Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Blackhawk is, of course, the handsome, debonair, heroic team leader. In his first origin (most of these guys have several), he was supposed to be a Polish survivor of the Nazi invasion of Poland, but he quickly became identified as an American whose real identity is "Bart Hawk." That is not a joke.
Stanislaus also hails from Poland, and he is supposed to be some kind of expert in acrobatics. He's also Blackhawk's second-in-command, which is the Blackhawk equivalent to being Aaron Rogers before the 2008 NFL season. (This analogy would only be true for the 2009 NFL season if Blackhawk were suddenly to start leading a crack team of Nazi pilots, leaving Stan to lead his team to a surprisingly successful season, so far.) Early in the series, Stan was depicted with some ethnic distinctions, though these were dropped at some point, and he quickly became the most boring team member.
Andre is a swarthy Frenchman and demolitions expert, but the main thing he destroys is the ladies' hearts, if you catch my drift.
Andre's catchphrase: "Sacre bleu!"
Chuck is a Texas-American who, like many of his fellow statesmen, enjoys cold-cocking. He's also the team's audio and surveillance expert. According to Wikipedia, he is the only Blackhawk (with the exception of Blackhawk himself) who is not depicted as an ethnic stereotype. However, the author of the Wikipedia page is clearly from Texas and therefore doesn't know what he is talking about because he thinks Chuck is "normal." Nonetheless, Chuck doesn't really have a catchphrase.
Hendrickson is a Dutch sharpshooter. I may have mistakenly referred to him as Austrian in an earlier post, but nobody caught it, so the mistake is as much yours as it is mine.
Hendrickson's catchphrase: "Ach du lieber!"
Olaf, often insensitively referred to as a "big dumb Swede," is the team's strong man. In some stories, he is also depicted as an acrobat, though I may be mixing him up with Stan. Or, just as easily, the writers could be mixing them up. Whatever the case, there wasn't a lot of quality control behind these stories, anyway.
Olaf's catchphrase: "Py yiminy!"
Chop-Chop: Holy crap, that shit is straight-up racist!
Chop-Chop's catchphrase: Chop-Chop has numerous catchphrases, but his earliest and most common one was "Chop-Chop been double-clossed!" which he expressed during fits of anger and in the midst of a swearing tirade. Seriously, I am not making this shit up.
Images of the team taken from the cover of Blackhawk 10 (Spring 1946), art by Al Bryant.
Next week, I'll feature a story that highlights some of the Blackhawks' special skills.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
A year or so ago, a former student of mine passed away. He was an older gentleman who had moved to the area from somewhere up north, and from the frequent conversations we had about his past life, it became clear to me that, during the 70s and 80s at least, he was "connected."
I started to draw this conclusion early in our student/teacher relationship. On one assignment, where students had to write an essay that focused on defining a term or concept, he came to me to discuss his topic.
"Dr. K," he said (and he actually did call me "Dr. K," and it may be from him that I took the name for this blog), "I want to write my paper about the 'sit down.'"
"What do you mean by 'sit down'?" I asked.
"You know, when guys back in the neighborhood would have a disagreement--we'd have to have a 'sit down' before things got out of hand."
That was my second inkling that this student had had a colorful past. The first was the fact that he was missing about half his pinky on his left hand.
Now, my only knowledge of organized crime--with the exception of one event from my childhood that I won't get into here--comes from movies and TV. So, when I first started to suspect about this student's past, I immediately dismissed the suspicions as a product of an overactive imagination and an excessive fondness for The Sopranos.
In fact, one of the things we talked about a lot was movies. It was through these conversations that he gave me more information about his past, letting me know that my suspicions were on the right track. And the one movie that came up in every single conversation we had about movies, over the course of several years, was The Friends of Eddie Coyle.
I liked to talk about Robert Mitchum under any circumstances. Out of the Past is one of my favorite films noir, and I still consider Night of the Hunter to be the scariest movie I have ever seen. So I had no problem with these conversations veering off in the same direction.
But it became clear over the course of time that he wanted to talk about The Friends of Eddie Coyle as a way into talking about his own past--that the film was an accurate reflection of the life that he remembered from that time, and that he felt a profound connection to Eddie Coyle himself. Had he made slightly different choices in his life, this student's life could have played out like the movie.
