Blackhawk #197 (1st "new look" Blackhawk)

BLACKHAWK #197, June 1964; DC Comics; Murray Boltinoff, editor; featuring 

"The War Between the Blackhawks!"  Writer: Arnold Drake (no regular  credits,

but he is identified on the "Blackhawk By-Lines" letters page).  Artists: the

longtime Blackhawk team of Dick Dillin, penciller, and Chuck  Cuidera (who later

claimed credit for creating the Blackhawks), inker.  

On the cover by Dillin and Cuidera, six of the Blackhawks-- clad in 

unfamiliar red and green uniforms-- are pulling on the support beam holding up  the

roof of a cave.  Inside the cave, Blackhawk himself is menaced by a  glowing

pink monster.  A vignette is a closeup of Blackhawk's face,  self-sacrificially

urging his team, "It's the only way, men!  The moment I  lure him inside-- bury

us BOTH in the cave-in!"  The cover Blackhawk logo  is new, and the blurb

promises, "NEW uniforms, thrills and dangers await the  Blackhawks as they embark

on a NEW career!"

review by Bill  Henley

The comic-book series had a glorious Golden Age history during  which the

heroes fought mostly relatively realistic, down-to-earth foes in an  often gritty

"noir" atmosphere.  By the late 1950's, however, DC editor  Jack Schiff,

perhaps bowing to pressure from the Comics Code and DC higher  management, filled

the series with alien monsters, other science-fictional and  fantasy menaces,

and lame new costumed villains.  He also introduced a  female counterpart of

the heroes and a superintelligent pet.  This approach  worked well enough

sales-wise for a few years in the early Silver Age, but by  1964 sales were

slumping and DC management called for a new editor to bring in a  "New Look".....

If you hadn't read the subject heading you might think I  was talking about

Batman, but actually the description applies as well to  BLACKHAWK.  The main

difference is that the "new look" introduced by Murray  Boltinoff in this issue

isn't nearly as fondly remembered by fans as the "New  Look" introduced by

Julius Schwartz on BATMAN around the same time.

On  the splash page, the plane piloted by Blackhawk-- a nondescript green

prop  plane, not one of the regular Blackhawk jets-- is set afire by a giant

flaming  pink tortoise (!)  On the next page, Blackhawk and two of his crew are 

riding in an even more primitive craft, an Oriental junk, and trying to sneak

up  on an Asian shore.  But artillery fire wrecks their boat, and they have no 

choice but to surrender to the soldiers of Kieland.  As they march off with 

raised hands as prisoners, a turbaned officer berates them, "SPIES FROM 

SURBODIA!  Our military court will deal with you!"  Meanwhile, the  remaining four

Blackhawks invade the Presidential palace of nearby Surbodia to  take the

president prisoner-- but a single guard with a curved Asian sword,  takes them

prisoner as well.  The rescued president accuses them of being  in he pay of "the

militarists of Kieland".

"These men in strange uniforms  are certainly the Blackhawks-- but what are

they doing as INVADERS-- ABDUCTORS--  in the pay of opposing war makers?  How

did this sensational chain of  events come about?"  Well, it seems that

Blackhawk got a call from Mr.  Cipher, a blank-masked quasi-governmental figure

operating out of a "mysterious  building within the shadows of the U.N." (and

apparently introduced in an  earlier story I haven't seen).  He has a "very

dangerous assignment" for  the Blackhawks, to invade Surbodia and Kieland, two "new

Asian countries" on the  brink of war, and somehow "slow down their war plans"

while the U.N. tries to  mediate.  But if the Blackhawks are caught, they may

face death because  they can't implicate Cipher's non-existent organization

(shades of MISSION  IMPOSSIBLE) and indeed they dare not even be recognized as

the world famous  Blackhawks.  Which is why Blackhawk orders a new set of

uniforms for the  whole team-- red jackets with black trim, dark green pants, and

brown belts and  boots.  Andre is pleased with this literal new look-- "Very

sharp!   And the ladies, zey will be pleased, too!"-- but Blackhawk chides him,

"These  new uniforms aren't supposed to turn us into fashion plates!"  

(Incidentally, Chop-Chop gets the same red and green uniform in place of his old 

Chinese pajama outfit-- the first time, I believe, he is uniformed the same as 

the rest of the Blackhawks.) 

