A Tribute to the of

You keep hearing me rave about the new Justice League series on Cartoon Network.  I hope you can handle another cheer from me for their efforts.  I've been watching it a bit more sporadically lately; mainly due to the fact that it seems to be just repeats and I've seen them all.  Still, I appreciate the thoughtful use of characters, especially those from the Silver Age and also from the Golden Age.  Not long ago I happened upon an episode I'd somehow missed.  I think it was called "The Savage Time", and it actually involved the members of the League journeying through a time portal to the World War II era.  Being pretty familiar with the genre, I was having a great time with all the guest spots.  Air Force (or Army Air Corps, more properly) officer Steve Trevor, Wonder Woman's squeeze, was in attendance.  Later we saw Sgt. Rock and Easy Company.  The villain was the one and only Vandal Savage.  I'm fortunate enough to have a copy of the story featuring his first appearance in the Silver Age after a long history of vexing the Justice Society of America, but I'm saving it for later.  Be on the look out.  Another surprise guest shot came from the Blackhawks.  That got me to thinking that I've neglected them to date, so it's time to rectify that oversight and introduce or re-introduce you to this rather unique team who originated in the Golden Age and then continued for a time in the Silver Age.  As a matter of fact, the career of the Blackhawks came to a close (1968) shortly before the end of the Silver Age in 1970.  I'm getting ahead of myself, though. 

First, a brief history of The Blackhawks, courtesy of this very helpful source:  http://www.toonopedia.com/blakhawk.htm.  The Cliff's Notes version is that the Blackhawks, created by Will Eisner, had their debut way back in 1941.  They are an international team of fighter pilots who function more or less like soldiers of fortune, only they don't sell their services.  Like all good heroes they do their work because it's the right thing to do.  Their first appearance was in Military Comics #1, published by the now defunct Quality Comics and they received their own title in 1944.  DC acquired the Blackhawks later along with Quality's other goods after they went under in 1956.     

As some of you know already, the military comics weren't my big favorites, so as you might expect, my library is limited with those offerings.  I do, however, have a great resource in the form of a treasury of stories called "The Greatest 1950's Stories Ever Told."  That will be the source of this review when we visit the Blackhawks on their island headquarters, located somewhere in the South Pacific according to the story.  That tidbit contradicts the informational link above, by the way, which speculates that the island is in the Northeastern Atlantic.  I don't think it makes much difference, but I thought the contrast was interesting.  The story, "The Raid on Blackhawk Island!", is from Blackhawk #109, the February 1957 edition with Art, cover and interior, by Dick Dillin and Charles Culdera with coloristTom Ziuko. Jack Schiff is in the editor's seat. The author of this adventure is a mystery, anyone out there in cyberspace have the solution? If so, please pass it on.  The splash page shows six of the seven members of the team spilling out of their barracks to confront some mechanical menaces.  The usual seven members are Andre, Olaf, Hendrikson, Chuck, Stanislaus, Chop Chop and the leader, Blackhawk, who is the missing person in this case.  Their ethnicity tends to be stereotyped pretty badly with thick "accents" as evidenced on this page:  "Somebody has stolen zee killer machines from zee island museum!"  "Ach du lieber!  Stop him!  With those weapons, no criminal on earth could be defeated!"  On to the story.

Chuck is standing watch at the Blackhawk Victory Museum with Blackie the blackbird mascot perched on his shoulder when Blackhawk arrives to relieve him.  Chuck mentions that he knew the leader was approaching as Blackie had sounded off in a particular way upon his approach.  Apparently this is a unique greeting reserved by the bird for Blackhawk.  The two men then look in upon some of the trophies in the museum, nearly all being machines of destruction and reminiscing about past adventures.  To me it looks a little like Batman's trophy room in the Batcave or perhaps the one owned by Superman in the Fortress of Solitude. Chuck heads for his bunk and later an alarm is heard in the Blackhawk barracks, indicating trouble at the museum.  The men quickly begin to pull on their uniforms when they hear the voice of their leader, Blackhawk, over the intercom, telling them that a masked raider is making off with the machines and advising them to refer to emergency file #1-AAA in the event of something happening to him.  In the next heart-stopping moment, they recognize the sound of the electronic brain's disintegrator ray.  Hurriedly they go to the museum only to discover the ray still operating, the machines gone and no sign of Blackhawk but his cap and a few metal drippings on the floor, presumably from his prized gold-plated pistol.

