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Meet the Blackhawks

June 12, 2009

Blackhawk, a long-running comic book series, was also a film serial, a radio series and a novel. The comic book was published first by Quality Comics and later by National Periodical Publications, the primary company of those that evolved to become DC Comics. The series was created by Will Eisner, Chuck Cuidera, and Bob Powell, but the artist most associated with the feature is Reed Crandall. Future Justice League of America artist Dick Dillin succeeded him in the 1950s, continuing on through DC's acquisition of the series.

The Blackhawk Squadron, usually called the Blackhawks, are a small team of World War II-era ace pilots of varied nationalities, each typically known under a single name, either their given name or their surname.

In the grand tradition of democracy defenders, the Blackhawks found their niche in 1941, when they first appeared in Military Comics #1 published by Quality Comics.

Will Eisner is widely recognized as the originator of the Blackhawks collective, but several artists and writers contributed to the Blackhawks series, including Bob Powell, Chuck Cuidera and Reed Crandall.

The Blackhawks were a band of no-nonsense fighter pilots from America and the free regions of Europe, allied for the common cause of defeating Nazis, terrorists and pretty much anyone else they perceived as a threat to the good ole U.S. of A during the second World War. Among them were Andre (a Frenchman), Olaf (a strapping Swede), Hendrikson (a Dutchman), Chuck, Stanislaus, Chop Chop (a Chinese man) and Blackhawk (the American leader).

Readers rallied behind the unlikely militia and the intensely patriotic message of camaraderie allowed the Blackhawks to enjoy a great deal of commercial success. They continued to appear in Military Comics (renamed Modern Comics at the end of WWII) until 1950.

During the war era, nothing about the Blackhawks mattered so much as their commitment to defeating a common American enemy, but over time, as war became a memory, not only did the Blackhawks have to find other groups to fight (eventually they turned to communists and anyone else who posed any potential threat to the good ole U.S. of A.), they had to fight to hold readers' attention, as well.

After six years of starring in their own comic title, even after the title's publisher Quality Comics folded in 1956, the Blackhawks were distributed through DC Comics. DC decided to reinvent the group, gradually transforming them into superheroes.

Though America grew somewhat disillusioned with the absurd plot arcs the crew faced, they seemed to respond well to the differences in racial depictions. For instance, the original Chop Chop was presented stereotypically, with exaggerated slanted eyes, buck teeth and a short, enormous body. He served as the Blackhawks' chef. After his DC transformation, Chop Chop emerged as a svelte, handsome aviator like the rest of the gang.

Alas, the Blackhawks couldn't survive all the outlandish changes to their original patriotic premise and, in October 1968, the last issue of Blackhawk marked a return to the group's original look and premise.

There've been several attempts at a Blackhawk revival, including a run by Mark Evanier and artist Dan Spiegel, a three-issue 1988 mini-series by writer-artist Howard Chaykin, and 1989-1990 series. + click to zoom

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