As we rejoin the adventure in  progress, the Kielanders demand to know why

Blackhawk, Andre and Olaf so  recklessly charged their artillery, and Blackhawk

reveals that they weren't  trying to attack the Kielanders-- they want to join

them, as highly skilled (and  well paid) mercenaries.  Somehow convinced that

the trio are worth the  price (despite their easy capture), the Kieland prime

minister agrees to hire  them.  Meanwhile, it is revealed that the robed,

sword-wielding guard who  "saved" the Surbodian president is none other than

Stanislaus, one of the  (unidentified) Blackhawks.  It was all a ploy, Chuck

explains, to show the  president why he needs four "professionals" like Chuck,

Stan, Hendrickson and  Chop-Chop to supplement his weak native guards.  The

president agrees to  hire them, but insists that he already has a formidable force. 

When the  "professionals" scoff at Surbodia's primitive army consisting of

spear-wielding  warriors riding elephants, the president declares, "We have a

SECRET WEAPON--  one so frightful, I tremble myself when I think of it!"  Back

in Kieland,  Blackhawk inspects that country's modern-equipped army, but

suggests that its  soldiers need additional training before they take on the

traditional enemy  Surbodia.  The disguised Blackhawks seem to be meeting their goal

of  delaying military action, despite the anger of a Surbodian general who

wants to  attack immediately.  But then the "mercenaries" discover in their

assigned  quarters a Hindu-style god statue that wasn't previously there. 

Suddenly,  the general and his soldiers charge in, smash the statue to find a hidden

radio  transmitter, and charge the three "mercenaries" with being spies in

contact with  the enemy.  "Sacre bleu!  Blackhawk, zis is one big FRAME-UP!"  

(Blackhawk is apparently too distracted to chew out Andre for blurting out his 

supposedly secret identity.) 

Before going on with Part 2, we get a  bottom-of-the-page house ad for the

Challengers of the Unknown (who would get  their own gaudier new uniforms in

about a year) and a full page ad for the  issues of BATMAN and DETECTIVE COMICS

introducing Batman's "New Look" (see, I  told you the two "new looks" happened

at about the same time).  In Part 2,  "The Walking Holocausts!", Andre and

Olaf are in a cell with Blackhawk,  disgusted with the apparent failure of their

plan to delay war....but Blackhawk  has a new plan, which involves contacting

the other Blackhawk team in Surbodia  by means of his hidden belt-radio. 

Shortly afterwards, at a Kieland state  banquet, the hostile general is presented

with a message by a shapely fan  dancer, inviting him to appear at a location

on Sochi Road. Suspecting more than  a romantic rendezvous is involved, the

prime minister insists on accompanying  the general to the site.   Suddenly a

plane appears and  parachute-drops bundles of counterfeit currency, apparently

meant to wreck the  Kieland economy.  The prime minister arrests the general,

despite his  (quite sincere) protests of innocence, and frees the three

Blackhawk  "mercenaries".  But the pilot of the plane was Chop-Chop, who reflects,

"It  is written, he who tries to frame another often hangs himself!!  With 

Blackhawk back in the good graces of the Kieland government, the prime minister 

agrees to postpone attack on Surbodia until the day "mercenary expert"

Blackhawk  says the troops are ready, and Blackhawk secretly thinks, "And that day

will  never come!"  But it may not matter, for suddenly the Surbodian president 

decides to strike first against Kieland with the aid of their new "secret 

weapon" -- not to mention their own team of red and green clad  "mercenaries". 

Hendrickson thinks, "Ach!  Unless ve stop this, ve  fail our assignment-- UND


Hendrickson leads his team on a quest to find, and presumably disable,  the

Surbodian "secret weapon".  Chop-Chop is curious about a giant statue  of a

tortoise, but Hendy warns him not to be distracted and leads the group to  the

palace basement where he has suspected something odd is going on.  They  find a

giant drill boring deep into the earth, but what kind of secret weapon is 

that?  They hide as the Surbodian president and his scientific adviser Dr. 

Verner appear; "You are certain this fantastic threat can be fully  controlled?" 

