Deck Log Entry # 207 So, You Want to Join the Blackhawks . . . . (Part One)

If you wanted to become one of the famed Black Knights of the skies, you pretty much had to be around in 1941. 

 

The story of the man called Blackhawk and the squadron named after him began in Military Comics # 1 (Aug., 1941).  During the Nazi invasion of Poland, in the fall of 1939, the brother and sister of a Polish pilot are killed during a German bombing run.  Taking the name “Blackhawk”, the vengeful flier forms a squadron of international aviators, to wage war against the Axis on their own terms.

 

That origin would be adjusted in various ways over the years---one of the first revisions was to make Blackhawk a Polish-American, to promote reader identification---but the basic concept would remain in place for the duration of World War II.

 

Initially, the fliers serving under Blackhawk didn’t get any face time.  They were a generic bunch, with nothing to distinguish them other than an occasional name mentioned when the big man barked an order.  Thus, there was no sense of a regular cast.

 

That began to change in Military Comics # 3 (Oct., 1941), with the first definitive addition to the amorphous roster.  In “The Doomed Battalion”, a small Chinaman named Chop-Chop, flying a jury-rigged plane, crash-lands on Blackhawk Island.  He excitedly explains that a compound of wounded Allied soldiers in Yugoslavia is about to be overrun by the Nazis.  The resourceful Oriental constructed his ship from the wreckage of two German fighters the wounded soldiers had managed to shoot down, and he took off under the cover of darkness, seeking help. 

 

The Black Knights immediately take to the air, leaving an irate Chop-Chop behind.  After defeating the enemy and rescuing the imperiled soldiers, the Blackhawks return to their island base, to discover that Chop-Chop has established himself there as cook, mechanic, and general factotum.

 

Over the next several issues, the other Blackhawks got names and faces.  They were killed (André), or came and went without explanation (Zeg and Boris).  It took a year, but finally, by Military Comics # 11 (Aug., 1942), the team’s line-up was cast in stone:  André, a Frenchman (he got better); Stanislaus, a Pole; Olaf, a Swede; Hendrickson, a Dutchman; Chuck, an American;  Chop-Chop; and, of course, Blackhawk.

 

Blackhawk received his own title in 1944, taking over Uncle Sam Quarterly with its ninth issue, and it ran concurrently with his adventures in Military Comics.  Quality Comics, the publisher of both magazines, acknowledged V-J Day in August, 1945, by changing the name of Military Comics to Modern Comics, beginning with the issue on sale in September.

 

For a time, the Black Knights’ twin titles continued depicting wartime stories, under the conceit of being recently unclassified “Now it can be told” missions, along with a sprinkling of cases involving Nazi war criminals and renegade Japanese soldiers.  But, eventually, even Blackhawk had to admit that the war was over.  So the canny publisher shifted its heroes to fighting the Communist menace.  Given the anti-Communist fervor in America at the time, the Reds were almost as entertainingly villainous as the Nazis and gave the Blackhawks a reason to keep cleaning their .45’s.

 

The one thing that hadn’t changed over the years was the membership of the team.  Oh, a couple of females had tried to finagle a spot as the eighth Blackhawk, once in 1943 and again in 1951, but their efforts were categorically rejected by the he-men air aces.  There were seven bunks in the barracks of Blackhawk Island, no less, and certainly, no more.

 

Once over the hump of the 1950’s, the Blackhawks hit the doldrums.  Commie-bashing was on its way out, and the old war vets spent most of their time fighting bank robbers and smugglers.  Modern Comics had folded at the start of the decade, and most of Quality’s magazines were going the same way.  Blackhawk was still earning its keep, which was probably why, when DC Comics bought out Quality Comics in 1956, it opted to keep the title going.

 

Just in time for the Silver Age, too.  The Blackhawks had remained virtually unaltered during their fifteen-year existence, but the Silver Age would bring changes by the fistful.  Those would include, at long last, newcomers who would win places on the team, of one sort or another.

 

 

Jim Turner

 

If you wanted a crack at earning the peaked cap and leathers of a Blackhawk, this was the way to do it . . . .

