Post-Crisis Blackhawks

Fifth Era: Post-Crisis

Created by Howard Chaykin

FIRST APPEARANCE: Blackhawk v.2 #1 (1988)

History

Blackhawk’s identity as a Polish man was very short-lived in Quality Comics, but Howard Chaykin's redefinition of his origin at DC returned him to the roots set down by Military Comics #1 in 1941. Chaykin's groundwork was laid in the character’s first post-Crisis appearances, in the 1988 prestige format mini-series by Howard Chaykin, and in Secret Origins #45 (Oct. 1989). It is difficult to reconcile the new history with the original Quality adventures; as with most DC characters, these series should be considered "post-Crisis" continuity for the Blackhawks. Chaykin built on the characterization begun by Evanier, but revised the names, personalities, countries of origin, and fates of the cast members. The inaugural mini-series took place during the war, but everything after that was post-war.

The lady is a Blackhawk—for real this time! Natalie Reed was a major addition to Chaykin's Blackhawk. She and Janos Prohaska were never intimate but cared deeply for one another. Top image from Blackhawk v.2 #2; bottom from #3 (1988). Art by Howard Chaykin.
Weng Chan reacts (bottom) to Natalie's altered comic book representation of him (top). From Blackhawk v.3 #1 (1989). Art by Rick Burchett.

Janos Prohaska was born on 31 Oct. 1912 in Krakow, Poland, a country in turmoil. During his young life he experienced ravages of Poland’s war with Russia in 1919. The horrible depression that followed led his father to take his own life, and his mother died of shock in 1929. Young “Jan” was left with his younger siblings, Józek and Staszka, whom he put in the care of his aunt when joined the Polish Air Force. There he met his good friends Stanislaus Drozdowski and Kazimierc “Zeg” Zegota-Januszajtis. They gained skills in hand-to-hand combat, marksmanship and aviation. By 1936 they were national heroes. When the political climate in Poland grew sour, the young men went into freelance service, which took them abroad. They served in the Spanish Civil War and traveled aimlessly for a while. (Secret Origins #45)

During this time, Janos went to America with a flying circus in hopes of finding funding for a European resistance group. Instead he was framed for a series of murders. He was ultimately exonerated thanks to the efforts of the Sandman and he returned to Poland. A few days later, Wes Dodds (the Sandman) and Dian Belmont received a false report that he has been shot down and killed by Nazi fighters in the Mediterranean. (Sandman Mystery Theatre #45-48)

On 1 September 1939, Hitler invaded Poland and Prohaska returned in defense of his home. He was unable to prevent the Nazis from killing his remaining family. Jan and the others fled to Britain where Churchill sponsored the formation of a multinational group of aviators he dubbed the Blackhawks. This original group included:

  • American brawler Capt. Carlos “Chuck” Sirianni (liaison to the American O.S.S.)
  • Danish acrobat Capt. Olaf Friedricksen
  • the elder, Dutchman Capt. Ritter Hendricksen
  • ladies’ man Capt. André Blanc-Dumont
  • and young Chinese-American martial artist Lt. Weng Chan (a change from Evanier's "Wu Cheng”' the nd his nickname “Chop-Chop” was clearly represented as pejorative)
  • Boris Zinoviev, Ian Holcomb-Baker, and Zeg died during the earliest days of the group. (Secret Origins #45)

In March of 1942, the Blackhawks shared an adventure with the All-Star Squadron against the wizard Wotan in England. (All-Star Squadron #48-49)