When I recently watched the new Criterion edition of The Friends of Eddie Coyle, directed by Peter Yates, I couldn't help but remember these conversations. Early in the film, when Eddie is talking to Jackie Brown (Steven Keats) about his hands and how he got an "extra set of knuckles," I was reminded of the student's missing half-pinky. This is a fantastic scene, and Mitchum's low-key delivery and world-weariness perfectly establish this character as a life-time, low-level criminal whose vast experience makes him wary of young punks like Jackie. Eddie knows exactly why his hands got mangled--he made a mistake that caused someone else to do time--and he accepts the lesson he received.
This scene also reminded me of another movie where we're forced to look at Mitchum's knuckles: Night of the Hunter. But while Night of the Hunter featured Mitchum at his over-the-top best, he's much more quiet and subdued here, giving an incredibly subtle performance. I love how smoothly Mitchum fits into such a quintessential 70s film, along with actors like Joe Santos, Peter Boyle, Alex Rocco, and Richard Jordan--all actors who are perfectly of the 70s. Mitchum is a giant in this movie--he moves slow and wearily, scraping by on crappy delivery jobs and shady gun deals while working for "The Man," the unrevealed organized crime boss at the top of the heirarchy. Eddie is set to do more time--2-5 years for a bootleg booze delivery job that went bad--and he has to make one last deal before ratting out one of his connections in order to get some favors to help his sentencing.
The movie launches immediately into a world in which the audience is expected to keep up: character relationships are unclear right away, and we don't even know who Eddie is or where he ranks until after 30 minutes into the film. This is similar to the treatment the audience gets while watching The Wire, a series that owes a lot to this type of 70s crime film.
This narrative style is also a product of the film's low-key, deliberate pacing. For example,the film features an extensive, methodical bank robbery sequence told in straightforward, economical shots. According to Peter Yates's commentary on the Criterion DVD, "experienced" advisors on the set helped make this sequence as realistic as possible, and I believe it. Alex Rocco's crew knocks over banks by taking bank managers' families hostage and forcing the managers to allow the crooks into the vault. There is very little dialogue in the sequence, and tension builds through a slow burn. In the end, it's a model sequence for building tension through simple camera movements and editing techniques, and it resembles nothing in film today.
Almost all of the crime in this movie (with one exception) takes place in broad daylight, and in public, shot on location in Boston. This gives the viewer the sense that this stuff goes on anywhere, even in the safest, most innocuous places. Relatively simple scenes also come across as unnerving in this context. Dave Foley (the treasury agent played by Richard Jordan, who will always have a special place in the Dr. K pantheon for his role as Francis in Logan's Run) meets with his informants--including Eddie and Dillon (Peter Boyle), a bar owner who is playing both sides--in parks and public squares. The scenes between Foley and Dillon are shot with a long lens, reminiscent of The Conversation, and this gives the feeling that we are intruding on something that we aren't supposed to hear, even though such conversations could be going on under our noses at any time.
Like many of the great 70s crime movies, The Friends of Eddie Coyle has an uncompromising bleakness that is often missing from films today. Yet when I watch this movie again, and I think back to that former student of mine, I get the sense that he got some catharsis out of it, or relief that his path veered from Eddie's at just the right moment.
Here is the film's awesome trailer:
Thanks go out to Bully, the Little Stuffed Bull, for tracking down this scan for me!
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
We now finally come to Blackhawk 187's final story, which also happens to be featured on the cover, so now I can scan my ratty-ass copy of the comic:
"The Portrait that Doomed Blackhawk"--written by either Arnold Drake or France Herron and drawn by Dick Dillin and Chuck Cuidera (no credits are given for any of the Blackhawk stories during this period, so I'm making an educated guess here, though Dillin and Cuidera's long run on this title is well-documented)--is the umpteenth variation on Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray used in Silver Age DC comics.
The story opens at the local "Museum of Fine Art," where a new work is being unveiled in a special ceremony:
Apparently, this museum is so hard up in these tough economic times that it will just accept anybody's shitty art sent through the mail and then meet the anonymous donor's ridiculous demands to unveil the painting at an elaborate ceremony.
The festivities, however, are interrupted by the sound of gunfire, and the Blackhawks have to move into action, taking their supercharged command car to chase some nearby bankrobbers.
As usual, Blackhawk launches into action, while the other team members do what they do best--sit back and provide play-by-play. Blackhawk knocks out the two perps and manages to bring their car to a safe stop, while the other six Blackhawks find a decent parking spot.
Unfortunately, Blackhawk broke his wrist while punching the bad guys, and much to everyone's shock, the painting of Blackhawk simultaneously suffers damage to the same hand. This gets a "Py Yiminy!" out of Olaf, but it is quickly dismissed as a bizarre coincidence, and the team returns to headquarters.
