The paramilitary Blackhawks were one of the most closed-door groups in comic-book history. After the admission of Chop-Chop in 1941 (subsequent revisions would set it later in the war), no-one else was awarded a Blackhawk uniform until 1957. That’s when Jim Turner joined the team, albeit under somewhat spurious circumstances. As you can guess, Turner’s status as a reserve Black Knight lasted only the length of the story.
Zinda Blake had better luck. It took her two tries, but she finally persuaded the Blackhawks that she was worth keeping around---as an honorary member, anyway. Though her appearances were sporadic, she made positive contributions to the squadron as Lady Blackhawk. Unfortunately, five years later, her relationship with the Magnificent 7 turned tumultuous, after an arch-foe’s mind-warping turned her into the evil Queen Killer Shark. Zinda would make several attempts to kill her former teammates before they finally brought her to justice. It would be even longer before her brains were unscrambled.
Even so, Zinda fared better---or, at least, longer---with the Blackhawks than Jim Turner, or the two others who joined the team after her.
The lead story in Blackhawk # 211 (Aug., 1965) attempted to prove its title, “Nobody Replaces a Blackhawk”, wrong. After the international crime combine Octopus steals the master computer for the entire U.S. defence system, the Army enlists the aid of the Black Knights to recover the device, nicknamed “Sweetie Pie”.
This is no light-weight assignment, like stopping the Hoopster from robbing a bank. With Sweetie Pie, Octopus can foul the defence posture of the country by broadcasting bogus electronic commands to strategic assets. It even has the capacity to trigger the launch sequences on America’s nuclear weapons. With national security at stake, Blackhawk is more hard-assed than usual.
The trail of the Octopus minions that stole Sweetie Pie leads the Magnificent 7 to a walled estate in a remote countryside. Blackhawk orders their acrobatic ace, Olaf, to land and infiltrate the mansion. However, in his haste to accomplish his assignment, the big Swede bangs his head hard on his jet’s canopy. He’s suddenly seized by an uncontrollable dizziness and sense of falling which cause him to screw up twice, and the criminals escape.
Chuck, Hendy, and the others cover up for Olaf’s flubs, but Blackhawk’s not buying it. He knows that the bump on Olaf’s noggin inflicted him with vertigo, which can takes months to wear off, and sometimes, it never does. Their current mission is too urgent to carry dead weight, decides Blackhawk. Olaf is grounded, effective immediately!
“But,” Blackhawk reminds them, “we all agreed he was the roughest, toughest, fightingest bozo we ever met! And he’s gone straight since he left prison . . . even helped the police in several cases!”
Nevertheless, the rest of the team gets downright antagonistic when Griff tells them that his reason for signing on is for the fame of being a Blackhawk. Oh, yeah, and to collect his share of the reward money for recovering Sweetie Pie. They’re ready to lynch him, but their chief shuts them down. He’s one of us, now. Work it out!
Gunner Griff turns out to be the worst kind of braggart: one who really is as good as he says he is. When the Blackhawks resume their search for Sweetie Pie, he’s a ball of fire. He outthinks the others by determining that the stolen apparatus is on a moving platform. He beats the others to the flatbed truck hauling Sweetie Pie, disguised as a publicity float for a science-fiction movie, and forces it off the road.
And when Octopus agents swarm out of the mock-up and overwhelm the other Blackhawks, Griff is the only one left standing on his feet, wading through the lot with bone-crunching fists. He actually manages to hold the entire criminal gang at bay. That is, until a pail gets dropped over his head. It turns out that the one-man army has a weakness after all---claustrophobia. Griff panics and flails about wildly, until he accidentally knocks himself out.
With all of the good guys down now, Octopus gets ready to collect a bonus, in the lives of the Blackhawks. Then, suddenly, the vertical jets of an F-105 Thunderchief blast from above, and both heroes and crooks see Olaf leap from the ship. With the aid of a wingsuit, the Swedish acrobat soars gracefully overhead and drops a fishnet over the Octopus agents.
The nation’s master computer is recovered (well, more or less, thanks to a clever twist inserted by the Army), a gaggle of international crooks is in jail, and, most important as far as the Blackhawks are concerned, Olaf is cured of his vertigo. A somewhat more contrite Gunner Griff says his good-byes to the team.
