History of the Blackhawks


The Golden Age, 1941 to 1957

The Silver Age, 1957 to 1968

The Skeates/Evans Revival, 1976 to 1977

The Evanier/Speigle Revival, 1982 to 1984

The Howard Chaykin Revision, 1987

The Second Series, 1988 to 1990

The Last Blackhawks, 1990 to Present


The Golden Age, 1941 to 1957

"The greedy grasp of tyranny is upon Europe, and ramparts of evil challenge the free-born peoples of the world to dispute Nazi cruelty if they dare! And there are those who dare, who never refused a dare yet! Messengers of destruction to all evil and injustice -- The Blackhawks!"

So the story began in Military Comics #1, published in August 1941 by Quality Comics. It has been commonly accepted by comics historians that, like a number of Quality titles, Blackhawk was created under the supervision of Will Eisner, famed creator of The Spirit and many other comic heroes. Although Eisner seemed to lay claim to having created the Blackhawks as recently as July 1983 (in an interview with Cat Yronwode printed in Blackhawk #260) he has since relinquished that claim in favor of Chuck Cuidera and Bob Powell. However, it seems even that is not the whole story. Much of the controversy between Cuidera and Eisner was settled at a 1999 comics convention in San Diego, during a scheduled forum called: 'Spotlight on BLACKHAWK,' with Will Eisner & Chuck Cuidera; moderated by Mark Evanier (see An Interview with Chuck Cuidera for more details). It was during this discussion that Eisner agreed that, though he had created the name for the team (apparently based on the name of the Native American tribe), Cuidera and Powell had done everything else. But then Cuidera, in response to a question, stated that the concept of the Blackhawks (i.e. a team of pilots with varied backgrounds) was based on another strip, Death Patrol, that was also planned for Military Comics. Robert Beerbohm sent me the following eye-witness account:

     "Just for the record, it was Chuck Cuideria at last summer's "Origin of Blackhawk" panel with Chuck & Will Eisner as guests (moderated by Mark Evanier) who said point blank that Death Patrol by Jack Cole preceded Blackhawk in creation. That it was decided to make a serious version of Death Patrol afterwards. Chuck & Bob Powell invented the characters for BH, while Will Eisner was in Florida. Powell wrote the first story. Now, supposedly it was Eisner who came up with the actual name Blackhawk, for the American indian tribe of the same name. But just the title of the strip.
     "I remember this distinctly, cuz I stood up incredulous, blurting out, 'Now wait a second - lemme get this straight.......do you mean to say here and now that Blackhawk was inspired directly from Death Patrol? I always thought it was the other way around.'
      "Chuck responded, 'You got it correct.'"
[Editor's note: I have just discovered that Mark Evanier has the entire transcript of the "Spotlight on Blackhawk" panel discussion on his website. It is well worth reading.]

In Jim Steranko's History of Comics2, Vol. 2, Charles "Chuck" Cuidera recalled, "The Germans had designed such great costumes, we decided to use them ourselves. It was like fighting fire with fire." Since the invasion of Poland was still news, Powell suggested that Blackhawk should be a Pole. They agreed that it would make the strip topical.

"We made Olaf a strong-jawed Swede, patterned after Terry and the Pirates' Big Stoop. Andre was a kind of French Ronald Coleman. Chop-Chop (or Chops as Blackhawk called him) was a humorous beaver-toothed version of Charlie Chan complete with a pig-tail tied atop his head with a red ribbon. Hendrickson (the name used most often) was a stocky Dutchman in the Alan Hale tradition, perhaps fifty years old. The others, including Blackhawk, were about half that age. Stanislaus was named after Powell, whose first name was Stanley," reported Cuidera. When the character "Chuck" was added, he was named for Cuidera. Both Cuidera and Powell were airplane buffs. They selected the Grumman F5F as the plane to be flown by the Blackhawks. "I liked the lines, the twin engines of the Skyrocket," said Cuidera, who later became a first lieutenant in the Army Air Force.

