Disco Blackhawks—The '70s

Third Era: The 1970s

Launched by Steve Skeates and George Evans

FIRST APPEARANCE: Blackhawk #244 (Jan./Feb. 1976)

History

The 1976 regeneration of Blackhawk was written by Steve Skeates for most of its run, and was edited by Gerry Conway, with assists and story editing by Jack C. Harris. George Evans was the sole artist on the first tale, then he became the finisher over Ric Estrada's art.

DC chose to keep this team's true origins (and continuity) a bit mysterious. No doubt the property posed a similar problem to any of DC's other long-running features: how do you explain the true age of these characters if they were active in the 1940s? In 1976, DC's answer was that the Blackhawk team began in the 1950s (1957 if one mirrors the start of their DC career). The 1970s Blackhawks could not have been from Earth-X (which was overtaken by Hitler), and the 1980s revival was later defined as the Earth-One team.

George Evans redesigned the Blackhawk uniform for a new decade, primarily adding the color red, and the zip-front jacket (frequently worn unzipped—sexy '70s style; from Blackhawk #244 (1976). Art by George Evans.

The Earth-One Justice League appeared in the 1960s Blackhawk, which would place them on Earth-One as well. That was probably the logic at the time, but later Mark Evanier's Blackhawk was explicitly defined as the Earth-One team. Another anomaly was Roy Thomas' use of the characters in All-Star Squadron, where they were on Earth-Two during World War II.

You didn't realize Blackhawk continuity was such a mess, did you? But if one isolates Blackhawk's DC adventures from 1957-1977, they fit easily into Silver Age Earth-One continuity. There are reasons for this in the narrative below.

In the letters column of Blackhawk #244, Jack C. Harris penned a classified memo of sorts which "speculated" about the Blackhawks' origins:

"It is believed that in their youth, the Blackhawks fought the forces of Hitler throughout the world. Others speculate that the group first banded together in the fifties to battle a growing number of costumed villains and foes.

"There was even talk of them saving the entire planet from invasion from another world! (ref??) Much of this is believed to have been the ravings of the victims of mass hysteria, but some historians are not so sure.

"During the changing sixties there was a story that this mighty team had donned costumes and become super-heroes in the 'camp' craze of the troubled times. This remains unconfirmed and is thought today to be mere fiction.

"In 1968 the team known as the Blackhawks faded from the public eye. Inquiries into the disappearance led only to dead ends and blank walls.

"A joint statement issued by the Justice League of America and the U.S. Government read, simply 'No Comment.' The Blackhawks were gone. The questions were unanswered.

Then, in early September of this year, reports began to trickle in on a new group calling themselves the Blackhawks. Extensive investigations into this team's activities have determined that it is not a new team, but the original seven, who have seemingly survived whatever mission they departed on those seven years ago.

"It is also clear that these seven have retained the same positions in rank and duties as when they last appeared in public."

It went on to list them, adding, "No longer subsidized by the U.S. Government or by the private fortunes of its members, the Blackhawks are now supported by mercenary feeds collected for their deeds."

  1. Blackhawk, alias Bart Hawk aka Mr. Cunningham, the silent head of Cunningham Aircraft, one of the largest aircraft corporations in the world. He commands a working knowledge of many branches of science with specialties in aviation and aerodynamics.
  2. Stanislaus: Known to be a citizen of Poland, Stanislaus is the financial wizard of Cunningham Aircraft, the suspected front of the Blackhawk operation.
  3. Hendrickson: Of Dutch descent, it is believed that Hendrickson spent much of his childhood in Germany. [NOTE: This marries his Quality-era Holland vs. Germany citizencship.] He is the oldest of the group and speculation leads to the belief that his current duty is sentinel of the secret base of the team, Blackhawk Island, location: unknown!
  4. Chuck: An American citizen, Chuck is the communications expert and scientist of the team, applying almost the sum total of his knowledge to operations for Cunningham and the Blackhawk project.
  5. Chopper (formerly Chop-Chop). Former citizen of mainland China. Chopper is master of Martial arts, but shows more aptitude in being the most skilled flier of the team, save for Blackhawk himself.
  6. Andre: A mechanics expert, Andre is one of the three Blackhawks who operate outside the United States. It is known that his base is in France, the nation of his birth, but at this time there is no information as to the European mission.
  7. Olaf is also a European operative, with a cover job as a ski instructor at a Cunningham -owned resort. Of Swedish background, the massive man is the youngest of the Blackhawk team. (Blackhawk #244)

