DC Comics History: Blackhawk (1964 - 1967: The New Look)
By Deejay Dayton
November 17, 2019 - 10:45
The Blackhawks underwent significant changes during the period 1964 – 1967: The New Look. They were not positive changes. The independent paramilitary organization wound up becoming part of an American spy operation, and by the end of the era would even adopt superhero identities. Blackhawk himself would get a new origin, and cease to be Polish. Lady Blackhawk would get kidnapped and mind controlled, becoming their enemy, Queen Killer Shark. The halcyon days of wartime adventures were kept alive for a while in “Detached Service Diary” back-ups, set in the past, and Dick Dillin and Charles Cuidera provided some stability on the art, but the Blackhawk tales from this period are cringe worthy at best.
The changes begin in Blackhawk 196. The Blackhawks get recruited by the masked Mr. Cipher, who works for a secret US government spy agency. They are sent to infiltrate the base of a Japanese war criminal, known as Colonel Frog, who has been working on super weapons. Blackhawk himself winds up falling victim to a hypnosis gas, and the villain sends the hero out to attack his own teammates. They all wind up getting sprayed by the hypno-gas. Blackhawk is then sent out to bomb a target in the US, and the team becomes publicly reviled. While Blackhawk is in his jet, the change in air pressure removes the effect of the gas, and he regains his mind. He heads back to the base, and is briefly captured, so we get the cover scene. Blackhawk has already replaced all the bullets, so after his "execution" he just jumps up and attacks Colonel Frog and defeats him. Mr Cipher is happy with the Blackhawks work, and sets up a complex way of notifying them in the future.
There was a new logo for the book, and new costumes for the team, in Blackhawk 197. The logo is a definite improvement. The costumes are not bad, in and of themselves, but move the team further from their military basis. Mr. Cipher is the one to provide the new outfits, which lack any sort of identifying Blackhawk symbol during this story. The team is split up and sent into two rival south Eastern nations, to prevent them from going to war. No real countries are used, or even clearly referenced, although with the Vietnam War going on, and spreading into Cambodia, that must have been in the minds of readers. One of the nations has a mad scientist that has created giant monstrous turtles, which the Blackhawks spend much of the story trying to defeat. The mad scientist is the one who wants war, so by defeating the turtles, the team manages to avert the worst of it, expose his plans, and leave the two countries in peace. The logic is shedding the old costumes is to provide cover for the team, so that no one could blame the US for getting involved, in case it all went wrong. A touch of Suicide Squad. The Blackhawks decide they really like the new outfits, and so add their emblems to them as the story comes to a close. Blackhawk gets a big one on his chest, while the others all wear smaller ones on their shoulders.
From new costumes and a new logo, to a brand new origin for Blackhawk and his team in issue 198, one that makes the titular hero an American, rather than a Pole. The story is still set in the present day, as the Blackhawks are contacted by Heracles, a member of the French underground who they had worked with during the war. This leads to an extended flashback, in which the members of the team recall how they all came together, meeting in a secret training camp. We hear how Hendricksen escaped from a concentration camp in the Netherlands, Andre had been working with the French underground, Olaf joined the Allies from neutral Sweden, and crossed the Alps on a tightrope. Chuck, though American, had been volunteering with the British forces. Stanislaus is kept Polish, but Blackhawk is now an American who was fighting with their air force. The nickname Blackhawk is endowed on him for his black airplane. There is nothing about his entire family being killed by the Nazis, which had been the origin of the original, Polish, version of the character. The war seems to have moved at a different pace on Earth-1 as well. The D-Day invasion takes place "a few months" after the invasion of Poland. I mean, yes, there were months between those events. There were also days. But one would generally use the term years. Anyway, the Blackhawks, with Heracles, have their first mission to destroy a secret Nazi weapons base, where they have been constructing a giant robot. They did this, and then went on to the rest of their wartime adventures. The Heracles who contacted them in the present day is an impostor, and they deal with him at the end of the story. Chop Chop, we discover, joined the team a year after these events. Though a year after the invasion of Poland, or a year after D-Day, is not clear in this story. Whatever. It was all a matter of months, right?