 

In the opening pages of “The Eighth Blackhawk”, from Blackhawk # 112 (May, 1957), the Black Knights’ jets streak over a village engulfed by the raging waters released when a near-by dam gives way.  Blackhawk dives into the torrent when he spots a young woman about to be swept over the flood falls.  In the midst of his rescue, the famed aviator is struck on the head by passing débris, and his unconscious form is drawn toward the deadly falls.

 

A young man named Jim Turner spies Blackhawk’s plight and instantly plunges into the rushing water.  He takes hold of Blackhawk and, fighting the current, finds purchase on a rock at the edge of the drop.  Turner manages to keep them both afloat long enough for Olaf, Stan, and the others to rig a lifeline to bring them to safety.

 

A grateful Blackhawk thanks Jim, who expresses his admiration for the famous squadron.  As a reward for saving his life, Blackhawk will fly the young man to Blackhawk Island the next day, where he will attend a banquet in his honour.

 

Which is exactly what Jim Turner had planned on, all along.

 

That night, Turner meets with a criminal named Zorac.  Zorac is determined to locate Blackhawk Island and, after disposing of its current residents, make it his base of operations.  He recruited Jim, anticipating such an opportunity as developed during the flood.  Unlike the sinister Zorac, Turner isn’t evil, just overcome with an unstoppable ambition to become important and powerful as fast as he can.  He was even willing to risk his own life in the flash flood to further his plans.

 

Zorac hands over a sophisticated instrument which will mathematically compute the location of Blackhawk Island during Jim’s flight.  Once at their headquarters, his job will be to sabotage the island’s defences, so Zorac and his gang can safely come ashore.

 

Upon arriving on Blackhawk Island, Jim finds the red carpet has been rolled out for him.  He’s given a hero’s welcome, put up in the guest house, and at the testimonial dinner, the Blackhawks award him a silver medal.  Despite himself, Turner feels honoured and touched by the team’s gestures.  Nevertheless, his pangs of guilt don’t stop him from going out that night and secretly damaging the equipment protecting the island.

 

Another expression of the Black Knights’ gratitude awaits Jim when he awakens the next morning---a Blackhawk uniform!  At breakfast, he is told that he has been named a reserve member of the squadron.  When the Blackhawks take off on a mission against some armed raiders, they bring Jim along.  During the fight with the gunmen, the young man, who’s never had any real friends before, experiences the camaraderie of the team.  He realises that he can’t go through with his betrayal.

 

Before his flight back to the United States, Jim leaves a note of confession on his bunk, and once on the mainland, he attempts to destroy the geo-locating device with the recorded coördinates of Blackhawk Island.  He is stopped by Zorac and his thugs, who spirit him off to the criminal’s mountain lodge, which is armed like a fortress.

 

Just as Zorac plots the location of Blackhawk Island, the crooks are surprised by the arrival of the Magnificent 7.  To Zorac’s delight, the heroes are dashing across a hidden minefield.  As the crime boss’s finger jabs toward the detonation switch, the bound Turner snags a hand grenade and pulls the pin.  Before the Blackhawks’ eyes, an explosion tears the lodge apart.

 

Zorac and his underlings are dead, but Jim managed to save himself by diving under a table at the last second.  The ashamed youngster starts to confess his own wrongdoing, when Blackhawk tells him that they knew of his actions all along---when the magnetic signal field around their island was disrupted by the geo-locator device in his pocket.  The Blackhawks gambled that Jim’s inherent decency would win out.

 

It’s a good bet, though, that they took away his Blackhawk uniform and made him give his medal back.

 

 

Zinda Blake

 

The character of Chop-Chop was confusing in many ways.  The circumstances of his admission to the Blackhawks varied over the years, and his status with the group went undefined for the longest time.  Though a qualified pilot, he always rode in the back seat of Blackhawk’s jet, and he wore his own outfit of Oriental silks, rather than the standard leather uniform.  Finally, a re-telling of the origin, in Blackhawk # 50 (Mar., 1952), established him as a full-fledged member of the team.