"Of course!  Would I endanger your people by releasing  it otherwise?"  After

they leave, Chuck impulsively shoots out the control  panel hoping to disable

the "weapon", but instead the drill rises from the  bowels of the earth and

brings with it a strange, glowing creature that  initially looks like a "Sherman

tank with a hot-foot", but reveals itself as a  giant, radioactive tortoise. 

"IT'S ALIVE!  Der secret weapon is a  LIVING THING!"  Breaking out of its

glass cage, the tortoise-monster  threatens the Blackhawks, and Chuck tries

unsuccessfully to stop it with his  pistol.  Stanislaus has a better idea, using his

great strength and the  help of the other Blackhawks to upend the tortoise

statue they saw earlier and  hurl it down on the back of the real tortoise.  To

no avail, however, as  the creature has a "fiery tongue" with which it melts

the statue.   "Dunder!  Der heat is unbearable!  It looks like der end!"  Not 

quite yet, for suddenly the monster turns away, and then Dr. Verner reappears,

driving a tank-like contraption.  He explains how a tortoise species, 

living underground in volcanic country, somehow evolved into this fiery  creature--

and how he found a way to unearth and control not only the one  monster, but

a whole pack of them.  And now he is ready to unleash them  against the enemy

Kieland.  "There is our TOTAL SECRET WEAPON!  A  whole family of the most

destructive creatures ever known!  They will  annihilate the Kieland army!"  "Und

we can't do anything to stop them  without exposing our real motives!" 

(Apparently Verner is so excited that  he doesn't even wonder why the four

"mercenaries" were fooling around with his  drill setup and releasing one of his


Between Parts 2  and 3, we find a house ad for DOOM PATROl, a subscription

ad, and the  aforementioned "By-Lines" column which consists of capsule

biographies of Arnold  Drake and the other regular BLACKHAWK scripter, France Herron. 

Part 3,  "The Boomerang Blitzkrieg,"  As the primitive Surbodian army goes on

the  march, Chuck is contemptuous of the regular troops-- "Will you look at

that  excuse for an army?  I've seen better swords in a shishkebob

restaurant!"--  but nonetheless, with the giant flaming tortoises taking point, the

invasion  poses a deadly threat to Kieland-- and to the other team of Blackhawks.  

Warned by radio by Hendrickson, Blackhawk orders Andre to take charge of 

Kieland's  tank forces while Blackhawk himself and Olaf handle the  bombers. 

Andre is confident at first as the tank-like tortoise monsters  face real tanks

reinforced against flame blasts with asbestos.  But then  the tortoises cleverly

use their heat blasts to dig holes in the ground, causing  the advancing

tanks to fall helplessly in.  "Sacre bleu!  How is it so  smart to do zat?" 

Meanwhile, the "crude Surbodian army" charges with  swords in hand, chasing Andre,

and the Blackhawks on the other side watch,  unable to help for fear of being

exposed as "traitors"; "I never figured we  Blackhawks would be fighting a war

against each other!"  Then Blackhawk and  Olaf appear at the controls of a

Kielander dive bomber, trying to stop one of  the tortoise monsters with

rockets.  But the beast's fiery tongue sets the  plane afire, and the damaged plane

just barely regains enough altitude (before  exploding)  for our heroes to bail

out safely. 

Chuck decides  to seek out the controller of the giant tortoises and force

him to stop them,  but when he spots the control tank he finds in it not Dr.

Verner, the  mastermind, but Luki, his assistant,  Chuck and Luki scuffle with a

pistol,  and an accidental shot destroys the control panel; "Now I have no

control over  the creatures!"  The monsters promptly turn on their own "allies",

the  Kielanders, as well as the Surbodians.  At least this means that the two 

teams of Blackhawks can join forces openly, but to what avail, since they

have  no weapons that can stop the creatures?  Then Blackhawk and Olaf charge one

of the tortoises, seemingly recklessly, but with an ace in the hole-- 

fire-fighting foam from the wrecked bomber, which cools down and ultimately  kills