Chop Chop gets his origin, and his true name revealed, in Blackhawk 203. Pretty much any tale dealing with Chop Chop before the 90s was racist to a greater or lesser degree, though this is not as bad as it might have been. After escaping from a concentration camp, the Blackhawks get sent to China on a mission against the Japanese. Their goal is to persuade a Chinese warlord to join the fight. As soon as they arrive, they encounter the costumed White Dragon, who is leading attacks on the Japanese. The warlord is not inclined to join the fray, explaining that as long as he stays neutral, the Japanese will not attack his people. His son, Liu Huang, feels the same way, but is more openly rude to the Blackhawks. This, however, is clearly Chop Chop, so it's easy for the reader to get ahead of the characters, and deduce that he is also the White Dragon, and lying to conceal that fact, while fighting against the Japanese. And that all gets revealed as the story goes on. Once his identity is known, Liu Huang wants to join the Blachawks, and has to fight each of them in order to prove his worth. His martial arts skills come in handy here, but are also the basis for the team giving him the nickname Chop Chop. By the end, the father has come to see that he and his people must join the fight against Japan, and he also agrees for his son to go off and join the Blackhawks. Ever since the costume change, Chop Chop has been dressed like the other members of the team, and this story backs up the notion that he is a full member, not just some mascot.
King Condor made his final foray against the Blackhawks in Blackhawk 209. The Blackhawks engage in some really lame physical comedy stuff before King Condor shows up. The villain now has a bird body, which he shows off to his old foes before he begins robbing airplanes. He is not merely bragging, his plan involves having the Blackhawks follow him. Blackhawk and Hendricksen trail King Condor to an island of bird men. These guys are being forced to work for King Condor, and explain how they were shipwrecked on the island long ago. The water causes them to develop bird bodies, but some herbs on the island prevent the change. King Condor came and stole all the herbs, and now forces them to rob for him. He also knocks out the two Blackhawks, and makes them drink the water, giving them bird bodies when they wake up. King Condor makes Blackhawk and Hendricksen rob for him, though Blackhawk notifies the locations ahead of time, making sure they rob things of no value. It's all a delaying tactic until the team can get the upper hand with King Condor, and get the herbs back. Then they give everyone human bodies again. It's probably a good thing King Condor never made another appearance.
Lady Blackhawk undergoes some changes of her own in Blackhawk 200. Killer Shark is back, and has a serum by a dead scientist, which causes those who consume it to become nasty and violent. He decides that the best use of this would be to kidnap Lady Blackhawk and give it to her, figuring that she would then work as an ally with him, and that this would cause huge torment to the Blackhawks. He is pretty much dead on with all of that, and Zinda Blake loses her memory as a result of the drug. Killer Shark crowns her Queen Killer Shark, and convinces her that the Blackhawks are their enemies. Her first battle with the team ends with Zinda being captured. Blackhawk and the others are certain they can restore her memory, and bring her back to Blackhawk Island. For a time it seems like they are succeeding, but this is all a game Zinda is playing with them, while she waits for the opportunity to take control of their weapons, including the good old War Wheel, which never gets enough use. The Blackhawks avoid being killed by her, and do manage to capture Killer Shark, but Queen Killer Shark gets away at the end.
Killer Shark and Queen Killer Shark return in Blackhawk 204. The story opens with an aerial battle between the Blackhawks and Killer Shark and his Queen. Zinda get shot down, and Blackhawk bails out to rescue her before Killer Shark can reach her. He brings her back to Blackhawk Island, and Zinda begins to remember who she is. Now, there is openly a big romance between the two of them. Killer Shark is none too pleased about this, and uses a ray beam to put Zinda under his spell again. But he misses, and hits Blackhawk instead. Zinda is now completely back to being Lady Blackhawk, but worries about what Blackhawk might do under Killer Shark's control, so she gets back into her Queen Killer Shark costume, and pretends to be on the villain's side again. The Blackhawks slowly figure out what is going on. Zinda sends them information about Killer Shark's plans, which they grow to trust, while she cons Killer Shark and keeps an eye on Blackhawk. He is completely under the spell of the villain, and doing his best to kill his former comrades. The tragic conclusion sees Zinda reverse the beam that had driven Blackhawk evil, restoring his personality. It has the side effect of turning her back into Queen Killer Shark, though, and she leaves with the villain at the end of the tale. Poor Blackhawk has no memory at all of most of the events of the story.