At dawn the next day, the saddened members of the Blackhawk squadron pay their last respects in a memorial service to their fallen leader.  Following the ceremony, emergency order #1-AAA is pulled, instructing them to "continue on as a team, and fight criminals and tyrants wherever they may be!"  They immediately vow to track down Blackhawk's killer and the detective work begins.  They reason that the first thing the perpetrator would have to do is to refuel the missing machines.  Inventorying their fuel supply, they estimate the missing 500 gallons would have allowed movement of 100 miles on the island, so they plot likely destinations, board their jets and begin the search in earnest. 

They land at an abandoned village and search for a few moments when an ominous rumbling sounds begin.  It's the dreaded war wheel, a large, hob-nailed device of carnage, manned by a masked and costumed menace that calls himself "The Question Mark!"  Fearsome, no?  So, the Blackhawks begin some evasive maneuvers until Stanislaus, the former trapeze artist, uses a nearby tree to catapult him toward the war wheel with an explosive charge that he swiftly deposits into the exhaust system, disabling the machine.  Unfortunately, before they can catch up with the wobbling war wheel, the Question Mark has managed to activate the next peril in the form of the flying tank.  I kid you not; it's a tracked, armored tank with wings.  All you physicists out there need to suspend your disbelief in a big way.  I've seen Abrams tanks up close and personal.  Ain't no way, folks, but hey, it's a comic book.  The tank swoops toward the men, who quickly sprint toward the nearby underground bomb shelter.  The Question Mark taunts them with a PA system until he brushes against a statue, throwing a track off the tank and sending it into a sort of tailspin.  Chuck and Olaf seize the opportunity to jump aboard and try to wrest control of the tank, but the Question Mark jockeys the tank until the men fall off the wing.  Fortunately each is equipped with an emergency parachute and they float toward the ground while Hendrickson fires a grenade shell at the tank, disabling it to the point that it drifts toward a rough landing far away. 

Regrouping, the paramilitary unit pursues the Question Mark again, finding him in yet another terrible machine, the Killer Shark's Octopus, a sort of mechanical replica of a giant octopus.  Taunting once again, the Question Mark announces that he's going to burst the dam and flood the valley.  He emphasizes it by firing at the dam with a cannon.  The Blackhawks run toward the nearby tower for refuge.  Blackie, meanwhile, is circling and cawing repeatedly, prompting Chuck to shout, "That's it!  I'm right!  The game's over!  I know who you are, Question Mark!  You 're really—Blackhawk!"  Popping the canopy on the mechanical beast and removing his hood, Blackhawk reveals himself and asks Chuck how he knew.  Chuck relates that Blackie's special caw was the clincher, but that other minor errors were made, including knowledge of the secret parachutes of the Blackhawks and that the Question Mark's ability to accurately predict each move could only be a result of having access to the Blackhawk radio band they use to communicate.  The only remaining question on the men's minds is, why?  Blackhawk explains:  "Because I wanted to test you all, to find someone who could take over the Blackhawks in case something ever happened to me!"  Questioned further about who made the grade, the leader replies, "All of you men!  The test has proven to me that each and every Blackhawk is capable of taking over command!  And now I can put my mind at ease!"  Thus satisfied, this somewhat short story (10 pages from the splash page to the last page) ends.  They seemed to be a bit smaller during the 50's, as you may recall from the early Flash, Green Lantern and Martian Manhunter stories that I've reviewed previously and that are still available for your purview here at the archives.             

The Blackhawks, particularly while in the care of DC, remind me a bit of the Challengers of the Unknown.  They're not super powered, but they often ended up tackling some of the same bizarre fare, such as prehistoric monstrosities and other science fiction sorts of plots, particularly in their later exploits.  Pure adventurers with a fearlessness and devotion to teamwork made them a formidable task force and the international flavor of the group was a nice touch, but apparently they didn't have enough of the right stuff or maybe they just outlived their usefulness in a world that wasn't at war.  I'm sure Sgt. Rock, Jeb Stuart and his haunted tank and The Losers could appreciate the dilemma.  What's a team of warriors to do when the enemy stands vanquished?  Still, you don't have a career spanning over 25 years without leaving a mark and I was pleased that a member of the Blackhawks was given a role in Kingdom Come as the bombing pilot and that they made that appearance I mentioned at the beginning of this review on the new Justice League cartoon series.  Gone but not forgotten, other than the odd special appearance are the Blackhawks. I'll give this story a rating of 8.  While my true passion in this era are the superheroes, the Blackhawks made for some interesting reading as well.  I've got a couple of other stories about them in my collection and I just may revisit them in the future.

Remember to join us again in about two weeks for the latest journey into this special era.  You just can't beat the Silver Age and I aim to prove it again and again.  Take a few minutes to share your thoughts at silveragesage@thesilverlantern.com.  I'll be glad to answer any questions or comments you may have.  In the meantime…

Long live the Silver Age!

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