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.
So we lost one of the greats yesterday: George A. Romero.
While he did create other films and was a fervent activist throughout his life, the man will always be remembered as the founding father of the zombie movie.
Fun fact: after he made his first film Night of the Living Dead Romero screwed up some paper work with the copyright office and as a result, the film is now in the public domain. You can watch it for free and I highly recommend it.
Yes, zombies are a pop culture staple nowadays. While their time as the dominant force of pop culture has waned, they’re still around making boatloads of money, especially in the comic book world.
So I thought it might be fun to talk about one of the earliest zombies in comic books, and how different a walking corpse from the 1940’s was from the present day walking corpse.
Today we’re talking about the Purple Zombie.
Origin and Career
The Purple Zombie made his first appearance in Eastern Publishing’s Reg’lar Fellers Heroic Comics #1 in August of 1940.
The character was created by Tarpe Mills, which was a pen name for Golden Age writer and artist June Mills.
Mrs. Mills was actually the first lady to create a female superhero, a black cat costumed heroine named Miss Fury.
Let it be said that the early comic book scene wasn’t entirely dominated by male New Yorkers, it was just mostly dominated by them.
When reading the Purple Zombie stories you can actually see a lot of tropes that plague (pun intended) the modern zombie. He was created by a mad scientist named Dr. Malinsky who was seeking to create an unstoppable army in order to take over the world,
However, it’s worth mentioning that there is no specific mention of how this zombie was created.
After establishing himself as an evil bastard, Dr. Malinsky realizes that he has the same problem Dr. Frankenstein had, that his creation realizes what it is and isn’t all that fond of his purpose. The creation bypasses years of therapy and emotional issues by strangling his creator.
You’ll notice three things that make this guy different. First, he’s bulletproof and super strong, thus avoiding the trope of zombies that need to be shot in the head and who are only effective in large groups. Second, he’s surprisingly articulate for a zombie and has no need or desire to consume the brains of the living. Third, his skin looks more black than purple which…raises a lot of very icky moral questions that are a bit more unsavory today than they would have been seventy years ago.
Nevertheless, this zombie sets out to find the people who backed his creation and remove them from the face of the Earth.
It’s never mentioned who the backers were working for, but with a name like Otto Von Heim it’s safe to assume they were working for the Nazis.
In a rather interesting twist, this zombie was actually captured and sentenced to death for the murders.
This is where he gets his purple skin, and his jailers realize that he can’t be killed.
The zombie is released into the care of Malinsky’s former assistant and swears to do nothing bug good from here on out.
Again, some kind of uncomfortable racial overtones here (it’s worth mentioning that pre Romero zombies were often associated with African or “voodoo” religions) but as origin stories go it’s pretty fleshed out and well done for the Golden Age.
Sadly, the zombie’s brush with organized crime wasn’t over. Realizing that a large, bulletproof, super strong, nearly unkillable monster could be useful in committing crimes a gangster named Joe Coroza kidnapped the Purple Zombie in an attempt to use him as a weapon.
His human friend tries to rescue him, but is forced to contend with an army of mechanized skeletons as well as the gangsters.
However, it turns out that the man who created the moving skeletons was actually a good guy and the Purple Zombie decided to join forces with him and go off to fight in Europe for the forces of democracy.
It’s nice to know that the idea of using creatures more often associated with horror to do good is older than a lot of people think.
The plan is a success and the Zombie and his skeleton pals successfully stop the death ray from killing thousands more. Their solution…cold blooded murder.
After successfully defeating the death ray and single handily winning the war (I assume) the heroes find themselves forced to land in a mysterious lab.
It turns out that the scientist forced them to land there so he could show them their time machine and in the very next page…
Jesus, this comic jumps around more than an over caffeinated toddler.
The two find themselves in 64 A.D in the middle of the Roman Empire.
The Romans do the surprisingly sensible thing and declare these two strangers to be madmen. They also understand modern English.
Thankfully, lions are no match for the two.
Unfortunately, they now have to contend with the entire city of Rome burning.
