BLACKHAWKOriginal Medium: Comic books
Published by: Quality Comics
First Appeared: 1941
Creator: Will Eisner
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The Blackhawks — Andre, Olaf, Hendrikson, Chuck, Stanislaus, Chop Chop and their leader, Blackhawk himself — are a freelance band of fighter pilots. They all live together on Blackhawk Island (probably somewhere in
the Northeastern Atlantic), from which they sally forth when the need arises, to battle Nazis, Commies, terrorists, or whoever else might happen to be making the world unsafe for democracy.
Blackhawk was the creation of Will Eisner, the prolific genius behind characters as diverse as The Spirit and Sheena, Queen of the Jungle. Other artists working in his studio, for example Bob Powell (Mr. Mystic, The Avenger) and Chuck Cuidera (who drew the first story) also contributed materially to the early development of the series, but it was Eisner who came up with the concept and designed the uniforms. The name most prominently associated with the early Blackhawk was Reed Crandall, also known (among other things) for his work on EC Comics and Treasure Chest.
The idea was to gather high-caliber fighting men from several of Europe's free countries, and unite them into a band of Nazi fighters that did not owe allegiance to any one nation. They debuted in the first issue of Military Comics, dated August, 1941, published by Quality Comics; and in 1944, Quality's Uncle Sam Quarterly was replaced with Blackhawk's own title.
The Blackhawk team continued to fight Nazis as long as there were any to fight. When there weren't any more, they switched to Commies and other would-be world conquerors. Military Comics changed its name to Modern Comics at the end of World War II and continued under that title until 1950. Blackhawk's own comic continued to come out every month even after its publisher, Quality Comics, went out of business in 1956.
Quality's assets were bought by DC Comics, which cancelled some of the ongoing Quality titles (such as Marmaduke Mouse and Plastic Man) and continued others (such as G.I. Combat and Heart Throbs) under its own imprint. The first DC issue of Blackhawk was #108 (January, 1957). But in keeping with the trend at DC, the Blackhawks began to fight monsters, aliens and other sci-fi menaces, to the point where eventually, their world was indistinguishable from that of the superheroes.
As World War II receded into the past, the team's raison d'etre became tenuous. Sales dropped off, and DC started tinkering with the formula. In 1964, the Blackhawks swapped their old leather outfits for something snappier and more modern-looking — but also looking a little bit superheroey. Three years later, they went whole hog into the superhero business, with some of the silliest powers and motifs around. A year after that — following a merciful two-issue return to their original look — the comic finally bit the dust. The last issue was dated Oct-Nov 1968.
The Blackhawk series provides an interesting look at the changing ways America depicts its racial minorities. The character Chop Chop (introduced in Military Comics #3) was originally a fat, buck-toothed Chinaman with an enormous queue, who wore bright silks and functioned as Blackhawk Island's cook. By the end, he was Chopper, the well-built, handsome Asian member of the team, had an American-style haircut, wore the standard leather Blackhawk uniform, and flew a plane just like the rest.
In 1976, the Blackhawks were revived as a contemporary international adventuring team, but this version garnered little attention and was gone after a half-dozen issues. A 1982 revival by writer Mark Evanier (DNAgents, Groo the Wanderer) and artist Dan Spiegle (Crossfire, Space Family Robinson) was done as a World War II period piece. This one was well received critically, but sales were marginal — to the point where Carol Kalish, marketing chief of arch-rival Marvel Comics, helped out with its promotion, because she personally enjoyed the comic and wanted it to continue. Even with that kind of support, the Evanier/Spiegle version lasted only two years.
The Blackhawks haven't been very prominent outside of comic books. They starred in a novel by William Rotsler, which came out in 1982. There's a Blackhawk module in the DC Heroes role-playing game. Their biggest break-out was in a 15-part movie serial, Blackhawk: Fearless Champion of Freedom, the first chapter of which was released July 1, 1952 by Columbia Pictures (Vigilante, Congo Bill). Kirk Alyn (who also played Superman on the big screen) played the title role.
Blackhawk and his cronies have appeared only sporadically in the past couple of decades — a mini-series here, a special there When they do appear, they follow the lead of the 1982 series, and appear in a World War II setting. That's the only era in which they're truly at home.