DC Comics History: Blackhawk (1960 - 1964: the Silver Age)
By Deejay Dayton
May 23, 2017 - 09:06
Blackhawk was in a weird state during the period 1960 – 1964: the Silver Age. While war comics were a growing trend, and Blackhawk had very much begun in that vein, the stories were in no way comparable to those of Sgt. Rock or the Haunted Tank. The way that Blackhawk used its villains, Lady Blackhawk, and the animal mascots bore had far more in common with super hero books from the era, despite the fact that the Blackhawks were not super heroes. Not yet at least.
In some stories it almost felt like they were. In Blackhawk 161 the titular hero is parachuting from his plane during a storm and gets hit by lightning that rebounds off of a meteor. The combination of these effects winds up endowing him with lighting bolt powers. These powers turn out to be more of a curse than a blessing, as they drain his life force each time he uses them. Of course, situations keep arising where he has to use them to save the rest of the team.
The doctor theorizes that the meteor might be able to help cure Blackhawk, and the team starts searching for it, but it gets found by a criminal, Tankman. The climax of the story is just absurd. Tankman gets the meteor, so the doctor fires an electrical bolt at him, to replicate Blackhawk's situation. Then Blackhawk approaches the man, and they wind up neutralizing the meteor/lightning bolt effect.
Up to this time all the Blackhawk tales had completed within one issue. The first two part story appeared in issue 185 and 186. In the first part the Blackhawks are chasing a human criminal when they wind up encountering one from another dimension. The alien, Dirg, sends Hendrickson, Andre, Chuck and Chop Chop to his dimension.
There, the four of them gain super powers, and round up the rest of Dirg's gang. Back on Earth, the remaining Blackhawks are having a much harder time dealing with Dirg and the Earth criminal. In the other dimension, they find a transporter, but it can only send one person through it. Andre travels back, and helps the Blackhawks on Earth defeat Dirg, revealing his vulnerability to cold.
The story ends with a cliffhanger. Chuck, Chop Chop and Hendrickson are all still trapped in the other dimension, and the Blackhawks have no idea how to get their teammates back.
The resolution of the tale, in Blackhawk 186, brings back one of their lamer villains. While Chuck, Hendrickson and Chop Chop are still trapped in the other dimension that Dirg sent them to in the previous issue, the Blackhawks on Earth are busy dealing with the return of the Hoopster. Yes, that is as sad as it sounds.
In the other dimension, the trapped Blackhawks become super heroes, putting their new powers to use. They spend much of the issue trying to defeat the Mind Master, and eventually do so, using his mind reading helmet to learn the secret of transversing dimensions. The Hoopster looks a lot different than he did in his first outing, and has far more impressive gear as well.
His chamber of deadly hoops is effective enough to capture the various members of the Blackhawks still on Earth. But Chop Chop, Chuck and Hendrickson arrive on Earth just in time to save their comrades, and defeat the Hoopster. This is, thankfully, the Hoopster's final appearance.
Blackhawk 189 features the first full-length story. As one might expect from the cover image of cavemen skiing through the air, it's not very good. So the villains in this story are time travellers, being pursued by time travelling police. The bad guys have weapons from the future, and defeat the Blackhawks and future cops in the present, and then flee into the past.
The Blackhawks split into two groups, one heading to prehistoric times, the other to ancient Rome. They are trying to prevent the crooks from the future from stealing the future weapons that have been hidden in the past which they will use in the present before fleeing into the past. Can you follow that? It's hardly worth the effort, frankly. I enjoy the ancient Rome scenes the most, but that's likely just me.
Cavemen wind up getting a hold of the future weapons, which is why they are skiing through the air on the cover. The two groups of Blackhawks manage to re-unite, and even team up with the flying cavemen, and manage to defeat the time travelling bad guys. They should have just called in Rip Hunter.