Cuidera pencilled, inked and lettered the first eleven issues, then left for the service. Reed Crandall began working on the comic book in the middle of the next story. According to Steranko, "Crandall's artistry breathed life into the Blackhawk series, infusing a climate of grim romanticism into every panel. Blackhawk's ruthless, icy demeanor made James Bond look like Winnie The Pooh. He was a man in total control - unapproachable, unforgiving, unfathomable. He was his own law and his own morality. He lived in a world dominated by an atmosphere of fatalism. He was the first comic book anti-hero." And, "Like the chiaroscuric Batman was perfect for Kane or the super-athletic Captain America was right for Kirby, so, was Reed Crandall to find his métier with Blackhawk. The strip made a number of special demands on its artists. The first was a natural, realistic style that allowed the strong characters in its cast to come through clearly. The second required a rigorous and authentic treatment of machinery, primarily airplanes which could be seen continuously from every angle. The third demanded a knowledge of composition (or groupings) of figures which were plentiful in the strip, and good characterizations to tell them apart." Steranko believes Crandall qualified on all points, but I quibble about the second. Crandall was excellent at drawing the F5F Skyrockets in action, but he was not so good at technical accuracy. His F5F's never quite looked like the actual aircraft. However, even Crandall's less than perfect effort was superior to many of the artists who followed him.

Other artists who worked on Blackhawk in the 40's were Bill Ward, Al Bryant, John Forte, Rudy Palais, John Cassone, Ruben Moriera, Chuck Cuidera, John Spranger and Dick Dillin. Sam Rosen lettered many of their exploits.

Not only did the early Blackhawk have some of the best comic art, it also had some of the best writers, like Harry Stein, Ed Herron, and Bill Finger. Manley Wade Wellman, later known as a successful science fiction author, contributed to the Blackhawk saga, as did Joseph J. Millard, a pulp writer who became an accomplished main stream writer. In Jim Steranko's History of Comics, he opines that "if one writer had to be singled out as the series' outstanding scribe, that man would be Bill Woolfolk."

Steranko also has strong feelings about the character of Blackhawk:

     "Though his origin tale proclaimed Blackhawk to be a Polish soldier (and later an American), all pretense of this fact was dropped from the following stories. Blackhawk never identified with any group by mannerism, speech, or appearance. He owed allegiance to no government or empire, save his own. He put it this way in Military 2, 'The Blackhawks are the last of the free men of the conquered countries - we fight for the freedom of men rather than for profit or politics!'
     "In reality, Blackhawk himself was a man without a country.
     "Nowhere in the entire series, except in the soon-forgotten opening issue are we given even the slightest clue as to his background. The question will remain unanswered forever: What is Blackhawk's real name? How did he become a super-pilot? How had he organized the squadron? How could they build such an island? Why was he called Blackhawk?
     "All the mysteries - mysteries which could only be answered by the black knight himself. Readers wondered about the secret that lay beyond those searching, icy eyes - eyes that had the same cruel glint as those of the fierce, noble hawk's head that symbolized Blackhawk's law and was so much a part of his legend. One can only guess about the story that is concealed behind the man's reckless deeds and ruthless demeanor.
     "Perhaps, just perhaps, Blackhawk was the son of a European nobleman, a merciless tyrant, a mad ruler whose scripture was suffering and injustice. Would that son spend a lifetime seeking redemption from his conscience? Perhaps, Blackhawk was a criminal, an assassin, a Judas whose betrayals could only be atoned for by wiping out some of the evil he had brought into the world. Perhaps Blackhawk had been a coward, an officer who deserted his command and was responsible for the slaughter of legions. Could his heroics be an act of penance, while waiting for the inevitable end? What was it that Blackhawk was trying to forget by his endless encounters with death? Mysteries - without answers!
     "Blackhawk himself was the Tyrone Power of comics - dark haired, serious, broodingly handsome. He seldom smiled. And if he did, it was a lethal warning to his enemies. He was no wisecracking punster like the Batman.
     "No leaping over tall buildings, Blackhawk needed a plane to fly. No baroque Buck Rogers model either; his was authentic. No changing clothes in phone booths. No flashy cape or outlandish tights for Blackhawk. He even scorned the use of special equipment like Batman's utility belt or the Hornet's gas gun. Instead, he carried massive .45 caliber automatics - weapons to get the job done. And best of all, no alter ego nonsense for him. He was Blackhawk to the core and we all knew it."

