the unknown pilot’s life even more hellish by destroying a farmhouse with innocent people in it.
The pilot is revealed to be a man named Blackhawk, who vows revenge against the Nazis and gets his wish a few months later when he confronts Von Tepp and kidnaps him.
Blackhawk takes the Captain back to his island base where they decide to settle their grievances with an honorable duel using airplanes.
Naturally the Nazi cheats by sabotaging Blackhawk’s plane and the two crash to the ground, where the grudge is settled when Blackhawk shoots the Captain.
In later issues it was revealed that the Blackhawks were actually a squadron of fighter pilots made up of men whose nations had been captured by the Nazis.
Side note: this actually has a basis in real history. Feel free to look up the exploits of groups like the Polish 303 Squadron if you want some real life heroics.
In Issue #3 the group would also get a Chinese cook, who was unfortunately named “Chop Chop”.
…well they can’t all be good.
Sales wise the Blackhawks were a massive hit for Quality Comics. They were so successful that they received their own comic in 1944.
In 1950 it was revealed that the leader of the Blackhawks was actually an American volunteer fighter pilot who had joined the Polish air force and decided to form the squadron as a way to fight back against the Nazis, even though he and his comrades had no country.
Some of the most talented writers and artists of the Golden Age worked on the Blackhawk title and it was actually so popular that Quality continued to publish the title right up until they went out of business in 1956 with Blackhawk #107 being the last issue.
So what happened?
Quality couldn’t make it past the comic book slump of the 1950’s and sold off the rights to most of their characters to DC comics in 1956.
Interestingly enough, the Blackhawks had been so popular that DC actually decided to continue publishing the title after they bought it,
they even kept most of the original art team on the title ensuring that the only thing that changed with the comic was the logo.
Now that the Blackhawks had new life they wound up being one of the few superhero teams to transition into the Silver Age of Comics. This time in comic book history saw the squadron face fewer Nazis and more science fiction themed villains and things got a little…weird.
Also, in 1959 they added a lady to the team as an on and off supporting character. She was given the rather unimaginative name of Lady Blackhawk.
She would remain one of the biggest members of the supporting cast and even became a villain named Queen Lady Shark.
I don’t know what’s funnier, the skis or that hat.
Ironically, the rise of superhero comics in the 1960’s hurt the Blackhawk Squadron and while DC attempted to revamp the group in 1967 by giving them new names and costumes,
it only lasted 14 issues before the title was cancelled.
The Blackhawks would make a brief comeback in 1976 as a group of mercenaries,
but they were cancelled again until the 1980’s when they were sent back to their familiar stomping grounds of World War 2.
The 1980’s series reworked the Blackhawks and gave their older stories a more modern update in terms of storytelling, including a much more dignified appearance and backstory for poor Chop Chop.
In 1988 DC reworked its entire history with the mega event Crisis on Infinite Earths
and the Blackhawks made the cut. They were given another reworking and this time the squadron was led by a man named Janos Prohaska, an actual Polish national who was forced to flee his home after the Soviets kicked him out.
The Blackhawks continue to be a part of the DC universe. One of their more noticeable appearances was in the excellent Justice League animated show where they played a major part in the episode “The Savage Time”.
and in the show Arrow the “Blackhawk Squad Protection Group” made an appearance as the place of employment for John Diggle’s commanding officer Ted Gaynor.
Also, a group calling themselves the Blackhawks got their own title in DC Comics’ New 52 relaunch,
but they have yet to show up in DC’s more recent “Rebirth” relaunch.
The Blackhawks are a team with a long and fantastic history. What I find really fascinating is just how well they were able to survive so much while so many of their contemporaries fell through the cracks, never to be seen again and if it wasn’t for characters like Plastic Man,
I would go as far as to say that the Blackhawks were the best and most notable comic to ever be published by Quality Comics.