Lady Blackhawk appears in eleven stories during these years. Most of them are not very good. In Blackhawk 147 she stars in a movie about herself, gets hypnotized into working against the team in Blackhawk 161, and helps out against a giant who emerges from a crack in the ground in issue 188.
In Blackhawk 151 Lady Blackhawk gains super-powers. The Blackhawks are in pursuit of the evil Baron Brane when they come across Lady Blackhawk, flying towards them. She explains that she had already cornered Brane, who used a machine that wound up endowing both of them with super powers. Baron Brane manages to keep Zinda at bay and flee from the Blackhawks, but then Lady Blackhawk lifts the entire team, and flies them all to his hideout.
Brane hits Zinda with a beam that seems to take away her powers. It's a good thing for the Blackhawks that they are all wearing parachutes! It turns out that Baron Brane has lost his powers as well. The beam did not take away Lady Blackhawk's powers, they simply wore off, the same way Brane's did. He was just trying to con them into thinking he still had his.
Lady Blackhawk's romantic feelings for Blackhawk take centre stage in issue 155. At the top of the story Lady Blackhawk helps rescue a woman trapped by a bridge collapse. Blackhawk is impressed, and asks her out on a date. Lady Blackhawk is pleasantly surprised, but the other members of the team are taken aback, mocking him and uneasy about it.
The date goes extremely well, and Blackhawk and Lady Blackhawk become a team within the team, eventually getting married. This causes so much tension with the team that it is on the verge of breaking up. While on their honeymoon, both Blackhawk and Lady Blackhawk wind up getting stuck in quicksand. Blackhawk reveals that everyone on the team had been in love with Zinda, and that he feels he used his position as leader to give him an unfair advantage over the others. The team then swoop in and rescue them, but everyone announces that they are quitting.
It's only at this point that it all gets revealed as a dream. The date had never actually taken place. Lady Blackhawk is so upset by her dream that she decides to bring all the Blackhawks along on the date. Effectively, this story seems to cut short what romance had been brewing between her and Blackhawk, though it will resurface later.
The Lady Blackhawk tale in Blackhawk 163 also goes the romance route. It begins as the Blackhawks deal with a thief who they believe is the Count of Moravia, though when they make the accusation they wind up booted out of the country. The count is looking for a secretary, so the Blackhawks get Zinda Blake to apply for the post. So Lady Blackhawk becomes the count's secretary, and starts spying on him for the team.
The more time she spends with him, the harder it is for her to believe he is the thief. And the count falls for Zinda, and starts showering her with presents. Zinda finds the stolen treasures, but also a photograph revealing that the count has an evil twin. The twin is exposed as the thief, the Blackhawks are vindicated, and Zinda bids farewell to the count, even though he is still smitten with her.
Lady Blackhawk gets threatened by the entire team in Blackhawk 166. Lady Blackhawk comes to Blackhawk Island and finds it seemingly deserted, aside from Blackie the Hawk. Then she comes across Blackhawk and Olaf, as well as a scientist, all under the control of a weird cyclops creature. They try to kill her, but Lady Blackhawk makes it to safety. She finds the other Blackhawks imprisoned, and learns that the creatures were accidentally created by the scientist. The creatures are only able to control three people.
So the scientist keeps making more of them, to put more of the Blackhawks under their control. Lady Blackhawk winds up the only one left, pursued by the entire team. It's Blackie the Hawk that saves the day, grabbing a grenade and dropping it on the machine, destroying it, which causes the creatures to die as well.
In Blackhawk 182 we get to see that Zinda Blake lives in a really large, expensive looking house, and learn that she was part of a sorority at university. One of her old friends, now a society lady, comes to visit Zinda. The fact that Zinda is Lady Blackhawk appears to be common knowledge, but she keeps all her gear in a secret room in the house anyway. When Zinda has to go out, her friend stays behind, and intercepts a call from the Blackhawks. She puts on Zinda's costume, and heads out to join the Blackhawks.