 

Which is more than could be said for Zinda Blake.

 

Zinda was the latest female to try to shove her way onto the Blackhawks’ roster.  “The Lady Blackhawk”, from Blackhawk # 133 (Feb., 1959), sees Our Heroes in Africa, hot on the trail of the Scavenger, who has made a thriving practise of poaching ivory and raiding diamond mines.  While refilling their canteens at a river, the Blackhawks are menaced by a herd of stampeding jungle animals---until the beasts are diverted by the team’s own safari vehicle, driven by Zinda Blake!

 

She tells the astonished aviators that she has trained exhaustively and studied their operations, all to become the first lady Blackhawk.  André finds the idea charming, but Blackhawk, no doubt recalling the headaches with Sheila Hawke and Sugar, nixes it on the spot.  No girls allowed, he tells her.

 

But giving up is the last thing on Zinda’s mind.  Striking ahead on her own, she has the ill fortune of discovering the Scavenger’s cavern hide-out.  It’s ill fortune because her premature efforts to capture the crooks lead the Blackhawks into a trap.

 

Fortunately, Zinda’s packing a gimmicked hair comb which gets them out of the frying pan, but they end up in the fire when the girl’s shrieking reaction to a field mouse alerts the crooks to their escape.

 

Miss Blake is able to save the day with another trick up her boot, but she understands the mouse thing shows that she’s not Blackhawk material.  At least, not yet.

 

 

In Blackhawk # 140 (Sep., 1959), both Zinda and the Scavenger get a second chance.  The Scavenger breaks jail and captures the Blackhawks when they track down the floating island the criminal is using as a base for pirate raids. 

 

The authorities intercept Blackhawk’s hastily radioed S.O.S., a single transmission, garbled with static.  The girl who would be Lady Blackhawk decyphers it and flies to the Blackhawks’ rescue.  She is unaware that the giant ray cannon that the Scavenger uses to disable ships at sea will also destroy her jet’s engine.  But Blackhawk is able to warn her away by using a mirror to flash a Morse-code message.

 

Zinda waves off.  She radios for help, then enacts a plan of her own.  Over water, she bails out of her jet and swims to the floating island.  By remote control, her aircraft flies back into the sights of the Scavenger’s ray cannon and is shot down.  A dummy of Zinda ejects, luring most of the pirates to its landing point.  In the meantime, the clever aviatrix frees the Black Knights, who lower the boom on the Scavenger and his pals.

She comes through like a champ, and the team decides to vote her in as an honorary Blackhawk.  Luckily for her, the case didn’t require any spiders squished or jars opened.

 

 

As Lady Blackhawk, Zinda became a recurring character in the series, popping up in a story every third issue or so.  Little more was made of her distinction as the distaff member of the group.  Sometimes, a plot centered on her; other times, she was just one of the . . . er . . . boys.

 

Until Blackhawk # 200 (Sep., 1964), that is.  In this issue, Zinda runs afoul of the Blackhawks’ long-time foe, Killer Shark.  The villain subjects her to brainwashing which turns her evil, and gives her the identity of Queen Killer Shark, his partner in crime.  The Black Knights are stunned when their honorary member nearly kills them in a murderous ambush.  For Blackhawk, who was developing romantic feelings for Zinda, it’s particularly agonising.

 

Three more times, Queen Killer Shark crosses paths with her former teammates, who are working at a psychological disadvantage:  they still care for her; she wants them dead.  Eventually, it comes out that the treacherous Zinda has turned against her mentor, Killer Shark, as well, by arranging his defeat so that she can take over his gang.

 

In issue # 225 (Oct., 1966), the Blackhawks, after another pitched battle, finally apprehend the Sharks and put them behind bars.  The heartbreak is that Zinda still retains her villainous personality.

 

Whatever concerns the Blackhawks had about Zinda’s situation were quickly pushed aside a few issues later by the events leading to the (groan) New Blackhawk Era.  In the midst of all of their troubles with the U. S. government and the Justice League, the appearance of an escaped Queen Killer Shark is just one more problem on the dogpile.