Thankfully, they are saved by the actions of their colleagues in the present day who manage to transport them out of danger into the Medieval Ages.
It turns out they’ve landed straight in the middle of the Crusades and wind up meeting King Richard I of England.
They would have been on good terms if it wasn’t for their sudden transportation to the court of Queen Elizabeth I.
Honestly, I don’t know if the author is trying to be educational, or if she’s just name dropping random historical figures who were popular at the time.
They meet up with Sir Francis Drake while he’s bowling,
(fun side note: the story is that Sir Francis was supposedly bowling when he received news of the Armada so props for possible historical accuracy)
and the two men help him defeat the Spanish Armada until they’re whisked away to the French Revolution.
I’m beginning to think the scientists controlling the time machine hate our protagonists.
The two suffer through one more trip into prehistoric times,
and then they’re transported back to the modern day where it is revealed that the Purple Zombie wasn’t actually dead to begin with. He was actually faking his death in order to escape and wound up becoming an unwitting participant in the original experiments.
So I guess you could argue that the Purple Zombie wasn’t actually a zombie.
So what happened?
The page above is the last page we would ever see of the Purple Zombie.
We’ve talked about Eastern Publishing before and how it was going through a rather turbulent time in the late 1940’s when it merged with a bunch of other publishers to become Standard Publishing and eventually stopped making comics in the 1950’s.
But even if Eastern Publishing had survived, I think that the Purple Zombie would have been doomed anyway. For starters there were companies in the 1940’s who were using zombies and monsters much more effectively and with much better artwork.
And even if the Purple Zombie had managed to become more popular, it stood no chance against the backlash against comics in the 1950’s that wound up creating the Comics Code.
With that being said I actually like the Purple Zombie. While he had a pretty average power set and wasn’t technically a zombie, he had a pretty good back story and enough heart and dedication to be a pretty good superhero.
Today we’re talking about Through the Cognitive Rift, a graphic novel project currently seeking funding on Kickstarter.
The project is about the human mind and hypothesizes that the universe we know and love is simply the thoughts and dreams of a single individual. The story takes place in a universe experiencing the apocalypse because its creator has severe mental problems and is contemplating suicide. The plot is about the one person in this universe that has been given the opportunity to connect with its creator and attempt to save the creators life and, by extension, all of existence.
The project was created by Natalie McKean and is seeking to raise $3,200 by August 9th.
Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/nataliemckean/through-the-cognitive-rift-graphic-novel?ref=category_newest
Why I like it
The first reason I like this project is because I have a tremendous amount of respect for the creator.
Now, I never knew Mrs. McKean before I saw her project but when I learned that she is doing all of the writing, art, and production work by herself I couldn’t help but take my hat off to her.
Trust me when I say that creating comics takes a lot of work. Heck, all I do is write mine and I’m still frazzled.
The second reason that I like this project is its subject matter.
When I saw that this book was about the internal workings of people’s minds and thoughts my mind immediately thought of this:
Now, Inception is one of my favorite movies of all time. It’s deep, thoughtful, and trippy as all hell.
Now, it looks like Through the Cognitive Rift promises to be trippy as well, just in a different way.
But I think this book promises to be more than Inception, in fact I think it has the potential to be more.
Now don’t get me wrong, I have nothing but respect for Christopher Nolan and the cast of the film, but as a director he’s more of a robot than a human.
Don’t believe me? Go back to any of his films and try to find a character that conveys emotion and feeling through something that isn’t exposition or dialogue that doesn’t move the plot forward or reveal some sort of great theme or world shaking plot point.
I like this project because it looks like a more human and thoughtful version of Inception and while I don’t know if that was the creator’s intention, I write this with nothing but the highest praise and excitement.
Why you should donate
Take everything I said about Inception,
throw in the awesome artwork,
AND add the fact that this is probably one of the most creative and interesting stories that you will ever see dealing with depression, suicidal thoughts, and mental health,
and you have a recipe for a book that is engaging, thoughtful, and gorgeous to both read and look at.
Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/nataliemckean/through-the-cognitive-rift-graphic-novel?ref=category_newest
So I saw Spiderman: Homecoming yesterday.
It was good, I liked it, and it’s good to know that Spiderman is back in the loving arms of the company that spawned him.
You can make the case that Spiderman is the closest thing Marvel Comics has to a mascot, or at the very least he’s Marvel’s most successful solo hero.
And what’s not to like about him? He’s got a great gimmick, he’s got a great backstory, and he’s one of the best creations to come out of the mind of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.
But here’s the thing, great ideas like this don’t just come from nothing, and there were spider themed superheroes published in the 1940’s. One of these heroes was a Quality Comics character named Spider Widow.
Origin and Career
Spider Widow first appeared in Quality Comics’ Feature Comics #57 in June of 1942.
She was created by comic book artist Frank Borth.
While he did do some work for a Catholic magazine called Treasure Chest and did occasional work for Cracked (the magazine not the website), Spider Widow was his most popular creation.
As for her bio, her civilian identity was Dianne Grayton, rich socialite and lady about town.
How did she get her powers? Not mentioned. Why did she decide to fight crime? The comic didn’t seem to care. What was her power? She dressed up like an old hag and had the ability to control black widow spiders,
swarms of them.
You sure this is a superhero comic? Because I’m getting more of a horror vibe from this.
Her enemies weren’t that special. She fought the traditional assortment of stereotypical racist caricatures of Axis saboteurs. What made her pretty unique was what Qualiy did with her. First, they paired her with a superhero named the Raven, who made his first appearance in her title.
The story was simple. Axis spies kidnapped her because she was meddling in their affairs a bit too much and the Raven swooped in and saved her.
The day was saved, the two shared a thank you kiss, but sadly it was dark so they couldn’t see each other’s faces.
The Raven was later revealed to be a man named Tony Grey, and the two wound up forming a romantic relationship on top of their crime fighting.
One of their more notable adventures was when they teamed up to fight Spider Man, a Nazi saboteur who controlled a giant robotic spider.
Nazis controlling giant spiders? NOPE! SOUND THE ALARMS! PREPARE THE TERMS OF SURRENDER!
Now, two comic book heroes coming together in a comic isn’t really that special, but bringing in another hero and crossing over in two books? That was pretty unique for the time.
I don’t know why they chose her, but Quality Comics had The Raven crossover with another Quality character named The Phantom Lady in Police Comics #20 in 1943.
She wound up rescuing the Raven while he was investigating a crime ring and he brought her from Police Comics to Feature Comics for a couple of issues.
The two ladies did not get along very well.
Plus, I’m willing to bet the writers were venting some pent up frustrations in the book through some impressively subtle fourth wall breaks.
Look at the second to last panel and tell me you aren’t a bit impressed.
The two even went as far as to fight a duel for the Raven’s affections,
but it turned out to be a set up by some criminals and they quickly patched it over. The day was saved and then everyone went back to their own titles.
So what happened?
Aside from her crossover with the Phantom Lady, Spider Widow wasn’t really that popular or noteworthy. She lasted for a couple more issues and then disappeared around 1943.
It’s kind of a shame because she really did have a great gimmick and power set. Sure she was pretty boring as a person, and having her fight with another lady over a man probably won’t score her a whole lot of points with modern audiences, but she is in the public domain and could be a great horror protagonist.
While I don’t want to mistake correlation for causation, you can kind of see something resembling Spider Widow’s legacy in Marvel’s more modern characters.
For example. what’s the name of Marvel’s favorite super spy femme fatale? Black Widow.
Sure, she doesn’t have the power to control spiders but I like to think the creatives at Marvel were remembering Spider Widow when they came up with her.
Also, there was a villain in the Spider Man books named Spider Queen who had the power to control insects,
(yes I know spiders aren’t insects),
Sure, she’s not a wealthy heiress and controlling insects isn’t exactly a rare power, but it seems that Marvel has a pretty pronounced fascination with spiders and I like to think that Spider Widow was a start.