Unfortunately, that sense of mystery did not last. Stories written after Steranko's history filled in Blackhawk's background, gave him a name (several, actually), and by the time Chaykin had finished with him, we really knew more about Blackhawk than we cared too.

At the end of each story, the Blackhawks would sing their way over the end title. The songs provided a neat wrap up for the story and also created an identifying signature for the team. As Eisner mentions in the interview above, Dick French wrote the Blackhawk verses. The official song went like this:

"Hawkah - We're the Blackhawks,
Hawkah - We're on the wing,
Over land over sea,
We will fight to make men free
and to every nation
liberty will bring.
Hawkah - Follow The Blackhawks,
Hawkah - Shatter your chains,
Seven fearless men are we,
give us death or liberty.
We are the Blackhawks,
remember our names."

CLICK HERE to see the original music for the Blackhawk Song.

After their introduction in 1941, the Blackhawks became very popular. By 1944, newsstands sales were equal to Captain America, The Flash and Batman. In the winter of 1944, Blackhawk #9 was established as a quarterly (it took over where eight issues of Uncle Sam left off). With issue #44, November 1945, Military Comics was retitled Modern Comics. It still featured Blackhawk as the lead story. Modern Comics continued until issue #102, October 1950, when it was canceled.

The Silver Age, 1957 to 1968

National Comics acquired all of Quality's titles when Quality folded in 1956, except Blackhawk, which it leased on a royalty basis and published under the DC Comics label beginning with issue #108 in 1957. Later, National acquired full rights to Blackhawk. Dick Dillin and Chuck Cuidera. were the artists during most of the Silver Age.

By 1957, the Communist threat had faded from the pages of Blackhawk to be replaced by a steady stream of mad scientists intent on world conquest, super-mechanized raiders, warring dictators, free-lance pirates and plunderers, international crime cartels, and alien invaders. The tone of the series became generally lighter. The Blackhawks acquired mascots like Blackie the hawk and Bravo the chimp (#183). They were also joined by the beautiful Lady Blackhawk, who made her first appearance in #133, February 1959.

The comics of the 1940's and 50's are considered the Golden Age and certainly many think that this was the period in which the Blackhawks reached their zenith but, for me, the early 1960's was my favorite time for the Blackhawks. Unfortunately, it didn't last. With issue #197, June 1964, the Blackhawks were no longer the Black Knights. They were fitted with garish red and green uniforms and began an association with a secret government agency. Fortunately, for a time the latter did not play a major part in the series and there were some decent stories, despite the team looking like a Western Swing band.

It hardly seemed like things could get worse, but they did with #228, January 1967. The secret government agency was back and for some reason, seemed to think it had the authority to disband the Blackhawks because they weren't "modern" enough. To become "modern," the team put on silly costumes that gave them second-rate super powers and adopted sillier names, like "The Leaper" (Olaf), in issue #230. This was certainly the low point of the Blackhawks long and, mostly, glorious careers. For a scathing but humorous description of this phase of the Blackhawks, see DC Hall of Shame: Blackhawk. (NOTE: This page has a number of large graphic files and loads very slowly. The commentary is worth reading.)

A two issue attempt to return the Black Knights to their roots (and their uniforms) was too late, despite some excellent writing and capable art. With issue #243, November 1968, after twenty seven years of continuous publication, Blackhawk was canceled.

The Skeates/Evans Revival, 1976 to 1977

Blackhawk was revived in February 1976, with issue #244. After a hiatus of over seven years, the Blackhawks were back. Although Steve Skeates wrote and George Evans drew the majority of this short lived series, including the first and last issues, other writers and artists also worked on this incarnation of Blackhawk (see Blackhawk Index Page).