The following day, the team is involved in training maneuvers, and Blackhawk decides to practice screwing the pooch, so he ejects himself from his jet. In another freak accident, Blackhawk bangs his head on the canopy during ejection, and Stanislaus takes surprisingly quick action to save his concussed leader.
Again, Blackhawk's injury is reflected in the painting, and the team decides that this is no longer a coincidence. However, with Blackhawk seriously injured, the rest of the team has to get off their asses and actually do something.
Arriving back at the museum, the Blackhawks find that the painting is missing, replaced with a rather long letter that requires at least 2 Blackhawks to read in its entirety. The anonymous art thief claims that he is using the painting to get revenge, and he will continue to inflict damage on it at regular intervals until Blackhawk is dead. He will then begin to do the same for each team member until they are all dead. And to prove he's serious, he gives Blackhawk an ankle sprain.
This is really one of the worst revenge schemes ever.
Clues left in the note lead the team to research their archives in order to find information on this mysterious "Avenger." So, they strip down to their undershirts, grab some milk, and buckle in for a long night of reading.
Andre and Chop-Chop manage to figure out that the perp is one "Bart Craig," while Olaf and Hendrickson pretend that they know how to read English.
Craig, however, had never committed any painting-related crimes before, so Blackhawk deduces that he must have gained his special powers while in prison.
The story next cuts to the state prison, where Bart Craig is being returned to his former cell.
Craig's cellmate, Upton, spills the beans on the magic paint, and "Craig" reveals himself to be Chuck in disguise, who then coldcocks the prisoner for good measure. As we have seen in the first story, this is like a hobby for Chuck.
The team finds Craig's hideout, and all 7 of them--including the gimpy Blackhawk--"sneak" in to the house.
True Blackhawk Fact: None of the Blackhawks' missions actually requires seven people. In this respect, they are the comic equivalent of Teamsters.
While the rest of the team breaks in to Craig's studio, Andre hangs back to play with some paint, since he can't really resist when the muse strikes him. Craig threatens to destroy the portrait once and for all, but he suddenly loses his balance.
The team quickly dogpiles him, and Andre walks in with his latest masterpiece: a painting of Bart Craig.
Here are, however, a couple of things I don't understand. First, how did Andre, who stayed downstairs while the others attacked the studio, know what Craig would be wearing? Second, when Andre erased the portrait's legs, why didn't Craig's legs just fall off? I have to call bullshit on this.
Then, Andre freaks everyone out by wiping Blackhawk's portrait clean.
But, much to everyone's surprise as well, Andre actually knows what he's doing.
So, that concludes the third story from Blackhawk 187. In just one issue, I think we get a pretty good sense of how this series is going to go. Out of 27 pages of story, there are only about 3 panels that involve any kind of flying. But there were 12 "Sacres!", 7 "Ach du Liebers!", and 5 "Py Yiminys!"
I haven't decided on the next issue yet, but it will probably be the next one in my collection, unless I decide to jump around a bit. Meanwhile, Blackhawk is making a bit of a resurgence in the DC Universe. He's currently appearing in the Final Crisis Aftermath: Escape miniseries; the team is joining with the Flash in next month's Brave and the Bold; and he will show up in an upcoming Batman: Confidential arc, titled "Blackhawk Down." These appearances will also be getting some coverage here in Blackhawk Wingsdays.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Which one of these guys is Andre?
I love this splash page because the Blackhawks are working their asses off to keep the front rows from getting a little damp, and the audience doesn't seem to be terribly alarmed. This image also sends me on a trip down memory lane, as it reminds me of the time when, at the age of 10, I saw Gallagher perform his fruit smashing routine at a boat show in Fargo, ND. Those of us sitting close to the front were warned that we would definitely get wet. I really wish the Blackhawks had been there to save me from that shitty show.
This story begins with the Blackhawks out on the town enjoying a variety show called "Show Time USA" (actually, only Blackhawk, Andre, Hendrickson, and Olaf are in attendance. Chuck, Stan, and Chop-Chop are clearly not fans of live theater.). Suddenly, their entertainment is disrupted by the appearance of the Porcupine Man! The villain intrudes on some kind of acrobatic act by launching "tear gas quills" at the audience, then firing grenade quills at the set.
He also pops one gymnast's aerobics ball with a quill that appears to come from his crotch.
The Blackhawks bum rush the stage, but in typical fashion, they take too much time to recount what is happening to catch Porcupine Man before he escapes through the stage's trap door. The Blackhawks then decide to investigate even though this really falls well outside their wheel house as, you know, aviators.