Lasting only seven issues, the 1976 revival managed to reintroduce classic Blackhawk foes and plot devices and invent some new ones. Skeates set up a whole lot of characterization and potential for the Blackhawks but had to leave many plot threads unresolved. The series opened with the squad rushing into battle against the forces of Anton Vibrax. It was a freelance mission commissioned by a man named Robinson, who wanted them to retrieve some prototype weapon. They easily took down Vibrax's ally, the Collector, in the Sahara. Afterwards, they reported failure to Robinson, and argued with him over payment.

When they were relieved of duty, the rest of the squad returned to their private lives. Blackhawk used the alias of "Cunningham" and was now the head of Cunningham Aircraft, ostensibly an aircraft manufacturing company, but in truth more of a cover for their own research and development, and freelance services. Stan was now the company's financial wizard. Chuck worked there too, and Chopper (never "Chop-Chop" in this series) was their #2 pilot. Andre and Olaf returned to Europe, where Olaf used the cover of ski instructor to maintain their European mountain base. Save for Hendrickson, the Blackhawks no longer resided on Blackhawk Island. That day, Hendrickson received a visitor—the Duchess Ramona Fatale aka Patch, a red-haired spitfire with an eye patch. They'd previously fought against and beside her, but now she needed help against Vibrax, who had decimated her own island fortress and crew. (Curiously, the "roll call" on the splash page included Fatale.)

Hendrickson summoned the others to Blackhawk Island, where the Duchess had donned a Blackhawk uniform (out of necessity; you see… she'd fled her island wearing only a bikini). At Duchess Island, they caught Vibrax unprepared and Blackhawk tricked the villain into succumbing to his own destructive gauntlet. In the end, Blackhawk found in Fatale's possession the object of their original mission: the American prototype anti-missile device. (#244)

Upon returning to Blackhawk Island, Hendrickson was attacked by a plane that dropped a passenger. He rushed in to discovered that it was his own daughter, Elsa! When the Blackhawks arrived, they learned that Elsa was kidnapped by the Anti-Man in Santa Culpa. Meanwhile, Anti-Man ambushed Olaf upon his return to his resort. Olaf was shocked—he recognized Anti-Man as someone he believed long dead. Blackhawk was convinced to take this unpaid mission on Elsa's behalf, and the Blackhawks were soon face-to-face with Anti-Man himself. The villain wasted no time revealing his true identity. He was their long lost former member, Boris, left for dead at Angola! (#245)

Left: The Blackhawk Boris only ever appeared once, in this panel from in Military Comics #2 (1941). Art by Chuck Cuidera.
Right: Anti-Man is revealed as Boris; from Blackhawk #245 (1976). Art by George Evans.
The mystery of Boris' demise and return; from Blackhawk #246 (1976). Art by Ric Estrada and George Evans.

Boris stopped short of murdering his former comrades and the men recounted their memories of him. Even though he was Russian, the men always gave Boris the benefit of the doubt. [NOTE: This also implies a 1950s/anti-Communist era start to this team's continuity.] Chuck was closest to him, but Stan recalled a time when Chuck narrowly avoided a land mine, and suspected Boris or leading Chuck onto it. Chopper took Boris' place in the line-up and was told of his end. It was in battle against the mad scientist, Professor Distov, and the squad was forced to flee his exploding laboratory, but Boris supposedly perished inside. His new ally, Professor Ortega, explained that Boris' new super-powers came from Mount Sebastion, which lay at the polar opposite end of the globe as Distov's lab. An alien source of anti-matter energy had landed at Sebastion and its energy seeped through the Earth, allowing Boris to survive Distov's explosion. Now his captive, Olaf, used his own brute strength to break his bonds and Blackhawk bypassed Boris' super-powers with naught but his own fists. Boris proclaimed that he preferred death to capture, and set off a chain reaction within the mountain, which disintegrated. (#246)

Everybody shouted in 1976... Patch introduces her all-new, all-sexy fightin' lady squad; from Blackhawk #247 (1976). Art by Ric Estrada and Al Milgrom.
The Biolord, from Blackhawk #247 (1976).