In the midst of the war, Blackhawk lost his best friend, Stanislaus, who died when the team was ambushed by a rival squadron. This Nazi band of flyers called the White Lions was led by Death Mayhew, a British man with sympathies to Tsarist Russia who defected to the Nazis. (Blackhawk v.2 #2) After this, the team was joined by Captain Natalie Reed (née Gurdin, a.k.a Lady Blackhawk), a Russian-American (and former member of the Communist party). A brilliant flight engineer, Reed redesigned the Blackhawks’ aircraft. (Blackhawk v.2 #2–3) Reed served with the Blackhawks throughout the war and eventually renounced her membership in the Communist party. Natalie somewhat harkens to the character of Sugar, from Military Comics #20 (1943). In fact several women during the Quality Comics era "threatened" to join the squadron, but not until Zinda Blake (in the DC era) was there ever a true Lady Blackhawk. There were also other rival bands of aviators during the Quality era. The Red Raiders were ostensibly Russian (Blackhawk #40), Fiendish the Raider (Modern #66), and Captain Suicide. (Blackhawk #24)

Three story arcs in Action Comics Weekly by Martin Pasko and Rick Burchett soon followed Chaykin's limited series, resuming Blackhawk's adventures in 1947. After the war, the Blackhawks had all gone their separate ways. Jan found himself in the new nation of Vietnam, where he was approaced by Cynthia Hastings with a proposition to retrieve lost gold stolen by the Japanese in Indochina. The last anyone knew, it had fallen into the hands of a Chinese crime lord known as the Red Dragon. Hastings hoped to offer the Dragon their services to get the gold out of the country, and then hijack it. Jan agreed to the plan and took a cargo plane and enough whiskey to tempt the Dragon. Before leaving, he also wrote a letter to André, asking him to join the mission covertly. Jan faked engine trouble to land on the Dragon’s air strip and they were taken captive. They were suprised to learn the Dragon was a woman, Sheah Chun Ryan, and she agreed to their proposal, but insisted that Hastings must remain behind as insurance. Cynthia soon revealed that she was actually a Catholic nun searching for a stolen statue among the Dragon’s treasures. A lightning strike allowed she and Jan to escape with her statue. André, joined by Chuck, swooped in to save the day, and the Red Dragon’s plane was shot down. (Action Comics #601-608) Quality's Blackhawk once featured a similar Chinese bandit/warlord, Lo Chien, from Blackhawk #30 (April 1950).

In June 1947, Natalie rejoined Blackhawk Airways at their new base in Singapore. Jan used the gold from the Red Dragon to upgrade the Blackhawks' planes (reacquired from Interpol) and start a charter service. Jan also asked Chuck to use his O.S.S. connections and to buy two refitted Grumman XF5F-1 planes from the U.S. (Action #615) They were approached for hire by an undercover operative of the U.S. Central Intelligence Group named Steve Claiborne. His sister, Marcia Rossiter had gone down in Sumatra on a mission to obtain a Japanese microwave generator. (#616) All but Hendricksen rejoined the squad for this mission. Since they'd been together last Natalie had borne a child, and Jan exploded when he learned that Olaf might be the father (which Natalie denied, though the two had slept together). (#617) The squad was captured upon landing at the camp of Johannes Vander Houten, who sought the same invention. Jan rescued Marcia but one of Vander Houten’s men found the generator. A volcano eruption forced the villain to give up the generator and by plane, Jan led him through the cone of the volcano just as it erupted. Marcia also died during their escape, which Jan blamed on Claiborne. (#618-622)

Natalie found life in Asia difficult but hired Quan Chee (“Mairzey”) Keng to help her on the ground. Natalie missed her son, but could not risk returning to America because of her former membership in the Communist party and the rising Red paranoia. (#628) For their next mission, the Blackhawks were tapped by the U.S. government. The Blackhawks were invited to meet with President Truman, where they met the State Department’s Wendell Hardesty. Truman proposed that Jan serve as a special covert operations agent. Further, Blackhawk Airways would be secretly purchased by the U.S. and serve as a front for the nascent CIA, which was “not yet ready” for missions. The operation would also move to Washington D.C. (#629-630)

NEW CAST MEMBERS

Left: Chuck married Mairzey and they adopted the son of Natalie and Hendrickson; from Blackhawk v.3 #4 (1989). Art By Rick Burchett. Middle: Grover Baines, from Blackhawk Annual #1 (1989). Art by Tom Zuiko. Right: Paco Herrera was recruited by Blackhawk to help rescue his friends from suspended animation; from Blackhawk #10 (1990). Art by Rick Burchett.