In the first issue of this revival, with a cover by Joe Kubert, we found that the Black Knights had new uniforms that were the blue of the old uniforms but with red trim and collars open to the waist. Liu Huang had a more politically correct nick name, Chopper, and Zinda, Lady Blackhawk, was replaced with a new female character, Duchess Ramona Fatale, a mercenary leader. The Blackhawks themselves were sort of mercenaries, taking on missions for the U.S. government for a price. All the Blackhawks but Hendrickson had individual lives when they were not on missions. Blackhawk, as Mr. Cunningham, ran a large corporation, Cunningham Aircraft. Stan was the financial manager for Cunningham Aircraft, Chopper was a test pilot, and Chuck was the head of the company's research operation. Olaf and Andre were both based in Europe. Olaf worked as a ski instructor but Andre's civilian occupation was never specified. Hendrickson apparently lived full time on Blackhawk Island in semi-retirement.

The stories were still set in contemporary time and were pretty decent. But they didn't build a large enough audience and the series was canceled again with issue #250, February 1977. Blackhawk Bylines, the letters page, had a rather frank discussion of the fate of the comic. Sales had never been good enough to justify continued publication. The writers talked of a possible comeback but it is obvious from the tone that they didn't believe that likely. The writers also penned a poignant description of the Blackhawks' return to Blackhawk Island with Chuck's body and the severely injured Chopper (results of the action in #250). They suggested that this time the Blackhawks really retired and went on to lead more sedate, civilian lives. Could be. Certainly, no other Blackhawk stories were ever set in contemporary time.

The Evanier/Speigle Revival, 1982 to 1984

The second revival came in October 1982, with the issue number picking up where the last left off, #251. Steven Spielberg, the enormously successful movie director, had expressed some interest in doing a Blackhawk movie at that time. I don't know if he had actually optioned it or was just talking about it, but apparently DC felt it wouldn't hurt to have the comic back in print during the discussion. They looked for a team to produce the book and chose Mark Evanier and Dan Spiegle.

This time the Blackhawks were returned to their origins with stories set in World War II, but with a modern sensibility about characterization. They were back in their familiar uniforms and flying the Grumman F5F-1 Skyrocket again. And they were fighting the Nazis, foes worthy of their heroics. When given the job of writing the new Blackhawk series, Evanier wrote the following to editor Len Wein to explain how he planned to handle it: "What I'm aiming at here is a cross-pollenation of the original Quality Comics Blackhawks - with all the super Nazi paraphernalia and all - with a more contemporary attitude towards characterization. Wherever possible, history and the hardware depicted will be absolutely authentic. The origin reflected in the first story is a combination of the three different origins that Blackhawk has had in the past with particular emphasis on the first, circa 1941. We will begin the Blackhawk saga before Pearl Harbor, possibly around the time of the Nazi invasion of the Netherlands and then proceed, somewhat chronologically until we either run out of war or I am fired, whichever occurs first." (from issue #253)

Spiegles illustration style was a little sket../chaykin/chy for me at first, but it grew on me. He did a decent job of making the members of the team individuals and who couldn't like his female characters, like Domino. His rendition of the F5F was moderately successful. Spiegle had been in the comics business a long time. He was old enough to have served in WW II himself, where he painted nose art on aircraft. A Detached Service story in issue #272 about a wartime artist is a tribute to his service. The series sported some fantastic covers by Spiegle, Dave Cockrum, Howard Chaykin, Gil Kane, Ernie Colon and Dick Giordano.

Although a number of artists assisted by illustrating the Detached Service stories, Evanier wrote everything. His stories were generally excellent. The plots were interesting, using the WW II setting effectively and realistically while at the same time introducing fantastic elements like the War Wheel convincingly. The characters were well developed and given some depth. The more offensive racial stereotypes from the early days of the Blackhawks, particularly that of Chop-Chop, were done away with and Chop-Chop's relationship to the team was actually explored with considerable sensitivity. [DLT's note: See "Chop-Chop to Wu Cheng: The Evolution of the Chinese Character in Blackhawk Comic Books" for an academic analysis of ethnic sterotyping and its evolution over the decades of Blackhawk's publication.]

The series did well enough for two years, until the price was raised from sixty cents to seventy five and sales dropped off. DC cut the book from monthly to bi-monthly, and several people at DC wanted to drop it. Evanier and Spiegle became convinced that the title would be dropped in a matter of months, and they had an offer to do a new book for Eclipse (Crossfire) so they decided to get started on that, rather than to ride Blackhawk down. DC assigned another team to take it over but then, as predicted, the sales slid into the cancellation area, and they decided not to print the issues done by the new team.

