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: Camera Comics

Today we’re going to do something different.

I was planning to try and talk about a famous Golden Age comic book villain, but since most of the bad guys were usually one note, thinly veiled Nazis.

Image result for comic book nazis golden age

or usually wound up dead after a single issue,

Image result for batman killing people

it was kind of difficult for a villain to really take off.

The thing is, during my research I discovered a comic book villain called “The Mad Arsonist”.

Image result for camera comics the mad arsonist

That’s him in the background holding the vial and looking like a half crazed madman.

The story behind him is simple, he’s a crazy pharmacist who liked to set things on fire and watch them burn.

Comic Book Cover For Camera Comics v1 6 (6)

While the villain himself was pretty intriguing what I wound up discovering is that the company that published his story, Camera Comics, had a pretty interesting backstory itself.

So today, instead of talking about a single character, we’re going to showcase an entire company and the work they did.  Today we’re going to talk about Camera Comics.

Origin and Titles

In 1935 a man named Tomas Maloney published a magazine called U.S Camera.

Image result for us camera 1935

Maloney was an advertising executive and photography enthusiast who dedicated himself to publishing photographic works and promoting photography as an art form.

He would move on to publishing a full size magazine, titled U.S Camera Magazine, in 1938.

 Image result for us camera magazine 1938

The publication was a success and would eventually reach a peak circulation of over 300,000 copies.

In 1945 the U.S Camera Publishing Corporation looked at the pop culture landscape, noticed that this new fangled “comic book” was really popular with young people, and decided to enter the comic book publishing game themselves.  Their first publication was Camera Comics #1 in October of 1944.

Comic Book Cover For Camera Comics v1 1 (1)

It’s important to understand that these comics were created as advertisements first and stories second, which is a crying shame because a lot of the work that came out of these comic books was really good.

Camera Comics produced six volumes of work and each volume was usually made of three types of material: ads and real world tutorials, fictional stories, and historical/biographical work.

The first type of material was pretty straightforward.  Since Camera Comics was created to advertise and sell photographic equipment it would make sense that a lot of ads were placed in each publication.

Comic Book Cover For Camera Comics v1 1 (1)

Also, each issue had two issues talking about certain aspects of the hobby.  These included instructional pages on how to create a dark room,

Comic Book Cover For Camera Comics v1 2 (2)

to showing how American soldiers set up, took, and developed recon photos for the war effort.

Comic Book Cover For Camera Comics v1 3 (3)

Naturally, the war effort led to the second type of material that the comic title published: traditional comic book stories.

Comic Book Cover For Camera Comics v1 1 (1)

A lot of these stories were similar to the traditional wartime superhero stories that were popular throughout the war.  The big difference is that instead of superpowers and bright costumes saving the day, these heroes usually saved the day by using a camera in some capacity.

For example, “The Grey Comet” was a story about an Air Corps (the Air Force didn’t exist until after the war) pilot who managed to stop a German guided missile and somehow managed to complete a reconnaissance run as well.

Comic Book Cover For Camera Comics v1 1 (1)

Comic Book Cover For Camera Comics v1 1 (1)

This would eventually develop into Camera Comics creating its own characters such as “Kid Click”.

Comic Book Cover For Camera Comics v1 3 (3)

He was a young kid with a passion for photography and would go around solving small time crimes where his film would always be used as evidence to apprehend he criminals.

Comic Book Cover For Camera Comics v1 3 (3)

Comic Book Cover For Camera Comics v1 3 (3)

Another character of note was Linda Lens.

Comic Book Cover For Camera Comics v1 3 (3)

While Kid Click was a pretty blatant gimmick to sell cameras to kids, Linda Lens was surprisingly progressive for comics.  As you can see above she was a capable, independent photographer with her own business which by all accounts was doing well.

What makes it even more interesting is that she wound up becoming a freelance photographer for the U.S Army and was able to appear on the front lines as a combat photographer.

Comic Book Cover For Camera Comics v1 3 (3)

she actually helped uncover a secret Nazi listening post in a popular officer’s club in Allied occupied France.

Comic Book Cover For Camera Comics v1 3 (3)

and played an important role in capturing the Nazi spy.

Comic Book Cover For Camera Comics v1 3 (3)

The third and final type of story that appeared in these books were short biographical comics about famous historical figures that helped develop the art and technical aspects of photography.  These included pioneers such as Matthew B. Brady,

Comic Book Cover For Camera Comics v1 3 (3)

who was one of the first pioneers of outdoor photography and was one of the first wartime photographers.

Image result for mathew b brady photography

Image result for mathew b brady photography

Image result for mathew b brady photography

and Edward Maybridge, a man who was one of the first people to showcase how a series of still photographs could be turned into a moving picture.

Comic Book Cover For Camera Comics v1 4 (4)

Image result for eadweard muybridge

All in all, Camera Comics was a fun, engaging, and informative advertisement for photography and I like to think that it was a success in convincing a generation of children to take up a camera as a hobby.

So what happened?

Despite some genuinely good work and sincere thought that went into a lot of these comic books, at the end of the day they were just ads.

Image result for camera comics

Camera Comics played second fiddle to the much more serious publications that Thomas Maloney was publishing and his other work was  finding great success in the popular culture.  In fact, his U.S Camera Annual: 1945 was lauded by the New York Times as “The best picture book on the War to date”

Image result for us camera 1945

Camera Comics was cancelled in 1946 after a nine issue publishing run.

Comic Book Cover For Camera Comics v2 3 (9)

These comics were far better than they had any right to be.  Even though they were essentially glorified ads there was some genuine heart, passion, and talent that went into publishing these stories and that deserves our recognition and respect.  Whether it was telling fictional stories about characters using their cameras to save the day,

Image result for camera comics

telling stories about the pioneers of photography,

Comic Book Cover For Camera Comics v2 3 (9)

or showing kids how they could become better photographers themselves,

Image result for camera comics

Camera Comics was a publication that set out to make photography better for everyone.