Saturday, May 09, 2009

Out of the Vault - Blackhawk: Blood and Iron

Blackhawk: Blood and Iron #1I mentioned last week that Howard Chaykin had done a controversial reboot of Blackhawk before doing Black Kiss. And as I was replacing Black Kiss in the Vault, I found the first issue of Chaykin's Blackhawk there. So I figured, "What the hell?"

Blackhawk is one of those second- or third-tier DC characters, not widely known outside of comics fandom, but significant enough to have had his own series (actually a few of them) as well as other media tie-ins. I'll talk more about the history of Blackhawk next week when I discuss an earlier version of the character.

Or characters, I guess I should say, because Blackhawk, like Bon Jovi, is both the name of the main character and the name of the group that surrounds him. Blackhawk was a Polish aviator in WWII who formed an independent air squadron, the Blackhawks, made up of members from many nations to fight the Axis menace.

Chaykin's 1987 reboot puts Blackhawk in an alternate 50's (or late 40's) where the Nazis appear to have won WWII, or at least fought it to a stalemate, thanks to a handy alliance with Tsarist Russians who helped them hold out against Stalin. Britain and the Soviets are still fighting the fascists, but America, which appears to have sat out the war, is in the throes of anti-Soviet hysteria, led by a Senator not named McCarthy who is actually a stooge of the Nazis.

Acting as the bait in an atomic bomb theft is not a promising career pathBlackhawk is called to a Senate hearing, called a Communist and his honorary American citizenship is revoked. This turns out to be partly a ruse, however, because he is promptly approached by the O.S.S. for a secret mission. Jewish gangsters, led by crime boss Emil Bronski, have stolen a prototype atomic bomb (using a sexy woman as bait, natch; she's the one getting shot there moments after the theft). When Bronski discovers that he was hired to steal the bomb by Nazi agents, he scotches the deal and promises to sell the bomb instead to whomever promises to "shove it up Hitler's ass."

Yes, this is a DC ComicBlackhawk is asked to join a special British/Soviet air squadron (thus confirming his public image as a Commie) and buy the bomb back from Bronski. Blackhawk heads to Tehran to make the buy, but arrives seconds too late to keep Bronski from being killed by Nazi agents Sir Death Mayhew and Reba MacMahon (who is seen giving Bronski a blowjob in the most controversial scene in the book, one which was referenced a few times in the editorial pages of Black Kiss). The bomb itself is stolen by street thief Amahl, who in the final panels of the first issue is seen shipping it to America.

Chaykin's miniseries ran three issues and served as the springboard for a follow-on series. However, I never read past the first issue. I liked Chaykin's work on American Flagg! and I kind of liked the Blackhawk concept, but the alternate reality was never explained very well, and the cinematic storytelling approach was very confusing. Plus (as in most of Chaykin's work) the characters were a turn-off. There just wasn't enough there to hook me into the story.

And worst of all, for a story ostensibly starring a combat pilot, Blackhawk is never shown in a plane until the very end of the issue, and even then, someone else is flying it.


More Blackhawk next week as I feature an issue of Blackhawk from the 60's.

1 comment:

Felicity Walker said...

I didn’t get the impression Howard Chaykin’s Blackhawk was set in an alternate 1940s or 1950s where the Germans won or are at a stalemate. I thought it was set in World War II, in our normal timeline. Blackhawk does get persecuted by an anticommunist senator but he’s not really a McCarthy type. You raise a good point though in that in World War II the Russians and Americans were on the same side and it wasn’t after the war that America started purging Communists. I’ll have to reread the thing.

Also check out Chaykin’s Captain America one-shot which is set in the 1950s and in which the actual McCarthy is a Soviet double-agent!