Saturday, May 16, 2009

Out of the Vault - Blackhawk #218

Blackhawk Issue #218In last week's discussion of Howard Chaykin's controversial reboot of Blackhawk, I said that I'd talk more about Blackhawk's history here.

As I mentioned before, Blackhawk was a Polish aviator (later identified as American) who established an independent squadron of fighter pilots from many nations to fight the Axis menace in WWII. The character became popular enough to be featured in his own radio series (but not popular enough for the series to last for more than a few months) as well as a 15-chapter Columbia serial in 1952 starring Kirk Alyn (who had previously played Superman in two serials for Columbia).

But the concept was very WWII-centric, so as the war faded from the popular imagination, Blackhawk was updated. The team switched from flying prop planes to jets and stopped fighting Nazis. By the 60's, they were fighting monstrous menaces or evil aliens like King Condor and the Human Starfish.

Which brings us to Blackhawk #218, cover dated May 1966, in which the Blackhawks face the menace of the Plantimal, "HALF-PLANT, HALF-ANIMAL--AND ALL MURDER!"

The story and art are uncredited in the issue, but future JLA artist Dick Dillin penciled it and Bob Haney almost certainly wrote it. Haney was not above throwing in completely wacko twists, so we may be in for a ride. At the very least, it's an opportunity to take some lazy potshots at the rampant silliness of 60's DC comics.

Airplane RodeoThe story starts with the Blackhawk squadron flying to a secluded (and apparently abandoned) village in the mountains where the Blackhawks intend to take a brief vacation. Suddenly the buildings leap into the air, so the Blackhawks spring into action. They somehow link rope ladders between their planes while in midair in order to somehow corral the buildings and guide them safely back down to Earth (although seemingly without touching them).

They land and meet King Blingo of planet Ezz, who is fleeing for his life from unnamed enemies. It was they who caused the buildings to fly into the air in an attempt to get rid of Blingo. When the Blackhawks immediately spot the holes his story, Blingo wins them over with this rousing bit of oratory: "All right--call me a fibber! If you won't help me beat my enemies, I'll do it alone--all 97 pounds of me!"

So the Blackhawks pile into Blingo's starship and take a quick ride to Blingo's home planet of Ezz. It's pretty cool of them to drop everything for the days or months or years it will take to get to Blingo's planet, just to help the little guy. But that's the way the Blackhawks roll. They arrive on planet Ezz, where they are promptly taken prisoner. The Blackhawks then learn that Blingo is not exactly king yet. He's due to ascend the throne, but evil General B'adda sent the 97-lb. weakling packing, grabbing the throne and Blingo's would-be girlfriend A'dora for his own. So Blingo, who's been observing Earth for a while, came to seek the Blackhawks' help, faking the incident with the buildings to convince them he was in danger.

While the Blackhawks try to figure a way out of their cell, Blingo decides it's a good time to whistle. Turns out there's an alien monster called the Plantimal that absolutely "hates whistling and will knock down anything to get to the whistler."

So the Plantimal breaks down the walls and now the Blackhawks are free! Good plan, except for the crazed alien monster now trying to destroy them. They try to flee to the palace, but B'adda encases the palace in an unbreakable transparent bubble to keep the Blackhawks out. They're doomed!

But then, in "an Ezzian twist to end all twists," Blingo suddenly develops super-powers!

It's a space-bird! it's a space-plane!
He defeats the Plantimal and flings it toward the horizon. Blackhawk, with his vast knowledge of comic book science, decides that Blingo's powers were the result of his drinking from a mineral well in the secluded village on Earth while he was waiting for the Blackhawks to arrive.

Blingo smashes through the transparent bubble, but B'adda manages to escape in his starship with a contingent of guards and the lovely A'dora. Blingo figures out that they're headed to Earth, so...

Space travel made EZ
There are so many weird things going on in those few panels, it boggles the mind. How did Blingo manage to pick up all the Blackhawks at once like that? What did he make the "super-air bubble" out of? Super-alien spit? How did B'adda and his men know how to find, not only Earth, but the exact same well from which Blingo previously drank?

Then again, we now know that the Blackhawks aren't quite as generous as we thought at first. Turns out, the trip to Ezz takes only "a few seconds" according to the caption.

So B'adda and his men have now drunk from the super well, setting us up for a huge super-battle reminiscent of "Superman II" (okay, maybe "reminiscent" isn't the right word, since "Superman II" wouldn't come out for another 14 years, but still...)! Right?

Turns out, not so much. Thing is, the Ezzians have no powers on Earth (which kind of begs the question of how Blingo was able to land them all safely, but lets just be thankful the Blackhawks are still alive and not nitpick, mm'kay?) The Blackhawks beat the crap out of most of the aliens, but a few manage to escape and grab their alien weapons. Our heroes are doomed!

(which reminds me--all of the Blackhawks wear holstered pistols as part of their uniforms, but no matter how they are outnumbered or menaced in this issue, they never even draw them, not once)

But in a nice bit of circularity, Blingo saves the day with the same device he used to lift the buildings at the start of the issue. The alien soldiers are defeated and Blingo can return to his world as Super-King with the lovely A'dora on his arm. Happy endings all around.

Except for the fact that if Blingo takes B'adda and his men back to Ezz, they'll become just as super as he is, or even more so (or maybe not--nobody ever proved it was the well that gave Blingo his powers, after all). And A'dora, who cursed Blingo as a weakling before falling for him when he became super, makes a pass at French team member Andre' after Blingo has lost his powers on Earth. Sure, she'll be all over him once they get back and he's super again, but she'll cheat on him. You know she will.

So that's Blackhawk #218. If you're thinking it kind of sucked, well, apparently everyone agreed with you, because ten months after this issue, DC made the desperate move to turn the Blackhawks into a team of full-fledged superheroes. A year or so later, they dumped the superhero idea for a couple of issues, then canceled the book.

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