Killer Shark and Queen Killer Shark are back in Blackhawk 216, which is really the only thing that makes it readable. The Blackhawks are summoned to a remote volcanic island by a dying inventor, and on the way get into an aerial battle with the Sharks. They shoot them down, and believe that they have killed them, although they are only sad about killing Zinda. On the island, the inventor explains where his three new weapons are, each one difficult to reach and booby trapped. The Blackhawks get the first one, but as they go after the second Killer Shark shows up, and steals the first one from them. Killer Shark was really the inventor, who was already dead. He and Queen Killer Shark faked their deaths so that the Blackhawks would not suspect their involvement. Might have been easier just to, you know, hide until the Blackhawks were on the island, and not draw attention to themselves in the first place, but whatever. The pair force the Blackhawks to walk the bridge into the volcano, as seen on the cover. The climax of the story is very silly, with a stone hand, one of the inventions, falling into the volcano but rising at the right moment to save the Blackhawks. The Sharks flee, leaving behind the other two inventions.
Queen Killer Shark commands the cover of Blackhawk 225. Queen Killer Shark has crafted a big revenge plot against the Blackhawks, and Killer Shark is happy to see her scheming with him against her former teammates. So he goes along with her plan, which begins with him getting captured by the Blackhawks, and then leading them into her trap. She cages up the Blackhawks, and at this they have no success in trying to remind her of her days as Lady Blackhawk. But Queen Killer Shark has also decided that she is tired of playing second fiddle to Killer Shark, and has managed to get their evil crew onto her side. They toss Killer Shark into a tank, and then he and the Blackhawks wind up sealed into a sphere that she shoots off to circle the ocean for years, until the men are all dead. Killer Shark built the sphere for an outer space crime he had been planning, and uses a secret escape hatch. The Blackhawks escape simply by ripping out all the controls and making it crash. At the end of the story they manage to capture both Killer Shark and Queen Killer Shark.
The story in Blackhawk 228 is basically about how much the Blackhawks suck. You might think this would make for an off beat and entertaining issue. But no, it just sucks as well. The first half of the story is devoted to the Blackhawks preparing to protect a criminal, Jolly Roger, and then one by one getting picked off as they do so. They are working to protect him to prevent massive destructive problems if he is killed, but it's both a lame explanation, and irrelevant in the long run. Queen Killer Shark is the one that has been attacking the Blackhawks, part of a revenge plot by Killer Shark against Jolly Roger. Killer Shark is talked about in the story, and captured during it, but never really seen. He won't be seen again, either, until the 1976 revival of the book. Anyway, Zinda bangs her head while fighting with Blackhawk, and this restores her Lady Blackhawk personality.
Then the team find out that Jolly Roger is really a secret government agent, Mr. Delta. He has a mask face, just like Mr. Cipher did. To be honest, I actually had blurred them together in my mind, and thought they were the same person. They may as well be. The whole Jolly Roger mission was a scam, for him and Justice League members Superman, Batman, Flash and Green Lantern to monitor the Blackhawks. They all agree, the Blackhawks suck. The Blackhawks are really shocked and upset by all of this, and beg for a chance to prove themselves. So Mr. Delta pit them against a robot, the Champ, which beats them all. So as the issue ends, the heroes and government all agree that the Blackhawks are useless and washed up. It might have been a good idea to cancel the book at this point, because what comes next is truly awful. I mean, I haven't enjoyed the stories in this book for a long time, but they are about to go so overboard in awfulness that they all but defy criticism.
The story of how washed up the Blackhawks are continues in issue 229. Blackhawk pleads for their team to be given an opportunity to train and get themselves into suitable shape for action. Since none of them actually have any powers, Superman, Batman, Flash and Green Lantern feel that the team ought to be allowed to improve themselves, and Mr. Delta goes along with it. The training session turns into a really embarrassing mess, and Lady Blackhawk even pretends to kill Andre. Blackhawk realizes that the team is simply out of their depth, and need big changes to go forward.
