Golden Age Showcase: Blackhawk

So I saw the Dunkirk movie yesterday.

Image result for dunkirk

I liked it, it was very well directed, and it’s probably the most British movie since Chariots of Fire.

Image result for chariots of fire movie

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.

Image result for golden age superheroes fighting nazis

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.

Image result for world war 2 violence dunkirk

Now, we’ve covered some of the more “realistic” war comics with characters like Sgt. Fury and the Howling Commandos,

Image result for sgt. fury and his 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.

Image result for black hawk comic

Origin and Career

Blackhawk made his first appearance in Quality Comics’ Military Comics #1 in August of 1941.

Comic Book Cover For Military Comics #1

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,

Image result for will eisner

Eisner himself gave most of the credit to artist Charles Cuidera and writer Bob Powell.

Image result for chuck cuidera

Image result for bob powell comics

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.

Comic Book Cover For Military Comics #1

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.

Comic Book Cover For Military Comics #1

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.

Comic Book Cover For Military Comics #1

Blackhawk takes the Captain back to his island base where they decide to settle their grievances with an honorable duel using airplanes.

Comic Book Cover For Military Comics #1

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.

Comic Book Cover For Military Comics #1

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.

Comic Book Cover For Military Comics #2

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”.

Image result for black hawk comic 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.

Blackhawk #9

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.

Blackhawk #107

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,

Blackhawk #108

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.

Blackhawk #119

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.

Image result for dc comics lady blackhawk 1959

She would remain one of the biggest members of the supporting cast and even became a villain named Queen Lady Shark.

Image result for dc comics lady blackhawk queen killer 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,

Blackhawk #230

it only lasted 14 issues before the title was cancelled.

The Blackhawks would make a brief comeback in 1976 as a group of mercenaries,

Blackhawk #244

but they were cancelled again until the 1980’s when they were sent back to their familiar stomping grounds of World War 2.

Blackhawk #251

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 

Image result for dc comics 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.

Image result for dc comics blackhawk janos prohaska

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”.

Image result for dc comics blackhawks 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.

Image result for arrow ted gaynor

Also, a group calling themselves the Blackhawks got their own title in DC Comics’ New 52 relaunch,

Image result for dc comics blackhawks new 52

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,

Image result for quality comics 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.

Image result for quality comics blackhawk

Golden Age Showcase: Alfred

Happy post Father’s Day everyone!

Image result for father's day

For the non American readers of this blog, Father’s day is a holiday where we celebrate our fathers, and if marketing campaigns are to be believed it’s usually with MANLY gifts like ties and power tools.

Image result for father's day ties

Image result for father's day tools

Last year I did an article comparing and contrasting two of comics’ greatest deceased father figures: Superman’s dad Jor-El and Spiderman’s Uncle Ben.

Image result for jor el    Image result for uncle ben

This time I thought it would be time to break out the big guns and celebrate the career and achievements of the greatest living father figure in comic book history: Batman’s butler, Alfred.

Image result for alfred batman

Side note: if you disagree with the above statement please write a well crafted and polite rebuttal in the comments.

Origin and Career

Alfred Thaddeus Crane Pennyworth made his first appearance in Batman #16 in April of 1943.

On the cover of the comic it says he was created by artist Bob Kane.

Image result for bob kane

Although it is much more likely that actual creator was writer, and the man who got royally screwed out of getting the credit that he justly deserves, Bill Finger.

Image result for bob kane and bill finger

Artist Jerry Robinson was also heavily involved, since he was busy doing the actual drawing of the issues at this point in Batman’s career.

Jerry Robinson

Alfred made his first appearance on the cover of the issue, and he looked like this:

Image result for batman #16 1943

The original Alfred was a bit of an idiot.  At this point in the story Batman and Robin had been doing their thing fighting crime in Gotham when Alfred showed up fresh off the boat and claiming that he was fulfilling the wish of his dying father Jarvis in serving the Wayne family as their butler.

Image result for batman #16 1943

Naturally, Batman and Robin were not very keen on having a near total stranger snooping around the house with their secret identities at stake.

Despite his background as an intelligence officer Alfred was…kind of an idiot.

Image result for batman #16 1943

I only say “kind of” because he was actually a very good butler.  He did his job, he was loyal to Bruce and Dick, and when it came time to defend the Manor he wound up discovering who he was really working for by pure accident.

Image result for batman #16 1943

My favorite part of this scene is the dialogue that the two men exchange during the fight.

Of course Alfred reveals what he knows to Batman and Robin and the two gain a new ally in their fight against criminals.

You may notice that the original Alfred doesn’t look a thing like the way we normally picture Alfred.

Image result for batman #16 1943 ending

For that we can actually thank the silver screen.