The Blackhawks accepted the offer. Their first mission was to transport a modified form of LSD from Germany. The drug was also coveted by a secret cell of Nazis. One of theirs, Gretchen Koblenz, took the place of Jan’s companion, pharmaceutical head Constance Darabont. Olaf sensed her subterfuge and caught her drugging their coffee. Koblenz parachuted off a plane with a plan to sell the LSD to the Soviets and left the Blackhawks mad from the drug. (#631-634)

A new Blackhawk ongoing series (also by Pasko and Burchett) began in March 1989, and followed their adventures from Action Comics. It filled in some of Natalie's history. She found herself in rough waters in the late ’40s/early ’50s, when anti-Communism permeated the U.S. Congress. She was forced by the State Department to give up her career in aviation returned to America, and became a comic book writer. She wanted to write truthfully about the Blackhawks’ history, but her paranoid editors censored her scripts heavily. (In post-Crisis continuity, Natalie Reed’s doctored comic book scripts of the late 1940s were published exactly like the Blackhawks’ original Quality adventures, with offensive Chop Chop and all.) The father of Reed's son, James, was revealed as Hendrickson, with whom she'd had a brief affair after the war. The couple had barely come to terms with their breakup when Hendrickson died in a helicopter explosion over Albania. (Action #630-631, Blackhawk v.3 #1-3, Blackhawk Annual #1) Note: The 1989 Annual provided official “Who’s Who” entries for all the active Blackhawks, including new recruit Grover Baines. (Blackhawk v.3 #2)

After this, the government provided Natalie with a new identity as “Talia Bryant,” and allowed her entrance back into the U.S. (#4) But men in power considered the Blackhaws to be too rogue for their taste and crafted a suicide mission as part of an elaborate scheme to “neutralize” the squad. Natalie was captured and became the subject of the experimental “grafting” process by Dr. Kermit Grundfest. Her brain was bonded with the physical characteristics of the deceased Constance Darabont. Grundfest and Hardesty intended to subject all of the Blackhawks to this, altering them to become more “manageable.” But when senior officials learned of the project, Truman disavowed any knowledge of it, and Grundfest was ordered to stop. Jan and the others had survived their missions and discovered the subterfuge, but fell in the end to covert forces in mid-1948. (#5-8)

Natalie is transformed by Dr. Grundfest's procedure to look like Constance Darabont. From Blackhawk v.3 #8 (1989). Art by Burchett.

The Blackhawks lay in suspended animation for two years. In 1950, Jan awoke. He freed himself, fought his way out of their "prison," and covertly became an employee at Blackhawk Airways. He recruited another man, Paco Herrera, who he learned had been through a simliar "modification." They eventually met up with Natalie, who’d also been free for some time, and at last, they were able to free their comrades and expose the truth. (#9-12)

The final four issues were written by Doug Moench and Burchett contined on pencils. By 27 February 1950, Blackhawk Airways was relocated to the island of Pontalba, and they were back to work for the Office of Special Operations and its man, Stanfield. They were tapped to test the newest in avaition technology in Kuala Lampur—the Skywing, which could fly into space! Before landing they encountered a UFO. Meanwhile, two other agents were tapped to spy on them. The Red Dragon returned, captured by the Chinese while trying to smuggle Jade out of Burma. They forced her to spy on the Blackhawks in Kuala Lumpur, and the Russians sent an agent, Gregor Krell. (#13) In the end, the Hawks discovered that they were once again being played by higher powers in U.S. intelligence. And in a strange interlude, Blackhawk and the Red Dragon were seemingly abducted by aliens. Between that and the UFO, it was unclear whether there truly were aliens, or whether it was all a part of another top secret mind-control program, Project Dreamland. (#14-16)

1960s

Both Andre and Olaf fall to Hardwire in the 1960s. From Blackhawk Special (1992). Art by Mike Vosburg.

