Blackhawk #55; August 1952

Blackhawk #55
August 1952
cover: pencils/inks: Reed Crandall

"Red Ransom!"
script: ?
pencils: Reed Crandall
inks: Chuck Cuidera
letters: Sam Rosen
editor: Alfred Grener

The Blackhawks are "in America," finishing a meal at the table of Chop
Chop's cousin. His name is Wah Jung, and he is downcast. Recently, Red
China sent him a bill for $4,000 to cover taxes owed them by his uncle! "Uncle
Wah Po is only poor kite maker! How can he owe $4,000 tax? Is clazy!"
exclaims Chop Chop. Wah Jung laments that unless he sends the money,
Uncle will be executed! Blackhawk observes that this is a racket for milking
the off-shore kin of people still living in China. He sets his jaw and declares
that the only way to stop this is to go there, fight it, and get Uncle Wah Po out!

Many hours later, as the Blackhawk jets reach Red China, they take the step
needed to keep the mission secret: they watch for plane spotters! Then, a few
miles from the city where the kidnap victims are held, Blackhawk notices a
small village. After the team lands, they attack the occupying troops.
Blackhawk's gun is drawn, but the battle is fought with only their fists. They
then hide the jets in the village barns. Chop Chop drafts an ox-pulled hay cart
into service, and drives it into the city. There, he talks loudly with a farmer
about his envy for his rich brother in the USA. Some soldiers overhear this,
and haul Chop Chop down from the cart. They arrest him for tax evasion,
while impounding the cart as partial payment. Once the cart is in a storage
building within the prison compound, the Blackhawks emerge from the straw.
They subdue the prison's lone guard, and Chop Chop quickly locates his
uncle. Blackhawk sighs: "I wish we could help those other people, but there's
nothing we can do... at least for now!"

Their rush from the prison disturbs a flock of pigeons, who fly wildly and emit
strange whistling sounds! Chop Chop explains that it is a custom to fit
bamboo flutes to the pigeon's tails. The music attracts some guards, who take
our unarmed guys before their General Klang. The General chortles that he is
not fooled by their prison-busting. Blackhawk objects, but Klang continues
that Blackhawk knows very well that he, Klang, a much-decorated soldier, is
one of the few generals trusted with the location of the new secret weapon
that the Russian scientist Strogoff is building there in China. This weapon will
destroy the democratic nations! Klang will get another medal! He has the
team (and Wah Po) bound with ropes and sent by river boat to the High
Command. While en route, Blackhawk notices the fireworks that mark the new
year. This gives him an idea, and, pulling out his cigarette lighter (!), he sets
fire to the junk's low-hung sail. As the guards scramble to extinguish it, he cuts
his bonds on a fallen rifle's bayonet , then sets loose the team. They knock out
the guards. The junk soon drifts to the docks of a town. The team evades their
captors under cover of the paper mache New Year's parade dragon.

Soon they make their way to the local prison, where they see General Klang's
car parked outside. If they could trick him into driving to the weapon's location
tonight, one of them could tag along on top of his car and direct the others via
their belt radios. Uncle Wah Po volunteers, as it is an "honorable" custom
among his people to pay debts before the new year ceremony ends. This is
his chance to pay a part of the great debt owed to "you great fighters for my
country's freedom." Blackhawk assents, and lays out his plan. Since the
General has a thing for medals, he and the boys overtake one of the sentry
posts (using rifle butts as clubs... no shooting!) and comandeer its phone.
Presumably affecting a Russian accent, Blackhawk phones General Klang
and identifies himself as Professor Strogoff! "Stalin has heard of your service
to the Red Army and wishes to award you a medal here tonight!" The
General's car leaves at once, with Wah Po riding the roof. Much later, Wah Po
radios in from within the factory's storeroom, and gives general directions.
However, the factory is camouflaged and cannot be seen from the sky!
Blackhawk laments unless they can spot some sort of marker, they cant make
a direct hit... and only a direct hit can wipe out the factory. Wah Po tells  him to
watch the sky for a white bird, as it will tell him where to bomb. The boys have
no idea what to make of this comment, but they take their jets to the skies
anyway. When they reach the vicinity of the factory, a gleaming winged shape
rises skyward! Wah Po has made a bird-shaped kite of luminous paper!
Blackhawk is not eager to bomb the place, as Uncle is there flying the kite, but
Chop Chop assures him that Uncle is glad to give his life in the name of
saving many others. So, as his bomb bay doors open, Blackhawk declares,
"So long, Wah Po! You're one of the bravest little guys I ever met!" He goes on
to praise the brave Chinese nationalist resistance fighters, and the guys sing,
"We salute all men who bravely fight, For freedom that is theirs by right...

Chop Chop is featured in a four page big foot humor story. While laboring
over a hot stove in the Blackhawk kitchen, Chop Chop gets a telegram. He's
inherited money from a distant relative in the old country, too much money to
count easily. A celebration banquet is held, but he's not concerned about the
tab. The inheritance attorney's bill, likewise, gives him no pause... until the old
Chinese bank notes are tallied. They're worth about 1/4 of what he's spent.
He ends up at a hot stove at the hotel, musing philosophically: stew pot is
better than jackpot... much less trouble! The end!

