Hugo Reading Progress

2024 Hugo Awards Progress
51 / 57 items read/watched (89.47%)
6201 / 7433 pages read (83.43%)
1140 / 1435 minutes watched (79.44%)

10 June 2024

"Over land, over sea, / We fight to make men free! / Of danger, we don't care, / We're Blackhawks!" (Military Comics #18–43 / Modern Comics #44–46 / Blackhawk #9 & 50)

The Blackhawk feature debuted (as covered in my previous post in this series, see below) in Quality's Military Comics in 1941, and continued through every issue of that title. Military Comics changed its name to Modern Comics with issue #44 in November 1945 (the war was, after all, over) and persisted up until issue #102 in October 1950, the Blackhawks continuing as a feature all the way to the end, even as the rest of the magazine's contents shifted away from warfare.

Meanwhile, Blackhawk also got its own self-titled magazine; this confusingly debuted with issue #9 in Winter 1944, with issue #10 not following until Spring 1946. The series was published quarterly from #10 to 18, then bimonthly from #18 to 33, and then finally monthly from #33 to 107, the series finally coming to an end (sort of) in December 1956.

I had previously planned to jump straight from March 1943's Military Comics #17 to January 1957's Blackhawk #108, but after finishing The Blackhawk Archives, I was curious about the rest of the Blackhawks' wartime adventures. While all of the Blachawk content published by DC is still under copyright, the Blackhawk material published by Quality is not, and thus you can get legal scans of all of it for free from the Digital Comic Museum. But did I really want to read eighty-five issues of Military/Modern Comics and ninety-nine issues of Blackhawk before finally making it to the material collected in Showcase Presents Blackhawk? That's a lot of presumably repetitive and not always high quality material!

from Military Comics #20 (script by Bill Woolfolk, art by Reed Crandall)
I ended up deciding to see out World War II. This meant going all the way to Military Comics #43, of course. I originally intended to stop with the first issue branded Modern Comics, but upon reading it, I realized that though the book's title had changed, the actual comic story in #44 was clearly written during the war, so I kept going until I came to the first postwar story. This would turn out to be Modern Comics #46, where the Japanese that the Blackhawks battle are referred to as "renegades" who refuse to accept that the war is over. #9 was the only issue of Blackhawk published during the war, so I did read that; I also jumped ahead to read one other postwar issue, Blackhawk #50 (March 1952), as that included both a text feature giving the origin of the Blackhawks and the debut of recurring Blackhawk villain Killer Shark.

from Military Comics #25
(script by Bill Woolfolk, art by John Cassone & Alex Kotzky)
(Note that I did read the text features if they were stories about the Blackhawks, but I did not read any of the myriad other features contained in Military Comics. No time for Cherry and Choo-Choo, alas!)

So how were the actual stories? I have to say, and maybe this is just familiarity breeding contempt, that the earlier stories collected in Blackhawk Archives have a vibrancy and power largely missing from these. As the series goes on, it feels like it gets more formulaic, the aeronautic nature of the Blackhawks feels less relevant, and the energy diffuses from both writing and art. 

Part of the problem is definitely the changing theater of war. In the first seventeen issues, the Blackhawks were mostly battling the Nazis in occupied Europe, with occasional forays into the Pacific, but by about Military #25 or so, the action has entirely shifted to the Pacific, and is all about battling the Japanese. This means, you might imagine, a lot more racism; whereas the Nazis were obviously depicted as nasty and often caricatured, they were also shown as dominating a people who would rather not have them. There were no good Nazis, of course, but there were good Germans! The Japanese, on the other hand, are villainous to a man, racial caricatures all the way down. A Nazi is allowed to be clever, but it seemed to me that Japanese was only allowed to be conniving, if you register the distinction.

from Military Comics #32 (scripter unknown, art by Mort Leav)
This all grew quite wearying. 

To me, the weird thing about Blackhawk is that though it has a clear lead character, it still seems like it ought to be an ensemble cast. But the Blackhawks who aren't Blackhawk, Chop-Chop, (and to a lesser extent) Olaf and Andre might as well not be there. Who the hell is Chuck? Or Hendrickson? (In one issue, Blackhawk calls him "gentle" and I was like, "He is?") Or the other one? I couldn't tell you; the writers certainly don't seem to know. I'm not asking for three-dimensional characters in my 1940s war comic, but even just two dimensions could be nice at times.

There were a couple parts I enjoyed. Military Comics #20 features a woman pilot joining the Blackhawks temporarily and totally running rings around their sexist expectations. She will only tell them her name is "Sugar" because she's "hard to get." This one was good fun. My understanding is that the "Lady Blackhawk" character doesn't join until the 1950s, but a lot of later references have retconned her to being active during the war; could we thus make this the story where Zinda Blake joins the team?

from Military Comics #35 (scripter unknown, art by Al Bryant)
Similarly, Military #34-36 has a multi-issue plotline (one of only two during this whole era) where a female photographer named Eve Rice ends up staying with the team for a bit. Once again, she's a fun character, who flummoxes the men with her competence, though she's also a bit of a manipulator and she endangers the team a lot by needing to be rescued. Also there's some spanking! After her third appearance, she disappears, but I think a modern writer could do some good stuff with her.

The other multi-issue story is Captain Hitsu and His Suicide Squadron in #31-32; it's nice to see an enemy that Blackhawk can't defeat in one fifteen-page story, and this one features some fun flying, which became a rarity in the later Military Comics issues.

Like I said above, I also read Blackhawk #50. The much belated origins for the Blackhawks are nice; back in Military Comics #1, we learned a bit about Blackhawk himself, but not much about the other members of the team, and here we finally get a lot spelled out that was only implied. The text feature also gives a rationale for the Blackhawks' post-WWII activities, something we didn't see in the actual comics!

from Blackhawk #50 (scripter unknown, art by Bill Ward)
The issue also gave me a taste of what the Blackhawks' postwar remit was; having helped take down a couple dictator nations, here they go around defeating dictatorial thugs. There's Killer Shark, who uses airplanes that turn into submarines to terrorize vaguely eastern European countries. The Blackhawks fight off a dictator of a small country forcing his nation into an unwanted war long enough to let his people negotiate a peace treaty. And then there's a goofy one about a would-be dictator building a flying octopus. Nothing here with the power of the early issues, but at least the writers had gotten far enough on characterizing Hendrickson to render his dialogue in a German accent.

There's little greatness to be found in these issues, to be honest, but there is a bit of the day-in day-out appeal of formula. Every month (well, every day, since that's how I read them), open up a new issue and find out what the Blackhawks have done to make the world safe for democracy this time. Hard to not find something appealing in that.

This is the second post in a series about the Blackhawks. The next installment covers Showcase Presents Blackhawk, Volume One. Previous installments are listed below:

  1. The Blackhawk Archives, Volume 1 (1941-42)

No comments:

Post a Comment