Thursday, September 13, 2012 Thrilling Adventure!!!

As a kid, I was mostly a Spider-guy and an occasional X-man.

I remember going with my mom to take my great-grandmother grocery shopping, and each time we went, Great Grandma Johnson would buy me a three pack of Spider-man comics which came in a plastic bag with two-tone representations of the web-slinger on the top tab. Later, between the 7-11 at the corner and a Target-esque store called Gemco (I think...haha), I started raiding the spinning racks at for a book or two.  That's where the X-men came into the picture.

Seeing as how this never happens inside, is the statute of limitations up for suing over false advertising?
But when I had whatever was still on the rack, I'd buy stuff purely on the drawing on the front.  In the late 70's and early 80's, comic books excelled at the deceptive covers that promised something wildly not contained between its covers. That was how Thor and Daredevil first joined my ranks.  Daredevil #183 seemed a weird place to start as it appeared that The Punisher was blowing away the titular hero, but that was the first one I ever bought.

Though I watched Superfriends and had seen the first two Superman movies as well as a fair share of reruns of the Batman TV show, I never took much to DC heroes.  It wasn't until I was in my early teens that I returned to DC and picked up backissues of Alan Moore's bizarre and beautiful run on Swamp Thing. So I was still a long way from the superhero polity of these simpler, more mythical titans of truth and justice.  Still, the occasional DC character still slipped into my growing stack of colored pulp in my closet.

Enter Blackhawk.

In the era of Big Wheels, call the War Wheel kiddie catnip for my young brain
I didn't know who he was, but I figured that whatever a War Wheel was, it had to be pretty badass.

Just as I was growing some sense of maturity in the 80's, I stumbled right from the usual superhero comics right into the crazy and creative world of Epic comics, Marvel's specialty creator-owned line.  Some of what I found there is still among my favorite comics: Blood: A Tale, Elektra Assassin, Stray Toasters, Alien Legion and Marshall Law among others.  Sadly, Epic only lasted for a decade and half, and while DC toyed with stranger properties like Swamp Thing and a few others, it wasn't until Epic was folding that their own specialty line was launched as Vertigo (which, ironically, would go on to reprint many Epic series as graphic novels).

I still occasionally get the bite to root out books from this era, as they're the closest I would say comics in America got to an artistic maturity, and not just the mature label on the cover that usually only indicated the comic would have some titties and a prodigious amount of swearing.  It's sort of a hilarious irony that having comic characters do all the things real adults do instantly renders them and their stories even more infantile.  Anyhow, like I said, there was an air of amazing possibility that these books still hold.

So despite the lack of War Wheels,  I ran down all three issues of the 1987 rebirth of the World War II fighting ace, Blackhawk, as reimangined by Howard Chaykin.  In the tale, Blackhawk is in the midst of a falling out with the U.S. government as a possible Communist sympathizer, which his Nazi rival, British traitor Death Mayhew (that's right, a bad guy just named straight up Death), is using to steal an early atomic weapon.  The adventure sends Blackhawk chasing across Europe and the Middle East to recover the bomb and clear his name before Mayhew lives up to his strange moniker.  It's fine pulp pulled from the pages of old Men's magazines rendered in exquisite square-jawed style by Chaykin.

Chaykin began working in comics in the 1970's for both DC and Marvel, and if there's one thing he's always excelled at it was a sense of classical adventure.  His artwork walks an amazing line between traditional realist comic depiction to the more modernist and avant garde, but always with that air of the era of the man's man...though his women are usually just as smart and just as tough as his leading men.  He's also one of the only comic artists that's ever pulled off ink pointillism as a shading technique that I've ever seen.

This series of books is exciting fun, and features a number of period details that lend it an air of authenticity often missing when the comics resurrect one of their long dormant titles.  Blackhawk made his first appearance in 1941 in the pages of Military Comics printed by Quality comics. DC took over the character, and like most of the traditional war and western titles, he had a rocky off-and-on publishing history, which even featured a period where they tried to turn Blackhawk and his team into goofy superheroes. Like Speilberg and Lucas did with a serial-style hero like Indiana Jones, Chaykin is able to appeal to the nostalgia of the modern age, while still telling a story far more complex than those of the era he originally appeared in.

Though beautifully illustrated and well-written, it does take a little getting used to in following what's going on when and who's talking in some of the more ambitious transitions. Also, don't expect much exposition as to time, place, or character, as you're sort of just dumped into the world of Blackhawk and it's up to you to catch up. Nevertheless, it was a good trip back to one of my favorite times in comics, and well worth seeking out. As a side note, I particularly enjoyed Chaykin's reinterpretations of period newspapers and propaganda in the various inserts throughout the book.

We'll see what I track down next, when the desire for this era takes me.

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