See, the idea that comic books could be adapted to the silver screen is nothing new.  In fact, Hollywood was quick to jump on the wave of superhero popularity and started churning out short little movie serials staring the two most popular heroes at the time: Superman and Batman.

In 1943 Columbia Pictures began releasing short Batman serial movies with creative titles such as “Batman and the Electrical Brain”,

Batman1943SerialPoster.jpg

The effects and costumes were…not the best.

Image result for batman serials 1940s

but one of its lasting impacts was hiring actor English character actor William Austin to play the Batman’s butler.

Image result for alfred pennyworth william austin

The serials were so popular that the comics adapted and changed Alfred’s appearance to reflect the show.

So what happened?

Jesus, to describe everything that Alfred has done since his original appearance would take an entire book.

Image result for batman alfred pennyworth

Wherever Batman has gone, Alfred has followed.  He’s an integral part of the Batman mythos, and I would personally argue that he the most important supporting figure in any Batman story.  And yes, that includes figures like Robin and Batgirl.

Image result for batman bat family

He has fulfilled the role of a caretaker, a guiding moral compass to a whole host of emotionally crippled children and warriors, and most importantly an eternally patient father figure.

Image result for batman alfred father

So, in an effort to keep this short, I’m going to break his long and storied career down into some of the more prominent highlights.

In 1964 Alfred was killed in Detective Comics #328 after heroically saving the Dynamic Duo from a falling boulder.

Image result for detective comics alfred's death

He would be reborn as a mysterious villain known as “The Outsider” and fought the heroes off panel, usually using other villains as pawns and working behind the scenes.

His identity and appearance would be revealed two years later in Detective Comics #356.

Image result for batman the outsider villain

It…wasn’t the best look for him and I can see why they kept him out of the way.

In terms of backstory, Alfred’s has remained pretty consistent.  The comics have always given him some sort of military and/or intelligence background and in the 1960’s he worked as an intelligence agent during World War 2.  We know this because he had a daughter named Julia with a French co worker.

Image result for batman alfred julia remarque

In 1985 DC reorganized its comic books with the even “Crisis on Infinite Earths” and reworked the backstories of many of their most famous characters.

Alfred got a few minor tweaks but didn’t change that much.  He was an actor as well as an intelligence agent and instead of introducing himself to a much older Bruce, he became Bruce’s butler and confidant at a young age.

Image result for post crisis alfred

The new Alfred had some pretty awesome moments as well and a lot of writers love giving him some really badass lines and small fight scenes.

alfred cool redhood

Seriously, the man’s gone toe to toe with Superman both in quips,

alfred cool master

and with fisticuffs.

alfred cool superman

So he’s amazing in the comics but I would have to say that his film and television appearances deserve a special mention as well.

Alfred has appeared in every single movie, television, and cartoon adaptation of Batman since the beginning and has provided a steady stream of employment to classy senior British actors.

Image result for alfred in batman movies

All of them have been fantastic, but special mentions go to the Alfred from Batman: The Animated Series,

Image result for batman the animated series alfred

where he was voiced by actor Clive Revill (who was actually the original voice of the Emperor from Star Wars)

Image result

and the gloriously named Efrem Zimbalist Jr.

Image result for efrem zimbalist jr

Personally my favorite Alfred at the moment has to be the one from The Lego Batman Movie where he was voiced by Voldemort himself, Ray Finnes,

Image result for the lego batman movie alfred

but if you ask me the best Alfred of them all would have to be the late great Michael Gough from Tim Burton’s Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Forever, and the infamous Batman and Robin.

Image result for batman and robin alfred

I would actually go as far as to say that Michael Gough was so good that he actually made Batman and Robin halfway watchable.

Image result for batman and robin

That’s right, I’m defending Batman and Robin, fight me.

Alfred is one of the greatest comic book characters ever created.  He is wise and talented beyond even his considerable years and has been at Bruce’s side through thick and thin.  Not only has he been a faithful and dutiful butler but he has been a kind, patient, and loving father to a boy who needed it most in order to become one of the greatest superheroes of all time.

Image result for alfred pennyworth

Comic book showcase: Magnus, Robot Fighter.

So let’s close out the “Gold Key to Valiant Trilogy” (a name I just made up) with the final hero that was published by Gold Key Comics that made its way to Valiant Comics in the 1990’s: Magnus, Robot Fighter.

Image result for magnus robot fighter

Origin and Career

Magnus, Robot Fighter was first published by Gold Key Comics in February of 1963.

Image result for magnus robot fighter #1

He was created by comic book writer and artist Russ Manning.

Image result for russ manning portrait

There are a couple things that should be noted about Russ Manning.  First, while Magnus, Robot Fighter was his single greatest creation, he rose to prominence in the comic book world with his work on Tarzan comics.

Image result for russ manning tarzan

You will also notice that his artwork is jaw droppingly amazing.