In 1963, the Blackhawks became entangled with events surrounding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. André was working for the CIA and uncovered information implicating U.S. government officials in the escalatation of involvement in Vietnam. This contradicted Kennedy's stance and the President's enemies killed André before he could return to Washington D.C. His killer, code named Hardwire, left a calling card for the Blackhawks to lure them to Dallas. There, they failed to stop JFK’s assassination and its cover-up. In 1968, after years of investigation, Olaf uncovered Hardwire’s identity in Saigon. His name was Stephen Weir, and Janos had evidently killed his parents in the war. Olaf went missing-in-action when Hardwire bombed the embassy; his body was shown floating in a river and it was never recovered. Back in the states, Natalie Reed was again recruited to help Janos watch over Robert Kennedy (she had taken the alias Constance Darabont). She bore witness to RFK’s assassination and was helpless to prevent it. Jan finally had his revenge in 1975, during last days of the Vietnam War. A secret informant revealed Weir’s location and Jan killed him in battle. (Blackhawk Special #1)

Jan was still active when a new age of heroes was waxing. He participated in a short-lived formation of the “Seven Soldiers of Victory.” (The Silver Age: Showcase)

1990s

In 1980, Weng Chan became the CEO of the organization’s latest incarnation, Blackhawk Express. This charter service specialized in dangerous cargo and boasted all-female flight crews. Chan answered to a secret Board of Directors (who were obscured and may have included some of the original Blackhawks). In one of their first recorded mission, Chan, R & D man Clay Kendall, and pilot Susan Sullivan were shot down over the country of Sumango by Colonel Diaz. Green Lantern, Superman and Black Canary were called in to rescue them. (Action #635)

At a social function, Chan also met Katar Hol, the Hawkman of Thanagar. Katar helped Blackhawk Express when the Killer Shark (Bunther Haifisch) planted a bomb on a plane with sensitive cargo. (The plane used in this story was a Gates Lear-Jet 55C; Hawkworld v.2 #11-12.) Chan’s grandson, Nelson Chan also joined B.E. as a mechanic, and aspiring pilot. (Blackhawk Annual #1) When Chan's was hired to delivery the ransom for a rich kidnap victim, his courier wound up dead, then the kidnapee. The culprit was the butler, who fled in a helicoptor. Chan pursued him in the plane originally used by the Enemy Ace (Hans Von Hammer). (Blackhawk v.3 #7)

Eventually, Blackhawk Island and the Blackhawk Express service were acquired by D.E.O., another U.S. agency which investigates metahuman affairs. The DEO’s Director Bones tricked the JSA into driving Kobra from the island. Though the mission resulted in serious damages, the island was salvaged. (JSA #11-12) During the Imperiex War, an all-new Blackhawk fleet was created by combining Brainiac 13 technology with Ferris Aircraft designs. These new warbirds can travel into space.

When Zinda Blake emerged from the 1950s in modern time, she joined Buck Wargo’s monster hunters for a time. (Guy Gardner: Warrior #24). Eventually she grew lonely as, according to her, she was the last living original Blackhawk. Later, she was contaced by Oracle and was invited to join the Birds of Prey as their pilot. Craving the adventure, she agreed, leaving the Blackhawk organization (and her share in it). She took with her but one thing: a brand new state-of-the-art plane to courier the Birds to their cases’ destinations. (Birds of Prey #75) This was the first official declaration that the other original Blackhawks were dead.

No account has been made of the surviving Blackhawks’ last days. Knowing the extent of Jan’s sexual exploits, it is quite possible that he fathered children. The fate of Natalie and Hendrickson’s son is unknown.

The Blackhawk operation continues to operate in covert and overt capacities for the United States military and espionage operations.

Notes

Janos Prohaska was also the name of a real-life stuntman and actor. He was Hungarian, not Polish, and appeared in several Star Trek episodes, perhaps most notably as the Horta in "Devil in the Dark."