The team soon learns from producers Baker and Clark that the Porcupine Man is really a disgruntled ex-employee--Navarro, the Knife-Thrower. Navarro was exposed as a fraud when Baker and Clark revealed to the press that their star actually used heat-seeking devices and magnets to draw his knives perfectly on target. Navarro attacks them during the press conference and then escapes to a nearby zoo, where he picks up some discarded porcupine quills and expertly throws them at some streetlights in order to make his escape under the cover of darkness.
Clearly, if Navarro can throw some random quills and knock out a lightbulb, he did not need to be cheating in his act. The guy is freaking Bullseye.
Blackhawk comes up with a plan. First, they're going to make light Statler and Waldorf and dispell wry, caustic barbs from the balcony.
Porcupine Man makes his escape backstage and heads for the roof, while also launching a volley of "arrow quills" (or are they "quill arrows"?) at our heroes.
I'm pretty sure that one of those arrows came out his ass.
Porcupine Man then uses "jet quills" to escape from the roof, which really makes me feel like this whole quill gimmick is completely played.
The Blackhawks find a clue that leads to Porcupine Man's hideout--a luxury treehouse (or, as Andre describes it, "A fantastic tree house built in ze giant oak!" At least, I assume it's Andre from his outrageous accent), because, as one Blackhawk puts it "Porcupines live in trees!"
Inside the treehouse, the team finds Navarro in bed, with a porcupine costume hanging in the closet. Navarro, however, denies any knowledge of the Porcupine Man's activities, claiming he's been held captive in the treehouse for several days. Blackhawk, upon inspecting the costume, starts to suspect that Navarro may be telling the truth.
Baker and Clark arrive, only to be attacked by the Porcupine Man, who professes his innocence. He throws down a quill, and Clark immediately screams out that the quill is a time bomb! Porcupine Man then reveals himself to be Blackhawk, who set up this charade in order to get Clark to confess. You see, earlier, Blackhawk noticed that the goggles in the porcupine costume were made of perscription glass, and that led him to suspect the bespectacled Clark as the real villain. Clark's motivation was similar to countless Scooby-Doo villains--he wanted to scare Baker into selling his share of the show. But, as Andre points out, "Ze only show you'll be putting on now...will be before ze judge." What a witty Frenchman!
Up next: A very special Blackhawk story, guest-written by Oscar Wilde!
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
From Green Lantern 75 (Mar. 1970), story by John Broome, inks by Joe Giella (reprinted in Showcase Presents: Green Lantern vol. 4). This punch is also notable for being the last Gil Kane punch in Green Lantern before the book becomes Green Lantern/Green Arrow under the team of Denny O'Neil, Neal Adams, and Dick Giordano. However, this will not be the last time we feature this issue...
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Also, my earlier posts on Chop-Chop and "Blackhawk in Bondage" are among the most popular in this blog's history, though I think some readers arrive at the latter and find that what they wanted is not what I have to offer. Whatever the case, I want to establish myself further as the internet's #1 Blackhawk scholar, and not just the top hit for Google searches of "bondage doctor."
Before I get started, I just want to point out that I love Blackhawk more as a concept than I do in practice. The idea of a team of international aviators fighting the world's enemies hooked me in when I was a kid, yet the stories never really lived up to my expectations. Even with writers like Arnold Drake, France Herron, and later Bob Haney writing the series during the Silver Age, it was never very good, though it does have its charms, and it occasionally veers into batshit insanity. And when it doesn't, it still has enough casual racism and ethnic stereotyping to get us through the rough patches.
And with that, let's start off with a rousing "HAWKA-A-A-A!" (Man, I'm glad I chose not to do this as a podcast.)
The first story I'll be covering is "One of Our Blackhawks Is Missing," from Blackhawk 187 (Aug. 1963), the title of which is a riff on Powell and Pressburger's 1942 film, "One of Our Aircraft Is Missing," which was later riffed on in 1975's "One of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing" (which also shares some casual racism with Blackhawk), a Star Trek episode, a Lost in Space episode, a Man from U.N.C.L.E. movie, and several dozen Silver Age comics.
In this story, Blackhawk team member Chuck--the American--is sent to Central America in order to transport a valuable necklace from an Aztec village that needs to sell its artifacts in order to "shake off the bonds of poverty," as the chief explains. (The Blackhawks completely lost this particular income stream with the advent of eBay.) Chuck decides to wear the necklace for safekeeping, even though everyone knows that you don't wear emeralds with blue leather.