Gunner Griff was an interesting entry, mainly for what was left on the table by his departure. He was, essentially, a prototype of Marvel Comics’ U.S. Agent, John Walker---arrogant, brash, and convinced of his superiority to his “has-been” teammates, yet, not without a heroic side. In the hands of Stan Lee, such a personality would have stayed with the group for a good, long run of internal conflict and character development.
But Blackhawk was a plot-driven DC comic, where antagonists like Gunner were good for only one story (unless Arnold Drake was the series’ writer). Thus, things had to go south for the swaggering Blackhawk rookie on the next-to-last page.
“El Blackhawk Peligroso”, from Blackhawk # 219 (Apr., 1966), finds the Magnificent 7 in their more-familiar Silver-Age territory of stopping lame costumed criminals. When a man dressed in a functional flying-squirrel costume steals a priceless gemstone called the Cyclops Eye before the very eyes of the Blackhawks, they give chase in their Hawk-copter. In mid-flight, the human “Rocky” passes off the gem to a crook wearing a butterfly outfit.
Just as Our Heroes are about to snag the butterfly-man in steel-cabled lariats, a ramshackle jet, looking like it was constructed out of cast-offs from the Pep Boys’ spare-parts bin, thunders past. The patchwork ship tangles the cables before they can reach the flying crook. The crook gets away, and the ship crashes. But not before its pilot bails out.
After everyone is on the ground, the Black Knights confront André’s cousin, who’s wearing a makeshift Blackhawk uniform. This makes his purpose clear, which is good because Cisco no hablo inglés. The Frenchman translates for his teammates: Cisco wants to become a Blackhawk!
The vote runs six-to-one against it, not that there needed to be one. As the man in charge puts it: “Him---a Blackhawk? Never!” But, exerting all of his Gallic charm, André talks his chief into giving Cisco a trial run.
It doesn’t take long for Blackhawk to regret back-sliding on his original decision. That night, the Blackhawks respond to an S.O.S. from a tramp steamer and find a man in a dragon suit making a solo attempt to pirate the vessel. Seconds later, they discover that it’s more than just a dragon costume. The bizarrely attired crook opens his mouth and breathes a geyser of fire skyward. Moments later, the Hawk-copter is engulfed in flames.
Blackhawk orders his men to abandon the bird. It’s low enough for them to leap to the deck of the steamer, and six of them do. But Cisco remains on board to try and rescue the stricken helo. And André stays on board to rescue Cisco. As a result, both men are in the craft when it crashes into the ocean and explodes. Cisco comes to the surface; André doesn’t.
Blackhawk doesn’t pull his punches with their South American rookie. If Cisco hadn’t ignored orders and tried to save the Hawk-copter, then neither he, nor André, would have been on board it when it crashed---and André wouldn’t have drowned.
Once ashore, Cisco wanders off alone to wrestle with his guilty conscience. That makes him easy pickings for an ambush---by a “mole-man”, a “mosquito-man”, and a “bat-man” (no relation). A faceful of knockout gas takes all the fight out of the special-guest Blackhawk.
Cisco awakens in a cavern, to find his French cousin alive, but in a cage! They are both prisoners of the men in animal suits and their boss, a bespectacled, crown-wearing oddball calling himself King Zootomy. (“King Zoot”, to his pals.) Zoot is a self-styled master of bionics and has developed the costumes to simulate the various animal talents and bestow them on their wearers. It was the dragon-man’s underwater abilities that enabled him to pull the unconscious André from the copter wreckage without being seen.
King Zoot has plans for Cisco. Instead of risking his own men falling to the Blackhawks, he intends to send the South American out to commit robberies, under the threat of André’s death. He outfits Cisco in the wings and harness and cowl of an owl. Then as a precaution against his “owl-man” feeling any pangs of guilt, Zoot makes Cisco drink a chemical potion which will induce a specific amnesia. He won’t recall a thing about the Blackhawks.
That evening, Cisco the owl-man breaks into a jewelry store. When he sets off the alarm, the Blackhawks respond, as expected. Despite Our Heroes’ best attempts to catch him, the winged burglar eludes them, but not before they learn that it’s Cisco behind the owl mask. Blackhawk also discovers something else.