the flaming monster.  Obtaining more foam, the Blackhawks try to  destroy the

biggest monster, but for some reason it is annoyed but not  slain.  Blackhawk

puts a desperate plan into effect (as seen on the  cover)-- he lures the big

monster into a cave while ordering the rest of the  Blackhawks to collapse the

roof on it.  It works, but what of  Blackhawk?  "If he missed his timing by a

hair's breadth, he's DEAD!"   Fortunately, Blackhawk emerges out of the dust

of the cave-in unhurt.  Not  so fortunately, the rest of the smaller monsters

are still rampaging and seem to  be still under outside control.  Suddenly

realizing that he has been duped,  Blackhawk leads the team back to the first

monster that was "killed" by the fire  foam-- and hurls a gasoline bomb at the

"dead" creature.  As it bursts into  flame, out flees Dr. Verner.  The creature

was an artificial, fake monster,  made for the purpose of leading the real

monsters to obey Verner's will, while  Luki served as a decoy.  Captured and

subdued, Verner admits the ruse and  Blackhawk deduces his motive-- to "destroy

both nations' armies, and then, with  a handful of men, seize control of TWO

countries"!  Blackhawk forces Verner  to lead the tortoise-monsters back to their

underground home and then close the  drill hole forever.

Back at the headquarters of Mr. Cipher, the  Blackhawks line up to be

congratulated by the blank-faced mastermind, who  reports that Surbodia and Kieland

have agreed to settle their differences  peacefully.  Our heroes are still clad

in their red and green "mercenary"  uniforms, but with an addition--

Blackhawk emblems, a big chest emblem for  Blackhawk himself, and smaller shoulder

patches for the rank and file.   "Zat is more like it!  I didn't feel fully

dressed without the Blackhawk  insignia!"  clotheshorse Andre declares. (Which is a

little odd, since with  the old uniform design Andre didn't have a Blackhawk

emblem anyway-- only  Blackhawk himself did.)   "My friends, zis is one

smart-looking  uniform!  Why don't we keep it?"  Blackhawk suggests a vote, and the 

unanimous vote is "AYE!"  If old-line Blackhawk fans had gotten a vote, 

though, the result might have been diffferent.  There was nothing actually 

particularly wrong with the new uniforms, escept that they didn't have much  black

on them, and the team didn't change its name to "Red and Green  Hawks". 

However, let's face it, the new uniforms just didn't have the  class, not to mention

the tradition of the old ones.  (On a side note, I  recently read a

commentary on the BLACKHAWK strip which mentioned it was ironic  that the original

blue-black, spit and polish uniforms of the Blackhawks  somewhat resembled those

of the Nazi SS guards they supposedly fought in  WWII.  I thought that was an

ironic comment itself, since Will Eisner--  Cuidera's rival claimant as creator

of the Blackhawks-- was once quoted as  saying that he did that

deliberately-- he thought the SS military look was so  snazzy looking that he didn't see

why the bad guys should have a monopoly on  it.) 

Likewise, the new BLACKHAWK cover logo introduced with this  issue didn't

actually look bad, but it lacked the classic quality of the  previous logo (not

actually the "original" logo, but introduced in the late 40's  by Quality

Comics).  As for the actual stories, this and succeeding ones  were actually (IMO)

a slight improvement over the Schiff-edited issues that  preceded them.  But

only slight. One could wish that-- as Julie Schwartz  dropped the Schiff sci-fi

monsters from Batman and got more back to classic  villains and detective

cases,-- Boltinoff and later George Kashdan had dropped  the monsters and

returned to stories of international intrigue and paramilitary  combat as in the old

Quality days.  But for whatever reason, the new  editors didn't feel they

could go cold turkey on the monsters and sci-fi stuff  in BLACKHAWK.  (Later,

starting with issue #228, the series reached what is  generally considered the

absolute low point of its run, with the so-called "New  Blackhawk Era" in which

the members, except for Blackhawk himself, adopted  clunky mechanically-powered

"superhero" identities.

In general, again  IMO, almost the whole run of Blackhawk at DC-- the main

exception being the  1980's Evanier/Spiegle revival-- supports my view that DC

just doesn't do well  at taking over other companies' characters   Plastic Man,

Captain  Marvel, the Charlton "action-heroes".... I think many fans would

agree that DC  never really succeeded in making these characters work for a new

generation the  way they did with their own characters such as Flash and Green

Lantern.   (And I'm kind of grateful that that proposed DC revival of the

THUNDER Agents--  as opposed to Archive reprints of the original stories-- fell