Meanwhile, some guy who doesn't look at all conspicuous in his trenchcoat and fedora calls in some organization named the "Spade Squadron" (which, knowing Blackhawk comics, is probably a racial slur).
As Chuck flies away, oblivious to the danger that's coming, he radios Blackhawk Island to let them know that he is on his way with the emerald locket and a special gift from the chief. But just as he is about to reveal what that special gift is, he's shot down, leaving the reader to guess that this secret gift will turn out to be instrumental to the story's conclusion.
Chuck then bails out of the helicopter using a parachute, which has to be a really terrible idea. Much to Chuck's surprise, he lands in Dillon, South Carolina, face to face with the worst tourist attraction mascot on the east coast.
(Seriously, I drive past at least a dozen "South of the Border" billboards during my commute home, one in particular with grinning mascot Pedro telling me to "Bear up a leetle longer!" while a polar bear sits in repose across from him, and this just make me sad.)
Chuck is now in a double bind: both the banditos and the Spade Squadron want the necklace. However, the two groups engage in what can accurately be described as a "Mexican standoff," and Chuck tries to take advantage of the distraction to escape.
Unfortunately, Chuck gets shot in the head and belt, losing both his memory and his ability to hold up his pants.
With his blue leather coat and jodhpurs ruined by the river, Chuck must make himself blend in by borrowing some of his host's clothes, which are, for some reason, kept in the barn. He also steals a sombrero from a donkey and proceeds to practice napping so that he fits in with the locals.
To the Blackhawks' credit, they did not assume that Chuck had been turned into a donkey.
Amnesiac Chuck sees the Blackhawks arrive and assumes that they are yet another group after him. So, he decides to take aggressive action: I think that Chuck is really just faking his amnesia here, and is, instead, fulfilling a long-time dream of beating the shit out of Blackhawk.
One of the common problems with Blackhawk adventures, as we see in the above panel, is that one person, usually Blackhawk, gets in on the action, while the others stand around and provide play-by-play or blurt out their ethno-specific expressions, like "Ach du lieber!" or "Py yiminy!" or "Sacre bleu!" or "Dagnabbit!" or "Dios mio!" or "Bozhemoi!" or "Frak!" or "Shiny!" or "Airwolf!" or whatever. Another problem is that the Blackhawks all wear the same uniform, with the exception of Chop Chop, and they can only be distinguished by these catch phrases and their outrageous accents. Chuck, though, does the right thing here by taking out Blackhawk, as none of the others are about to do anything to help.
As Chuck escapes in the wagon pulled by the donkey bearing his cap, the other Blackhawks manage to find horses somehow and give chase. Meanwhile, the banditos are waiting in ambush.
The banditos try to escape with the locket, but the leader is quickly snatched up by the Spade Squadron helicopter. He is, however, rescued by his men when they shoot out the rope holding him, and the Blackhawks all stand by and explain what's going on in the panel.
The Spade Squadron goes after the head bandit, but before they can catch him, he throws the locket into the river, and it is lost forever.
Luckily, we have that little clue from the beginning of the story to give us hope that all is not lost. In fact, Chuck--or, more specifically, Chuck's donkey--has the real necklace in the lining of his cap, and the one thrown over the cliff was a fake given to the Blackhawks as a gift for helping the Aztec villagers.
Though everything worked out in the end, I have to think that this gift was a terrible idea on the Aztec chief's part. Chuck, like most of the Blackhawks, is just not that smart, and it would be pretty easy for him to mix up the real and the fake. In fact, for all we know, he did mix them up, and now the Aztec villagers are doomed to spiral further into poverty, as the fake necklace only yields a couple of bucks at the Blackhawk Island pawn shop. At least Chuck got to punch Blackhawk in the jaw.
Coming up next week: The Blackhawks discover an act that is even worse than Gallagher!
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
So, to make up for the lack of content, I've provided a truly awesome Gil Kane punch, in which Robin sends three thugs flying with one shot, while also misquoting my favorite Ratt song:
From "Skis of Death" in Teen Titans 24 (1969), story by Bob Haney, inks by Nick Cardy.
Monday, September 7, 2009
A public service announcement courtesy of Blackhawk 187 (1963).
And half the battle is knowing one to grow on, or whatever it's supposed to be.
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
From Action Comics Weekly 603 (1988), in a story titled "Retribution," written by James Owsley, we get Green Lantern vs. Star Sapphire:
And I will leave it to you, the reader, to provide whatever commentary these panels might warrant.