The friend screws up royally, and gets both herself and the Blackhawks captured. Zinda gets into one of her spare Lady Blackhawk costumes, comes and rescues everyone. The friend does sort of redeem herself towards the end of the story, but by that point has already decided that being Lady Blackhawk is not for her.
Lady Blackhawk gets a really entertaining story in issue 186. She sees a man, handcuffed to a suitcase, kidnapped, and follows him. This leads her into a globe spanning adventure, following clues to a dead mobster's treasure trove. There are two differing sets of clues, and two rival gangs trying to find the stolen loot.
The other Blackhawks get cameos, but this is pretty darn close to a solo story for Zinda Blake, and shows off her cleverness and fighting skills. Probably her best outing so far.
Tiny Big, a midget who idolizes the Blackhawks, appears in two stories during this period. He debuts in Blackhawk 181. Tiny Big happens to be on the scene when the Blackhawks face off against some hoods at the waterfront, and helps the heroes. The media make a big deal out of him, taking pictures of him with Blackhawk's hat and coat on, labelling Tiny Big the Tom Thumb Blackhawk. Tiny decides he wants to join the Blackhawks for real, but winds up screwing up one of their plans.
Later, he makes up for this by coming to their rescue when the team are captured and put into a giant vat of cider, in order to kill them. The Blackhawks appreciate the save, but still don't want Tiny on their team. To be fair, would he be large enough to fly a plane? It doesn't look like it, from the way he is drawn. But by the end, Tiny is content to have his own star billing as the Tom Thumb Blackhawk as he performs for a circus.
In issue 195 Stanislaus goes undercover as the Blackhawks work on breaking a smuggling ring connected to the circus. We briefly get to see Tiny Big in his Tom Thumb Blackhawk act, defeating a Killer Shark impersonator. It looks like it might be a fun act. The smugglers are passing stolen goods through the prizes in a dart game. Stanislaus sucks at undercover work, and gets captured.
Tiny Big is so small that he gets inside one of the dolls, replacing the stolen loot, and identifying the criminals when they open the doll. It's a risky move, so the guy definitely has courage. He frees Stanislaus, and together they take down the smugglers. I definitely prefer this to his first story.
The Blackhawks get a new pet in Blackhawk 183, a monkey named Bravo. Because yes, someone thought that what the Blackhawks really needed was a pet monkey. In the story, it's supposedly an animal trainer friend of theirs who sent them Bravo. The Blackhawks aren't sure what to do with the monkey, but the animal eagerly goes into action with them. Grabbing himself a costume, Bravo helps the Blackhawks defeat Copter Man, but the chimp is really a plant sent by criminals to aid them in a train robbery.
At the critical moment, Bravo has to choose between the criminals who trained him, and the Blackhawks, who have given him one of their costumes. Bravo chooses to aid Blackhawk and turns against his former master.
Blackhawk 185 brings together the two Blackhawk mascots, Blackie the Hawk, and the monkey Bravo. The two are jealous of each other, each fighting to be the sole mascot that the Blackhawks take with them to go fight crime and stop aliens and such. In this case, they are dealing with victims of a flood, but the animals are more concerned with trying to outdo each other.
Looters cause problems for the team, even capturing the Blackhawks. Yes, this crack paramilitary squad get caught by a bunch of random looters. Lucky for them, Bravo and Blackie put aside their differences to save their human masters. Just awful.
As the tale in Blackhawk 190 opens, we find out that Blackie and Bravo have both completed their "underwater trials." THAT is something I would have enjoyed seeing. What the bird was doing underwater really boggles the mind. Anyway, we don't get any sort of further explanation, Blackhawk just gives the two animals some time for relaxation. The animals almost immediately get found by some criminals, who use the signal on Bravo's belt to lure and trap the Blackhawks. They steal the Blackhawk's costumes, and intend to impersonate them and rob a ship. The bird and monkey work together to free the Blackhawks from the cave the bad guys sealed them into, and even lead the attack against the Blackhawk impostors.