Magnus, Robot Fighter was a man born in the future society of North Am, a futuristic mega city that spans the entire continent of North America in the year 4000 A.D.

Image result for magnus robot fighter gold key north am

While humans are nominally in charge of North Am, they have slowly become more and more dependent on a massive robot workforce.  One of their own, a robotic police chief named H-8, hates humanity to the point where he wants to take over North Am and rule over the humans.

Image result for magnus robot fighter h 8

Into this story steps Robot 1-A, who appears to be a much older and wiser robot than his companions.  He raises a boy named Magnus to fight robots with his bare hands and protect humanity from evil robots and humans who seek to use robots for their own wicked plans.

The adventures of Magnus were pretty straight forward.  He would find a robot, or group of robots, that was doing something wrong or detrimental to humanity and beat the ever loving piss out of said evil doers with his bare hands.

Image result for magnus robot fighter gold key

Image result for magnus robot fighter gold key

Magnus had a girlfriend who would assist him in his adventures named Leeja Clane.

Image result for magnus robot fighter leeja

She was the daughter of a North Am senator and possessed telepathic powers that she used to help Magnus from time to time.

Image result for magnus robot fighter leeja

Image result for magnus robot fighter leeja

Magnus, Robot Fighter was a success and I think there were three reasons why he sold as well as he did.

First, the early sixties were a heyday for some of the greatest science fiction ever written.  The scene was dominated by “The Big Three” of Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, and Issac Asimov.

Image result for isaac asimov

One of Asimov’s greatest contributions to the world of science fiction was his work on robotics, specifically one of his most famous books: 1950’s I, Robot.

Image result for i robot book

In the book he introduced his now famous Three Laws of Robotics,

Image result for isaac asimov three laws of robotics

This was important to Magnus, Robot Fighter because Robot 1A, Magnus’ teacher and mentor, mentions the Three Laws and believes in them so strongly that it serves as Magnus’ origin.

The second cultural event in the early 1960’s was the introduction of karate to every day Americans.

Image result for american karate

American soldiers who had been stationed in Japan and Okinawa had learned karate from Japanese/Okinawan masters and brought it back to the States.

Image result for american karate

Since it looked cool and was just exotic enough to impress a lot of Americans it found a home in Hollywood where it was used by Frank Sinatra in 1962’s The Manchurian Candidate,

Image result for 1962 manchurian candidate karate

and by Elvis.

Image result for elvis karate

when you have a comic that combined popular science fiction with a martial art that was used by two of the coolest men to ever walk the Earth, you know you’ve got a hit.

Also, I mentioned at the top of the article that Magnus had been created by a man who made his mark in the comic book industry by drawing Tarzan stories.

Image result for russ manning tarzan

When you put Magnus side by side with Tarzan there are a lot of pretty striking similarities.  They were both raised by non human parents, they fight other worldly threats, and they both have a pretty lady friend they get to save and treat as arm candy.

Magnus was basically a futuristic version of Tarzan, and I’m okay with that.

So what happened?

Magnus may have been a popular Gold Key character (I guess people just really like robots and karate) but he fell victim to a force more powerful than any mindless robotic automaton: low sales figures.

Image result for magnus robot fighter

The series was cancelled when Gold Key started suffering in the 1970’s.

However, the rights were published by Jim Shooter’s Valiant Comics in the late 1980’s along with Turok and Doctor Solar.

Image result for magnus robot fighter valiant

The Valiant version of Magnus was pretty faithful to the Gold Key version, although there was a pretty popular issue where Magnus fought the Predator in 1992.

Image result for magnus robot fighter and predator

After Valiant’s parent company was bought by Acclaim in 1995, Magnus was rebooted two years later in 1997.

Image result for magnus robot fighter acclaim

The series was more of a self parody of the original creation and it was not very well received.  Acclaim would close its doors in 1999.  It was not sorely missed.

Magnus was picked up by Dark Horse Comics and his original stories were reprinted in 2002.

Image result for magnus robot fighter dark horse

A new original series was announced in 2010 with Jim Shooter writing which lasted four issues until it was cancelled in 2011.

Currently the series is owned by Dynamite Entertainment which bought the rights in 2013 and began publishing a new original series in 2014.

Image result for magnus robot fighter dynamite

I have the first volume on my phone.  It’s a good story, the artwork is fantastic, and I would highly recommend it.  In it’s own special way I think it’s come full circle.

Magnus, Robot Fighter was a silly idea with a silly name and only the most basic story lines and motivation.  However, the endearing nature of such a wonderfully simple concept (coupled with the fact that it borrowed heavily from established characters and jumped on the two major bandwagons of karate and 1960’s science fiction), made the comic a classic of the medium and ensured that it would be several times better than it had any right to be.

Next week we’re going to be talking about the little comic book publisher that became one of the great icons of horror but was squashed by the ever rolling tide of history.