Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Classics - Blackhawk #187

From my earliest days as a comic reader, I was a big fan of the Blackhawks.

It's difficult to say why, because on paper, the whole idea sounds silly.

Seven pilots form a team named after their leader, Blackhawk. They all dress in identical black leather flight gear (except for Chop Chop, who thankfully by the '60s was no longer portrayed in the original, '40s racist version of a fighter from China). Each is from a different country, and each brings a different skill - and a different dialect - to the adventures.

Blackhawk's origins are uncertain - he first appears fighting the Nazis in Poland, but he seems to be American. The rest of the team includes Chuck, Andre, Hendrickson, Olaf and Stanislaus.

After the end of the war, they continued fighting against criminals, aliens, monsters and other dangers with the occasional help of Lady Blackhawk.

Through teamwork and strategy they overcome every menace. For most of the book's original run, each issue featured three stories. I always thought that worked against the team, limiting them to these brief, 8-page adventures. (It certainly must have been a challenge for the writers, with few returning villains to use.)

I picked issue #187 (published in 1963) for this review because I have such fond memories of reading this one over and over again. It includes these stories:

"One Of Our Blackhawks Is Missing!" - In which Chuck tries to transport a treasure, gets shot down, gets amnesia, and fights against the Blackhawks when they arrive to rescue him!

"The Porcupine -- Man of 1,000 Quills" - Pits the team against a villain with the same powers as the Marvel version with the same name (no idea which one was first), namely firing powerful quills. They must employ a trick to reveal his secret identity.

"The Portrait That Doomed Blackhawk" - This is the story that really captured my imagination. Blackhawk keeps getting injured in the line of duty. He breaks his wrist, has a head injury and hurts his ankle. The team discovers that a mysterious painting is behind the injuries - an old enemy is using it to get his revenge on Blackhawk. How can our heroes save their leader? The answer was funny and clever - at least my 7-year-old self thought so. It holds up well today.

Sadly, the stories aren't credited - even the Grand Comics Database doesn't identify the writer, though the art is credited to Dick Dillin as penciler and Charles Cuidera as inker.

Those two did an amazing volume of work for DC, creating easy to identify characters and telling the story cleverly and clearly. They were classic DC artists (working in the "house style"), and always at the peak of their profession. There are few artists today who could turn out such high quality work, in a comic featuring so many characters, on time, month after month. (There were giants in those days.)

Whenever I go to a comics convention, I almost always pick up a Silver Age issue or two of Blackhawk (or at least I give it a good try). The series wasn't cutting edge, but each comic was fun to read, filled with the manly adventures of a band of brothers - characters I loved as a kid. Heck, I'm still crazy about them.

It's a title that never fails to give me that warm nostalgic buzz. Great memories!

Grade: B



Anonymous said...

I enjoy the heck out of this series too, Chuck.
When Tony Isabella reviewed the DC Showcase Presents edition of Blackhawks, he was less than enthusiastic about the formulaic nature of the stories, but what can you do when you have to fit seven characters, a menace and some action in 8 pages?
I keep my Showcase copy at hand, and every now and then open the book at the beginning of any story, and I know I will be a bite-size fashion.
The writers and artists were very
much challenged to fill each monthly book with three different adventures...and I celebrate the very satisfactory job they did, month in and month out.

Sam Kujava

Chuck said...

Sam, that's definitely the best way to enjoy those "Showcase" books - read a story, then put it down and read something else. Those comics were meant to be read once a month, not one right after another.

Glen Davis said...

Love me some silver age Blackhawk.