The story in Blackhawk 191, despite being patterned on a style of Batman story, already old hat by this point, actually comes together to make a fairly decent tale. The Blackhawks have gone missing, shortly after being presented with a book about the uses of the Blackhawk emblem. Lady Blackhawk reads the book, mostly to herself, though Blackie and Bravo seem to be paying attention.
This allows for some flashback scenes to never before seen adventures where the emblem itself saved the day, much like the stories about Batman's costumes, or the Bat-signal, or his utility belt, and the like. The story takes a different direction when Lady Blackhawk spots a bookmark in the tome, and realizes that the last story she was reading had a clue to the gold never found when the Blackhawks had captured a man years earlier. We get this confirmed by a flashback, which shows how the Blackhawks reached the same conclusion while reading the book, stuck in the bookmark, went off to catch the guy, and then got captured.
Lady Blackhawk powders herself and Blackie to make them all look like ghosts, scaring the bad guys and giving her the jump on them. Bravo takes advantage of the distraction to free the Blackhawks. They defeat the villains, and find the missing gold, painted to look like a Blackhawk emblem. This is the final appearance of Bravo. Maybe he got critically wounded in the fight. Or maybe he inhaled too much of Lady Blackhawk's powder and it poisoned him. Either way, I'm glad he's gone.
Killer Shark made three outings against the Blackhawks during this period. In Blackhawk 155 he starts by robbing a costume ball, with him and his crew in full gear. As they flee, they divert the Blackhawks with a papier mache whale, which the heroes dive into, thinking it's one of Killer Shark's crafts. Later they use as disguised air car while robbing a boat show, and again get away.
The Blackhawks do manage to grab one of his gang, and from a note the guy is trying to eat figure out where Killer Shark can be found that evening, and nab him. Some good art, but not a great story for the villain.
Blackhawk 170 brings Killer Shark and Lady Blackhawk together for the first time. The Blackhawks really do take secondary status in this story. Killer Shark has a device that allows him to control fish, and has discovered an underwater volcano, with volcanic fumes that turn ordinary fish into giant monsters. The team split up, some hunting Killer Shark, while others search for the cave. Lady Blackhawk winds up being the one to find it, and as she dives through the vent, the fumes transform her into a mermaid.
As a mermaid, Lady Blackhawk is able to command the fish better than Killer Shark can, and uses the giant creatures to seal up the volcanic vent. She sees that the fish naturally return to their normal forms after a while, so is not concerned about her mermaid state. The Blackhawks disguise one of their submarines as a giant fish, and Lady Blackhawk guides them to Killer Shark. As goofy as it is, it's really one of the better tales in the last few years.
Killer Shark and his crew are back in Blackhawk 183, and raiding ships using an underwater platform as a base. The Blackhawks manage to get into the platform just as it gets pulled down to the bottom of the sea. It turns out that Killer Shark stole it from a race of bottom dwelling mermen. The mermen at first see the Blackhawks as being just as guilty as Killer Shark. They had built the platform to battle a big scary fish monster that had been eating them.
When they see the Blackhawks risk their lives to help them fight the fish, they decide that they are not as bad as Killer Shark. Even the mermen think it is fitting that, in the end, it is one of Killer Shark's weapons, used by Blackhawk that gets rid of the fish monster. The mermen agree to let the Blackhawks take Killer Shark back to the surface to imprison.
King Condor also gets three outings during these years, the first in Blackhawk 150. This time King Condor has trained birds at his command. They don't have the range of operations that his robotic birds did, but function well enough to lure the Blackhawks to his island base.
King Condor's plan this time is just pure revenge. He does manage to capture Blackhawk and his team, but Blackie the Hawk takes charge of the trained birds and leads them all away, then comes back to free the Blackhawks, who capture King Condor.
