By Ben “Zombie” Bedgood
In August 1941, World War Two is in full swing, and the United States has yet to join the fight. On radios in every home is news of the Axis War machine raging across Europe. This is the month that Will Eisner and Chuck Cuidera bring heroes of a different nature to newsstands across the country: The Blackhawks.
In their debut issue, Military Comics #1, it’s 1939 and the Polish Air Force is engaging an outnumbered Nazi Air squadron over the Polish homeland. After an extensive air battle, one lone Polish pilot is left vastly outnumbered by enemy planes. Before being shot down himself, he manages to down a number of enemy planes. On the ground he is nearly killed again by a bombing run. After this, our lone pilot disappears for few months only to reemerge as Blackhawk: leader of a private squadron of pilots from various ethnic backgrounds.
After a successful run in Military Comics, the Blackhawks moved onto Modern Comic and Uncle Sam Quarterly. After this they moved to their own self-titled comic: Blackhawk. It is in these early runs that we see our courageous heroes fighting the Axis war machine from a secret military base, “Blackhawk Island.” It was also in these early runs that we came to know the seven main characters of the Blackhawk squadron. It wasn’t until Quality Comics, who ran the original titles, was purchased by DC Comics that the team saw its first female member, Lady Blackhawk. She was introduced in Blackhawk #133 during February of 1959 and became a regular in the series.
What has made this team so incredible is that unlike Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, or others, these were not Superheroes. These heroes were ordinary men and women who fought to protect their homelands from tyrannous threats. None of them possessed special powers or were abundantly wealthy. Most of the technology they used to fight these threats was siezed from the enemies they defeated. From Blackhawk Island these ordinary men and women, these “ordinary Joes/Janes” so to speak, flew headlong into battle under the battle cry of “Hawk-eee,” ready to take on any threat they faced. It was this bravery that was evident in the Blackhawk song:
“Over land, over sea,
We fight to make men free,
Of danger we don’t care…
One of the things that made the Blackhawks so iconic was their planes. The Grumman XF5F Skyrocket was a concept plane that Grumman designed. In regards to that model of plane, Will Eisner was quoted as saying “Actually, in real life, it turned out not to be as good a plane as everybody thought it would be, but it sure looked sexy!” Sexy it was, out of the many different planes flown by the Blackhawks. In the seven decades since their inception, the twin engine Skyrocket was the sexiest. We got to see the Skyrocket flown in battle throughout a large portion of the Blackhawks’ history and even in a few episodes of the Justice League TV series.
The Justice League TV series gave us three episodes where we saw these heroes fighting side by side with Superman, Batman and the rest of the Justice League. This concept was not a new one to the Blackhawks. After DC Comics acquired the title we saw the Blackhawks team up with the more visible members of the DC Comics universe.
DC Comic has either continued or relaunched this time honored series numerous times over the past seven decades. The most recent incarnation was Blackhawks written by Mike Costa after the New 52 reboot and summarily released from 2011 through 2012. This run only went for a minimal eight issues before being cancelled to make way for other titles. However, this Golden Age series holds two additional footnotes in history (other than being the second only superhero team without any superheroes). During the 1940’s the Blackhawks regularly outsold every other comic in shops and newsstands, with the exception of Superman. It is also only one of four comic books to have been published continuously from the 1940s all the way through the 1960s. This gives the Blackhawks a place next to the greatest Golden Age heroes of the time: Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman.
Released in an era of our history where the world was literally ripping itself apart, the Blackhawks showed children around the world that ordinary men and women could fight against tyranny and oppression and that you didn’t have to be super-powered to protect your homeland.