 

Then, while making a determined effort to kill Blackhawk, Zinda bangs her head against a cliff face.  When she comes out of it, in true sitcom fashion, she’s normal self, again.  The Blackhawks don’t have time for a reunion, though; they’re too busy becoming lame super-heroes.

  

Zinda Blake was the obvious “eighth Blackhawk”.  But I’ll bet most of you never even heard of Jim Turner.  Tune in next time, when we’ll meet two more individuals who got to join the legendary Black Knights.  Hawk-a-a-a-a-a!

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Blackhawk #9 appeared in 1944, but the series didn't continue until after the war. #10 was dated for Spring 1946. (Mike's Amazing World says it came out in Oct. 1945. If that's right the issue was dated a whole quarter ahead.) In 1948 the title went bimonthly.

Modern Comics ended at the point Blackhawk went monthly, so Blackhawk's going monthly was probably the reason. This was also the point when the line's titles were going from 36 to 52 pages,(1) so Quality's output of "Blackhawk" stories went up from two and a half to four stories a month.

When DC took over Blackhawk it kept it monthly instead of taking it down to the eight month frequency it used for its single-feature superhero titles. It remained on that schedule until it went bimonthly in 1967, during the New Blackhawk Era. According to Wikipedia Blackhawk was initially "leased on a royalty basis" by DC. I don't know at what point DC bought the feature.

Lady Blackhawk had two precursors in the Quality years. The first was Sugar, who tried to join the team in Military Comics #20. She took part in a Blackhawk mission, but didn't wear a Blackhawk uniform. The second was Sheila Hawke, who tried to join the team as She-Hawke in "Eighth Blackhawk!" in Blackhawk #40. She turned up in her own Blackhawk outfit, like Zinda.

(1) These counts include the covers, inside covers, text pages, and pages with house ads. Only the inside covers and back covers had commercial ads. 

I don't know anything about Sheila Hawke and Sugar. I assume they were one-hit wonders. What's their story?

The Sugar story appeared in 1943. Sugar is an American who has been ferrying planes to England. She lands at Blackhawk island and declares herself the team's new member. She wants to join them so she can avenge her brother, who has been shot down over Germany.

The Blackhawks' current concern is the rescue of a French general the Germans are about to shoot. Sugar talks herself into the mission by arguing she can use her feminine wiles to find out information they need.

She performs her part of the mission well. Blackhawk doesn't let her take part in the rescue itself. The other Blackhawks have to leave him behind. Sugar means to avenge him by crashing her plane into the German HQ. She sees him escaping and rescues him instead. To send her away Blackhawk assigns her to take the general to England.

 

The Sheila story appeared in 1951. Sheila is a rich woman who has decided to join the Blackhawks out of boredom and because she admires them. Having provided herself with a Blackhawk-style uniform and jet she saves them from a Communist trap in a country called Monclova and follows them back to Blackhawk Island, where she introduces herself.

The Communists seize power in Monclova. The country's democrats radio the Blackhawks for help. Sheila beats the Blackhawks there and as they arrive destroys a cannon that's supposed to wreck their planes.

The Blackhawks overcome the Communists occupying the capitol. Sheila helps. When the fighting's over Blackhawk gets rid of her by leaving her in Monclova as the Blackhawks' representative.

Thanks for giving Cap the lowdowns on Sheila and Sugar, Luke.  I was too busy to get to it when he asked, but I kind of figured you would.  It also alerted me to a typo I had made in an early paragraph of my article, too.  (I put down the year for Eve Rice, instead of Sheila Hawke.)  And I was able to correct it.

Much obliged, sir.

I've heard of Jim Turner solely because I picked up the Showcase Blackhawk collection a couple of years back. Reading it did not make me feel I missed anything not picking them up back in the day — while a book with one hero and a sidekick can get by with minimal characterization, seven characters is a bit much (which is not to say there weren't some good stories, but they were a minority).

The funny thing about Zinda is that she's seen more action post-Bronze Age than the rest of the team, popping up in Birds of Prey and Warrior.

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