In Blackhawk 158 King Condor is fortunate enough to come across a meteor containing the eggs for two alien birds. Once the eggs hatch, the villain raises the birds, and finds a way to control them. The birds must grow very quickly, as he has full sized adult birds out committing crimes for him by the time the Blackhawks learn of any of this. The birds are powerful enough to take out the Blackhawk's jets, and King Condor orders his birds to kill the Blackhawks.
Once again, it's Blackie the Hawk who comes to the rescue. He steals the electronic ring that King Condor uses to control the alien birds, and uses to to make the birds turn on King Condor. The Blackhawks prevent their enemy from being devoured, and decide to keep the two birds on Blackhawk Island until they die natural deaths. Presumably they are both of the same gender, and not terribly long lived.
King Condor’s tale in Blackhawk 192 feels very much like a Penguin story. King Condor manages to steal a sorcerer's scroll at the start, which gives the locations for eggs for three legendary birds. This leads to a globe hopping chase with the Blackhawks, as King Condor hatches and takes control of the animals. The first is a roc, then a basilisk, followed by a thunderbird. The story ascribes a variety of powers to these birds, although not ones that they actually had. For example, the thunderbird shoots lightning out of its feet. And the basilisk does not turn everything it looks at into stone.
The phoenix is the final bird that King Condor gets, although this is a living statue that, when assembled, will endow King Condor with immortality. Blackhawk manages to smash the statue before this happens. This also has the side effect of wiping out the three other birds.
The Jailer returns for one final tale in Blackhawk 193. The villain has no time for pretending to have reformed in this one. He is blatantly out to kill the Blackhawks, and wants to do it in a publicly humiliating way. He captures the team, aside from Chop Chop, and puts them in a cage wit a bomb, which he hangs in public view.
Chop Chop heads back to the other dimension that the Blackhawks had been stuck in, and finds his alien buddy there. He aids the alien in stopping some criminals who are using a time travel belt, and then brings the belt back to Earth. Using it, he is able to free the Blackhawks by moving them back in time to before they were captured, and they defeat the Jailer.
Blackhawk 146 introduces a new recurring villain for the team, the Scorpion. The Blackhawks gain another enemy with a love of robotic animals. This one, the Scorpion, builds giant sized versions of insects which he uses in his crimes. It makes for some great visuals, although we don't actually get to see very much of the villain himself, in his nifty Scorpion costume, as he is usually inside one of the giant insect machines.
The story is pretty straightforward, with the Blackhawks only succeeding because the Scorpion leaves his plans lying around for them to read, and Blackie the Hawk flies into the caterpillar machine to mess up the controls.
The Scorpion makes his second and last outing against the Blackhawks in issue 178. The Scorpion uses a combination of real insects and giant robotic ones in this story. He breaks out of prison using honeybees to sting and distract the guards, but bursts into a charity event to rob it with a giant robotic beetle. The Scorpion has a big dragonfly plane, and also thousands of trained tse tse flies, with which he knocks out the pursuing Blackhawks.
He actually makes for a fairly impressive villain. I'm surprised he only got two outings against the team. Blackhawk and Andre get captured by the Scorpion, but get free and steal one of his machines, using it to blind he villain and bring him down.
Blackhawk 190 features a decently creepy villain, one who is so much more visually interesting than most of the enemies they deal with that I wish he had returned. The Starfish Man was a thief who was hiding out, and got a job as a janitor at a laboratory/aquarium.
In a sort of Jimmy Olsen moment, he mistook some water from a leftover experiment with drinking water, and ingested the fluid that turned him into a starfish-man. The Blackhawks piece all this together after they see him change back into normal human form, and them compare his picture with those of a wanted felon, and the missing lab assistant.
Then Blackhawk takes the same formula himself, so he can battle him starfish-man to starfish-man.
Blackhawk continues in the next period, 1964 – 1967: the New Look.
Blackhawk: Blackhawk 145 - 195 (Feb 60 – April 64)
Next up – Green Arrow!
Last Updated: May 19, 2020 - 12:25
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