"The Rocketmen!"
Script: ?
Pencils: not Dick Dillin
Inks: Chuck Cuidera
Letters: Sam Rosen

Actually, they're wearing harnesses attached to small rotor blades. The
splash shows the Rocketmen firing their automatic weapons at the team, who
are firing back. Nobody is getting hit. As the story opens, the team is paying a
social visit to the "remote mountain republic of Kahara". Blackhawk comments
to the President that the citizens aren't worried about the danger of invasion.
The President replies that theirs is rugged terrain, with few flatlands where
enemy planes could land. The airstrip is well guarded. Parachutists are no
danger, either, for any raiding party would be trapped. Yes, their little republic
is safe. (By implication, there are no roads!) But, suddenly...! An explosion
destroys the arsenal! The raiders are wearing parachute jumpers' uniforms
and carry automatic rifles! The Blackhawks run to the arsenal, which is
conveniently across the street from the Presidential building, and punch the
raiders half senseless. But, the invading commander shouts an order and the
raiders retreat swiftly behind a nearby hill, where their rigs are parked.
Strapping them on, they zoom vertically skyward, giving the Blackhawks a
good strafing along the way. Our guys race to their jets and give chase, but
the Rocketmen have the advangage of maneuverability. For good measure,
they throw containers of an inky fluid over the jets' canopies. The guys have
no choice but to set their "jet robot controls" for automatic landing. Blackhawk
has slid his canopy open, and sees that one of the rotor rigs is flying sans
Rocketman! They must have shot him before he was strapped in! The things
must be remote controlled. Blackhawk then leaps from his cockpit across to
the gizmo!.. secure in the knowledge that Chop Chop, who flies with him, can
take over.

As the rotor flies back to the secret base atop a mountain, Blackhawk hangs
on. He is finally noticed and put under guard. He is then taken to their leader,
who is dressed in Renaissance garb and is busy painting his model, Lisa, she
of the enigmatic smile. Blackhawk asks if he's the one who invented the
rocket suit, but the leader demurs. He had only improved on DaVinci's 15th
Century winged flight machine, though he had also taken the name.
Blackhawk argues that he's slinging mud on the name of a great painter,
inventor and humanitarian. This new-age pirate DaVinci is bored now, and
has Blackhawk taken away. DaVinci returns to his painting, and asks Lisa
what her strange smile may mean. She replies that soon, he shall know.

Later, in his cell, Blackhawk muses that his captors have taken his belt radio,
leaving him no way to get word to the men. Suddenly, outside the cell, Lisa
clocks the guard and gives Blackhawk his belt and radio, while urging him to
get the team there quickly. He radios them with a plan to stop the Rocketmen
for good. Sometime later, a guard alerts DaVinci that the Blackhawks are on
the way, and he sends the Rocketmen to finish them off. But, the team has
slung nets between their planes and they scoop the raiders from the sky.
DaVinci is furious, and is further surprised to discover that Lisa has freed
Blackhawk. She fumes that she freed him because her husband was
murdered by DaVinci when he saw she resembled historic DaVinci's model.
She had sworn to ruin him when the time was right. Her smile simply masked
her contempt, and dreams of revenge! She and Blackhawk have come too
near their captor, though, and he shoves them off balance. This gives him a
moment to strap on a nearby rotor suit. From above, he takes a shot at them,
prompting Blackhawk to strap on a rotor and follow. They fire at each other! As
DaVinci leans to one side, he exposes his fuel tank, and it takes the shot. As
the madman falls in flames to the ground, Blackhawk thinks, "Perhaps it was
justice after all!" The boys fly away singing yet another stanza of their song.
The end!

"The Horror Bomb!"
Script: ?
Pencils: not Dick Dillin
Inks: Chuck Cuidera
Letters: Sam Rosen

"Once the mighty Voda Armament Works had been an arsenal of the free
world! Then the black ominous shadow of the Iron Curtain dropped over it!
What was the carefully guarded secret of the super-weapon being
manufactured in the Voda Armament Works?" No, this isn't the other side of
the first story. In the radio room on Blackhawk Island, Chuck intercepts a
message, with no identifying call letters, from a secret transmitter somewhere
in Rugaria! "Need your help at once. Voda will launch new secret weapon
tomorrow! The last time I saw--" at which point it breaks off, signed Klev.
Chuck wonders why it breaks off in mid-sentence, and Blackhawk figures it's
deliberate. Since Klev assumed the message would be interecepted, he
couldn't give a location. The Secret Police would have been able to drop in
before the team could arrive. Therefore, Klev sent the first line of a song that
would be well known in America, but just gibberish to any Rugarian
interceptor. The significant missing word is... Paris! Andre comments that,
were they fly to Rugaria, they would not be permitted to land. Blackhawk
figures this will work to their advantage, since, as hostile aircraft, they will in
fact be welcomed... as prisoners!