In the letters column of the last issue, #273, November 1984, Evanier said that DC was considering a mini-series by Bill Dubay and Carmine Infantino. This may have been the work done by the (unidentified) team who had taken over from Evanier and Spiegle. Unfortunately, it was never published. I was eventually contacted by Bill Dubay who told me that the story still exists. Click here to read more about it.

The Howard Chaykin Revision, 1987

In 1987, comics innovator Howard Chaykin updated the Blackhawks with more adult characters and story in a Prestige Format, three-book limited series.

If I had never read any other Blackhawk stories, I might have enjoyed this more. As is, the element that made the original Blackhawks special is totally missing from Chaykin's version. That is teamwork. The Blackhawks were the original comic book team, much more so than the All Star Squadron, the Justice Society or the later Justice League. Those were all loose groups of heroes that basicaly fought on their own, and only joined up at the end of the story to fight together. Each of the members of those "teams" had completely independent lives and careers. The Blackhawks were always the Blackhawks. They had no other lives, no "secret identities." They lived and worked closely as a team, using each members special skills in close coordination with the others. The stories made a point of showing the team practicing formation flying and unit manuevers. Not till twenty five years after the Blackhawks did another comic book team, the X-Men, have a similar kind of teamwork. Chaykin's story is about Janos Prohaska and Natalie Reed. In the first book, we only see two other Blackhawks, Chuck and Weng, in two brief scenes. And in one of those, Prohaska refers to his own men as "shitheads." The entire team appears in Book Two, but only at the end for a few pages, just long enough to kill off Stan. In the third book, no Blackhawks appear but Prohaska and Reed.

It seems obvious that Chaykin wasn't interested in the Blackhawks but in his own creation of Janos Prohaska. And I can't say I care too much for that, either. Prohaska is a profain, vulgar drunk who mistreats women and abuses his men. I didn't admire him, which I did the original Blackhawk. Chaykin never shows us why the other Blackhawks would follow a man like Prohaska. Yes, he is brave and competent in limited areas, but leadership is never demonstrated in this story. To the contrary, Prohaska is largely shown to be a lone wolf. Certainly there are men like Prohaska who are poor examples of human beings and yet still perform heroic deeds, but they aren't the characters I want to see in my comic books. Apparently, this type of "anti-hero" is common in comtemporary comic books. I understand this from discussions of current trends, since I have sampled very few new comic books. I did admire Kingdom Come, which addressed this issue in an elegant style and condemned the modern crop of ultra-violent, sociopathic "heroes." Recently, it was suggested to me that Chaykin really only has one character, an idealized version of himself, and that his Blackhawk was another clone of Reuben Flagg, Scorpion, Vector Pope ("Pulp Fantastic"), etc. That fits my feelings about Chaykin's "Blackhawk."

The rendering of the Grumman F5F-1 Skyrocket in this mini-series is decent, nearly as good as Dave Cockrum's. I was not so thrilled with the revisionist plot device of having "improved" copies of the aircraft produced in the Soviet Union. In Red Snow, Natalie Reed describes the Grumman F5F-1 as "failure ridden." I have seen this opinion in other Blackhawk references but it is not historically accurate. Go to the Grumman F5F-1 Skyrocket page for a detailed discussion of the F5F-1's actual performance. The mini-serie's "improved," Soviet-built Skyrocket is actually a step backward. It replaces the F5F's modern, retracting landing gear with fixed gear in streamlined pants, a technology going back to the 1930's instead of forward into the 1940's. And the F5F is turned into a two seater with a rear mounted machine gun, not a set-up for a high performance fighter, but an arrangement typical of dive bombers like the U.S.' Douglas SBD Dauntless or the German's Ju 87 Stuka (note that the Stuka, a plane that had fought in the Spanish Civil War and was considered obsolete when WW II started, also had fixed, skirted landing gear). None of these "improvements" make sense from a technological viewpoint. I had originally ascribed this redesign to Chaykin, but I have been informed by A.G. Parr that it was, in fact, Richard Ory who did the aircraft in those three issues. It was he who re-designed the aircraft, working as Chaykin's assistant on the mini-series. Chaykin hired him at the San Diego Con in 1986. According to Parr, Ory still occasionally does comics but, thanks to Chaykin, he is now doing animation (he just finished a stint on Dilbert and, before that, he was on Jonny Quest.)