Blackhawk Airways was almost certainly inspired by the early years of Milton Caniff's Steve Canyon newspaper strip, which launched January 13, 1947 (Kitchen Sink Press began reprinting these early Canyon strips in 1983).

Canyon was originally a USAAF veteran who founded a charter service called Horizons Unlimited with a crew of fellow veterans. Their secretary, nicknamed "Feeta-Feeta," was probably the inspiration for Mairzey. (Feeta-Feeta was the first recurring character to appear, and the first few strips have her talking with a man named Dayzee, the secretary of ruthless businesswoman, Copper Calhoun.) Caniff decided the private airline idea didn't have enough legs and had Steve return to the Air Force in 1950.

The Red Dragon might also have been inspired by Caniff's "Dragon Lady," the Eurasian bandit leader from Caniff's previous strip, Terry and the Pirates. The Dragon Lady was in love with the crew's Pat Ryan. 

Blackhawk #7 (Oct. 1989) was double-sized and reprinted Blackhawk's first appearance from Military Comics #1.

Post-Crisis Membership

Operative First Appearance Post-Crisis Fate
DC COMICS ERA
Major Janos Prohaska (Blackhawk) Blackhawk v.2 #1 Believed deceased (Birds of Prey #75); revealed alive Batman Confidential #36 (2010)
Capt. Stanislaus Drozdowski Deceased in 194 Blackhawk v.2 #2
Capt. Carlos "Chuck" Sirianni Deceased, revealed Birds of Prey #75
Capt. Olaf Friedricksen M.I.A. and presumed deceased in 1968, Blackhawk Special #1 (1988); confirmed in Birds of Prey #75
Capt. Ritter Hendrickson Deceased in 1947, Blackhawk Annual #1
Capt. Andre Blanc-Dumont Deceased in 1963, Blackhawk Special #1 (1988)
Lt. Wu Cheng (Weng Chan) Deceased, revealed Birds of Prey #75
Capt. Natalie Reed (nee Gurdin, Lady Blackhawk) Deceased, revealed Birds of Prey #75
POST-WAR, BLACKHAWK AIRWAYS
Quan Chee ("Mairzey") Keng, Assistant Director of Ground Operations; wife of Chuck Action #628 (1989) Status uncertain
Grover Baines Blackhawk v.3 #2 Status uncertain
Pomeroy Blackhawk v.3 #9 Status uncertain
Paco Herrera Blackhawk v.3 #10 Status uncertain
Zinda Blake (Lady Blackhawk II) Blackhawk v.1 #133 (Feb. 1959) Thrown forward in time and active in adventuring; historically active from 1958-68.
Modern Day, BLACKHAWK EXPRESS
Clay Kendall, R&D Action Comics #635 Status uncertain
Susan Sullivan, pilot Status uncertain
Nelson Chan, mechanic/pilot Blackhawk Annual #1 Weng Chan's grandson
Lee Cheng Batman Confidential #36 Weng Chan's nephew
Jim  
Cedric, controller Killed by Gaynor, Batman Confidential #36

Powers

None of the post-Crisis Blackhawks exhibited any metahuman powers. All were superior airplane pilots and hand-to-hand combatants.

Appearances + References

» FEATURED APPEARANCES:

  • Batman Confidential #36-39
  • Blackhawk Special #1 (1992)
  • Hawkworld vol. 2 #11-12
  • Secret Origins vol. 2 #45
  • Sandman Mystery Theatre #45-48

Lady Blackhawk:

  • Blackhawk v.1 #140, 143, 147, 151, 155, 161, 163, 166, 170, 182, 186, 188, 191. As Queen Killer Shark: Blackhawk v.1 #200, 204, 216, 225, 228
  • Birds of Prey v.1 #75-127
  • Birds of Prey v.2 #1-15
  • Guy Gardner: Warrior #24, 29, 36, 38-43
   

» SERIES:

  • Action Comics Weekly #601-608, 615-622, 628-635
  • Blackhawk v. 2, 3-issue prestige series (1988)
  • Blackhawk v. 3, 16 issues (1989-90)