Soon, as they fly over Rugarian airspace, Olaf frets, an attitude soon justified
with the arrival of antiaircraft fire! Blackhawk determines he's not ready to land
yet, and doesn't mind if the Rugarians want to waste their ammunition. As the
flak starts to come closer, Blackhawk figures it's time to surrender, particularly
as they've flown near the Rugarian capitol. Seeing a convenient cloud bank
below, and content it will be up to the team to be prisoners... Blackhawk bails
out! Upon landing, he changes into the "peasant clothes" he'd brought along.
As he wanders the capitol, Blackhawk muses that the place is called the Paris
of the Eastern world. Presumably, this is where Klev is to be found. After
wandering for a couple of hours, Blackhawk figures he's found the place... an
inn out of whose upper windows wafts "The Last Time I Saw Paris." At the
apartment door, Blackhawk is greeted by an attractive woman in a tight red
dress. To her visitor's surprise, she responds that women can also be patriots.
She had been an engineer at Voda for several years before tyrants seized the
country! She knows she's not trusted anymore. It was only days ago she
learned about the "monstrous weapon" being made there. It defies
description, but is larger than any such explosive ever made. Tomorrow, it is
to be launched against Yugovia, the next country over! This will be the
beginning of a new world war! Blackhawk determines that the bomb must not
be launched. If she can smuggle him into the Voda Armament Works, he''ll
take over from there.

The following morning (shades of Howard Chaykin), Klev, wearing the same
red dress, and Blackhawk walk toward Voda. A nearby newsboy shouts that
the Blackhawks has been captured, with a huge ransom demanded. (From
whom? These guys have always been self-directed!) Blackhawk is glad they
landed safely, as he knows he's going to need the backup. Klev walks them to
a heavily fenced-in area. Only the most trusted workers are permitted near it.
Blackhawk approaches the lone sentry, who asks for his credentials;
Blackhawk punches his lights out while grabbing his rifle. Another sentry
approaches, but Blackhawk shoots him in the chest. As they enter the formerly
secure area, they see a rotund rocket about half a city block long. The pair
climb the two-story gantry, push a guard to the ground, and enter the control
room. Klev thinks she can operate the controls. Blackhawk replies that he`d
just as soon die one way as another, and that they'd better leave pronto! The
enormous missle is quicky aloft.

Klev is of the opinion that Rugarian planes will soon pounce, so Blackhawk
radios the guys to cut short their visit. Olaf then crosses the cell to its door ("By
Yudas! It's about time!"), grabs the guard... who'd obligingly had his back to
them... by the throat, and yanks his skull against the metal bars. Chuck grabs
the key ring from the guard's belt. Exiting the cell, Andre and Hendy punch
their way past a couple more guards, and the guys too are quickly aloft. Soon
they catch up with the big bomb, and win the dogfight with the Rugarian
planes. As the bomb passes the Rugarian border, Blackhawk sets its autopilot
to take it back where it came from. He and Klev bail out, secure in the
knowledge that Rugaria will never again attack its peaceful neighbors. She
seems to be left to her own devices where they landed, in an open field miles
from nowhere, while the Blackhawk jets soar away to the tune of yet another
stanza. The end!

Twenty-eight pages of illustrated story and an unrelated two-page text story
for one thin dime! DC comics were still 52 pages thick in 1952, but I'd say this
was still a good value.

There had been reviews of some later Blackhawk issues the last time I was
hanging out here, and I thought an earlier look back might be informative.

This inbetween era saw some surviving heroes turn into commie busters. The
mighty Blackhawks had always been sticking their noses into other countries'
business, so the Reds were just another regime to overcome. The peculiar
fighting machines were not yet the dominant theme, though the War Wheel
would be the cover feature for the next issue. The series would lean in that
direction for the rest of the Quality days. DC, who took over in January `57,
made it a central thrust.

Chop Chop remained a weird caricature until about January  `56! One
wonders if his makeover had anything to do with DC's imminent assumption
of the series. Meanwhile, his cousin is depicted as an ordinary looking guy, as
are every one of the Chinese troops and villagers.

The stories are lively and, interestingly, get more violent as the comic
progresses. The rest of the team are given very little to do at first, to the point
that it's mostly down to Blackhawk and Chop Chop, but that third story does
expand their roles enough to pepper in their trademark, heavily accented
catch phrases.

Crandall's art here is very strong. A great many Quality comics from April `41
until early `53 featured his covers. Then, abruptly, he shifted entirely over to
EC. As a big-time Blackhawk fan, I took a lot of pleasure in seeing his
approach evolve. Earliest, it ran to high drama mixed with comedy. Within
those dozen years, though, it became highly naturalistic. This sometimes
worked against the fight scenes, as he would often freeze the action, omitting
the customary speed lines. The result could be stilted, but it gave his imitators
at Quality an easy way to affect his look. This has led to a lot of very likely mis-
attribution. The situation has been compounded by the fact that Crandall was
sometimes inked by Chuck Cuidera, whose job, of course, was to bring his
imitators' similarities to the fore. Well, there were worse people to copy.