I also think Chaykin's Soviet source for the new Skyrockets was ideological and really had nothing to do with technical problems. Frankly, the whole subplot concerning whether or not Blackhawk was a closet Red did little for me, but apparently it is important to Chaykin. In the same vein, I would have prefered not to have had Lady Blackhawk as a Communist. And the technical improbabilities jarred me enough that the whole story lost credibility.

Chaykin's story is amazingly cynical. Often people assume an attitude of cynicism to give the impression that they are worldly and understand the lows of which humanity is capable. But it really shows a depressing lack of hope and allows the cynic to write off his fellow humans, ignoring their needs and potential. Of course, Chaykin wrote this in the late 1980's, a period when cynicism was rampant and greed was exalted. I make allowances for that. But in balance, dispite it's extremely stylish presentation, I found this Blackhawk failed me.

However, it did work for many people. Kevin Peralez sent me his assessment of the Chaykin mini-series.

     "My involvement with Blackhawk started with the Howard Chaykin Mini-series. I found it a little confusing and had to reread it a few times, as with most Chaykin stuff. I did really enjoy the Action Comics stories and the Pasko/Moench/Burchett material.
     "I really did like the conspiracy twinged stories as well as Blackhawks characterization as a 'cynical man without a war'. In my opinion, I think it fits perfectly for the times they were set in.
     "Here we have a man who fought the evil of the Third Reich for most of his adult life. Now, late 40's/early 50's there really is no clear cut 'bad guy'. Except for what his bosses, the OSO/CIA , say are his enemies; and are they really?
     "If the series had not been canceled I think we would have seen the team move on into working 'Air America' type of jobs in Indochina, those would have been good stories."

It is also true that in his earliest incarnation in Military Comics, Blackhawk was ruthless to his enemys, gunning them down in cold blood without a thought. According to Robert Jennings' article5 on Blackhawk in The Comic World, Vol 1 No 8, one of the problems with the majority of the Blackhawk stories in Modern Comics was that too many of them had Blackhawk operating solo, with only minimal involvement of the rest of the team. Like Chaykin's story, these were also set in the years immediatley after World War II. So perhaps Chaykin's characterization is based on firm precedent. I still didn't like the character.

The Second Series, 1988 to 1990

Howard Chaykin's Blackhawk was successful enough that when DC tried an experiment in 1988 by turning Action Comics into a weekly series with six rotating titles, the revitalized Blackhawks were included. The Blackhawks were the first series from Action to spin-off into their own book. The new series began with issue #1, March 1989 (there had never been a Blackhawk #1 in the original series).

Illustrated by Rick Burchett and written by Martin Pasko until issue #12 when Doug Moench took over, it explored conspiracy themes that are still popular today. This incarnation lasted for sixteen issues, expiring in August, 1990.

The Last Blackhawks, 1990 to Present

The final appearance of a comic book with the Blackhawk title was a Special #1 in 1992. Since then, the Blackhawks have made occasional appearances in cameos in other titles.


1Blackhawk, Vol. 32, No. 260, July 1983. DC Comics Inc., 666 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10103. Copyright 1983.

2The Steranko History of Comics, Vol. 2. James Steranko. Supergraphics, 218 North Sixth St., Reading, PA 19601. Copyright 1972.

3Naval Fighters Number Thirty-One: Grumman XF5F-1 & XP-50 Skyrocket. By David Lucabaugh and Bob Martin. ISBN 0-942612-31-0, Steve Ginter, 1754 Warfield Cir., Simi Valley, CA 93063. 1995. Page 14.

4 Ibid. Page 16.

5Blackhawk. Robert Jennings. The Comic World, Vol 1 No. 8. Robert Jennings, 3819 Chambers Drive, Nashville, TN 37211.

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