David A. Kraft penned the next issue, and the writing was of a noticeably lesser quality. While the Blackhawks bickered among themselves, Patch returned, having recruited three new agents: the sexy Tania, Ayn and Prudence. She asked them for help in pursuing Vibrax's employer, and Andre was assigned to accompany them to Belgium. The rest of the squadron was hired again by Robinson (called "Robertson" now) to act as courier form Greenland to Great Britain. Robertson was in truth, the Biolord. and he ambushed the Blackhawks with armored robot soldiers. Biolord was using the same anti-matter lode that had powered Boris. His mission was to preserve ecological balance and to eliminate "human insanity." He used it to build an Anti-Bomb, and prepared to launch it. (#247)

Chuck quickly disabled the Anti-Bomb's guidance system and the Biolord unleashed his Metadroids—all while pleading his case. He was a cyborg created to by machines in response to the global environmental crisis; only a machine stood a chance of surviving the apocalypse. He built his lair in Greenland and hired Vibrax and Anti-Man. Just then, Andre returned and blasted the Biolord to bits. As the Blackhawks left, Biolord reconstructed himself and Blackhawk bailed from his plane to engage the cyborg directly. Olaf dove out after his leader. Back on Blackhawk Island, Elsa Hendrickson pulled a gun on her father. She complained that he had deserted her (her mother was now dead), but the two reconciled. (#248) [NOTE: In the letters of the next issue, the editors revealed, "As for your requests for Elsa taking her place as a Blackhawk like her famous father, well, we'll have to tell you to keep with us. It seems your thoughts are very close to our own."]

Elsa, Hendrickson's daughter and the new would-be Lady Blackhawk; from Blackhawk #248 (1976). Art by Jim Sherman and George Evans.

Having just escaped from the clutches of the Biolord, Olaf and Blackhawk landed on snowy mountains and were ambushed by a new threat: a skull-headed menace and two wolves on a motor sled! Later in the hospital, Blackhawk recognized Von Gross, a former Nazi SS Colonel who ran an Amazon torture camp. They pursued him into the sky and discovered his giant hovering Sky-Skull, which converted solar to electromagnetic energy and repelled it from the Earth's surface. Blackhawk used his own strength to break a laser gun from its mount, and turned it on Von Gross. The villain tumbled out of the Sky-Skull and Blackhawk dove into the ocean after him. Instead, Blackhawk came ashore on an island, where he found himself in the direct path of their old nemesis, the War Wheel (1st app. Blackhawk #56, Sept. 1952)! On Blackhawk Island, Elsa summoned Hendrickson to see an artifact she had received from her mother. She intended to return this talisman to its "home," but when she produced it, Hendrickson doubled over in pain. (#249)

The. End.

Chuck is the first Blackhawk to fall; from Blackhawk #250 (1977). Art by Ric Estrada & GeorgeBlack Evans.

Like disco, this generation of Blackhawk lived fast and died young (thought it didn't burn as brightly). The final issue reintroduced Blackhawk's classic arch enemy, the Killer Shark (1st app. Blackhawk #70, Nov. 1953), who was in command of the War Wheel. When the others arrived to help, all but Chuck were forced to bail from their planes. To save his comrades, Chuck made a kamikaze dive into the War Wheel, sacrificing his life in the resulting conflagration. This shocking conclusion was followed up on the letters page, which described the Blackhawks' return to the island, bearing Chuck in a coffin made from the wing of his plane, and laying him to rest there. (#250)

This version was canceled before the "DC Implosion," happened in 1977. Unlike many other titles, there are no "lost" Blackhawk stories or appearances in the two-volume Canceled Comics Cavalcade. Also in that last letters page, the editors admitted that "something never clicked." "We wanted you to forget the Blackhawks of old and recognize the New Blackhawks as the one, the only and the most original. We have to face it, we failed to capture your interest."

Notes

In comparison to Golden Age times, there was much more "lag time" between an issue's cover date and it's street date. In the 1940s, an April issue was advertised for sale in February. During this 1970s run of Blackhawk, an issue cover dated March/April went on sale in late December.

Powers

No member of the Blackhawks exhibited metahuman powers. All were exceptional pilots and trained hand-to-hand combatants, each with their own special

Appearances + References

» FEATURED APPEARANCES:

  •  Justice League of America #144
   

» SERIES:

  • Blackhawk #244–250 (1976–77)