The villains of the issue are a group made up of leftover members from various acronymic organizations. James Bond's SPECTRE, THRUSH from The Man from UNCLE, and OGRE and CYCLOPS, which had appeared in Aquaman and Metamorpho, respectively. Their leader, the Emperor, has decided to kill the Blackhawks, but is unable to find them. Blackhawk Island is deserted. We get to see that Henrdricksen is now called the Weapons Master, and Chuck is the Listener, which are both fairly self explanatory, while Blackhawk himself, Big Eye, flies around in a weird double headed Blackhawk plane. Chuck has intercepted the plans of the Emperor, and they begin to look for their other teammates.
The transformation of the Blackhawks gets completed in issue 230. The new Blackhawk team is basically introduced on the cover. We already met Chuck as the Listener, Hendricksen as the Weapons Master and Blackhawk as Big Eye in the previous issue. As this issue goes on, the Emperor sends out men to find and kill the other Blackhawks. Andre has an assortment of weapons as M'sieu Machine, while Olaf has a suit that allows him to jump to great heights as the Leaper. Chop Chop is now Dr. Hands, which I suppose is mildly better as a name. Stanislaus gets pursued by the Emperor himself in a flying suit he calls the Centurion of Doom. Stanislaus defeats the guy and steals the suit, becoming the Golden Centurion. It's all just dreadful. I particularly loathe the shirt that Chuck now wears, with ears all over it. But this impresses Superman, Batman, Flash and Green Lantern, as well as Mr. Delta, and they give the Blackhawks the ok to keep operating.
Whenever you think this series has reached its lowest point, it keeps proving there are further depths it can sink to. The new Blackhawks go into action in issue 231. Throughout this issue the Blackhawks keep talking about how awesome and cool they are, now that they are pretending to be super-heroes. But everything looks so stupid and absurd. Well, everything except Lady Blackhawk, who is back in her original costume, and looking far more awesome and cool than any of the guys. The villains are fighting amongst themselves now that the Emperor has been defeated, and Overlord winds up taking charge, sending the bad guys out to try to kill the Blackhawks. Blackhawk and Zinda co-ordinate from that flying two headed hawk plane, while Olaf, Stanislaus, Chop Chop and Andre take the active part in fighting. Those four all wind up getting attacked, and the bad guys prepare to shoot down Blackhawk with a missile. The story ends as a package arrives for Blackhawk from Hendricksen.
The Overlord's plot to kill the Blackhawks continues in issue 232. Chop Chop, Olaf, Stanislaus and Andre are still on the ground, in their new super hero identities, which I basically refuse to refer to, fighting against the crime combine. An anti-missile missile arrives on Blackhawk's bird-plane, sent by Hendricksen. Blackhawk is not sure it will work, and so he punches Lady Blackhawk right in the face in order to get rid of her, putting her into an escape hatch. When he sees that the combine's missile is not acting like a normal missile, he uses a claw device and pulls her back into the plane. The Overlord himself is in the missile, and attacks Blackhawk, as seen on the cover. He has a bunch of rings that he fires, which pin down and choke the hero. Lady Blackhawk wakes up, takes down the Overlord, and revives Blackhawk. They start making out, so clearly she isn't too upset about the way he slugged her. That basically finishes off the plot left over from last issue. The team create a new base in an iceberg, and then get called in to deal with stolen nerve gas. That leads into the next issue, as the Fat Man has stolen the gas, and the Blackhawks have only one day to find the canister before it starts releasing it.
The nerve gas plotline continues in Blackhawk 233. Since becoming super heroes, Olaf, Andre, Stanislaus and Chop Chop had been the ones to see the most action, along with Blackhawk. Hendricksen, in his Weapons Master outfit, and Chuck, with his horrible ar covered Listener shirt, get some more play in this issue. That's about the only significant thing to comment on about it. The team scramble trying to find the canister of nerve gas. They get framed for tossing the room of the ambassador they are following, and fight back. Yawn. Andre is the one to figure out that the nerve gas is inside a doll, and the Golden Centurion seals that up safely. The costumes, code names and "powers" have only made a weak and out of date series worse.
Blackhawk continues in the next period, 1967 – 1969: It’s a Happening!
Blackhawk: Blackhawk 196 – 234 (May 1964 – July 1967)
Next up – Plastic Man!
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