King Zootomy is thrilled when Cisco returns to the cavern with his loot from the jewelry store. But he has little time to gloat over it, when the Magnificent 7 charges into the hide-out moments later! With the animal-suit-wearing henchmen caught by surprise in a confined space, the Blackhawks have little trouble mopping up the “Amazing Zoot Crew”. Cisco releases André from his cage in time for the Frenchman to bring down the fleeing “king” with a flying tackle.
It turns out that Cisco was one viejo búho sabio. He only pretended to drink the forgetfulness potion, by pouring it into the side of his cowl. And he deliberately left a vital clue at the scene of his fight with the Blackhawks---André’s phial of moustache wax. Tipped off that their teammate was still alive, the Black Knights held off from capturing Cisco, who let them follow him to Zoot’s hideaway.
Having redeemed his earlier errors, Cisco decides not to press his luck with the team (not to mention avoiding the problems with the Bureau of Immigration and the F.A.A. that are almost certainly awaiting him) and, instead, return to South America.
For the remainder of the Silver Age, nobody else attempted to join the Blackhawks. It’s not too difficult to guess why. In Blackhawk # 230 (Mar., 1967), the team, caught up in the mid-decade Batmania, adopted half-baked super-hero identities. And, really, who’d want to sign up with a group that had members with names like M’sieu Machine or Doctor Hands or the Listener?
Well, Zinda Blake would. She remained loyal to her “New Blackhawk Era” buddies. After regaining her true personality, she returned in issue # 231 (Apr., 1967), to provide aid and comfort to the fellows, along with logistical support from their new mobile base, the Hawk-Kite. Naturally, she reported for duty in her leather jacket, pleated skirt, and peaked cap.
After all, some styles never go out of fashion.
The rest of the Blackhawks would find this out for themselves soon enough, in Blackhawk # 242 (Aug.-Sep., 1968), after their super-hero alter egos were literally blown off the face of the Earth. As the Black Knights were forced to go back to basics, Zinda stayed with the team---as the only enduring official “Eighth Blackhawk”.
She’d have been my pick. Hubba, hub . . . er . . . I mean---HAWKKKKAAAAA-A-A-A-A-A-A!
"Functional flying-squirrel costume" is the sort of phrase that makes me love comics.
Dick Dillin and Chuck Cuidera sure did make Zinda a knockout, which is one of the reasons I find her more memorable than most of the Blackhawks from that period. DC brought her back after Zero Hour as a time-displaced character who talked with 1940s lingo. (Even though she was technically from 1959.) I loved this version; she was sort of a blue-collar, tough-gal archetype who was good with her fists, could drink you under the table and wasn't shy about admiring the male form. And she was still a knockout. It was as if (supermodel of your choice here) was a crimefighter, but talked like Mae West.
I haven't seen her around lately, but when she was I found her delightful -- especially how uncomfortable she made her more upscale peers.
Something I omitted from this two-part entry, because it was only tangentally related to the subject, was the fact that Lady Blackhawk, while she appeared fewer times than her Challengers of the Unknown counterpart, June Robbins, was notably more effective on Blackhawk missions than June was.
Most of the time when June was on stage, it was to serve as the reason for bringing the Challengers into the story. June would be assisting a professor when something would go wrong, resulting in a menace unleashed on the world, and she would call the Challs. Or June herself would fall victim to a threat, bringing the fellows into the matter. Rarely did June make a genuine contribution to the mission. There were a couple of times when she did, to be sure, but it wasn't very often.
Zinda, on the other hand, wasn't there to simply jump-start the Blackhawks' involvement in the action. Sometimes a story centered on her, sometimes not, but she was always in there swinging with the rest of the team. As an aviatrix and an adventuress. most often she pulled her weight, as June rarely did.
I would have loved palling around with Zinda a lot more than with June.
Re, the 1970s revival: when the letter page at the end of the last issue (a shame, I thought it had some potential) declared that it was The End of the Blackhawks (bad guys blown up, one Blackhawk dead, Henderson down with a heart attack, another severely injured) I just rolled my eyes. Like I hadn't heard that one before!
But that was the last story of the present-day Blackhawks. Everything after that was a retcon. So I guess for once they weren't kidding.
In full agreement Zinda was pretty cool.