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When you combine Blackhawk with Dorian Gray’s portrait and Bugs Bunny cartoons, you get, um, this – Blackhawk #187

June 30, 2012

Blackhawk. The man. The team. The leather. The logos.

One thing that’s always been a bit odd about the old Blackhawk comics is that they drifted so far from their ace pilot roots. After their original Quality run came to an end and their DC run started to drag on, the Blackhawk Squadron’s adventures were more and more tied to the ground and more and more fantastical. This was inevitable as their World War II environs faded more and more in the rearview and geographic diversity and acute accents were no longer enough to keep things lively, but it was nevertheless a sometimes awkward transition. Relatedly, it’s astonishing that the Blackhawks lasted as long as they did. I mean, their title lasted a FOREVER in comics terms, while supposed members of DC royalty like Aquaman had relatively short-lived titles yanked out from underneath them. And all the while the gang were listing further and further from what had brought them their first rush of popularity.

Perhaps it was canny reinvention, or maybe it was just God-awful crap. I’m not certain. But, like I just pointed out, the book must have sold, so therefore there must have been something getting kids to fork over their dime and two pennies.

Maybe the cover story here is the type of thing that held the audience (at least until they had to break out the red biker jackets). It welds classic literature (The Picture of Dorian Gray) and Looney Tunes shorts (specifically the one where and unseen artist — Bugs Bunny, the ultimate troll — keeps screwing with poor Daffy Duck) to the Blackhawk mythos. It’s not great. It’s not terrible. But maybe it was just goofily good enough to keep raking in the loose change.

First, there are a couple of preliminaries to clear out of they way (and all three stories feature art from Dick Dillin and Charles Cuidera, btw). In one, the Blackhawk boys head south of the border (perhaps to recruit a thick Mexican accent for their polyglot club?). Chop-Chop isn’t enough of a hideous racial caricature for you? Try these Speedy Gonzales Mexicans on for size!:

Thanks to material like this, I think entire generations of Americans would be forgiven for thinking that the majority of Mexican men wore bandoleros. “Queek” indeed.

The second story features a porcupine man. It delivers what it promises. “The Porcupine” looks like an amalgam of Nite Owl from Watchmen, the Floronic Man and a burdock, and surely ranks as one of the lamest villains ever to come from a major comic book publisher. They were running out of animals, I guess. And no, I shall not sully these digital pages by reproducing him here. I have standards.

And now we come to the main event. The catalyst for this Silver Age nuttiness is the unveiling of a life-size Blackhawk portrait at a metropolitan art museum. You can see it up there on the cover, with a hyper-masculine Blackhawk posing in front of a gigantic — surprise of all surprises — black hawk. I think it’s safe to say that when a giant oil on canvas reproduction of you looking all serious and stuff is hung up in a big marble building in a city, a place where society fêtes are held with white gloves and tails in full effect, YOU HAVE ARRIVED. Congratulations, Blackhawk. Things get a little weird, though, when some minor injuries that Blackhawk sustains while battling crime are mirrored in paint flaking off those areas of his portrait. Hmm. And this seeming coincidence takes a sinister turn when the painting is stolen and the thief leaves what feels like THE LONGEST NOTE IN HISTORY:

When people have to tag team to read your note aloud, it’s a clue to maybe make use of some editing next time.

A little sleuthing and the Blackhawks track down the evil painter (a con who learned this odd trade in prison) and his mystic oils, and turnabout is fair play:

So Andre Blanc-Dumont, the French member of the Squadron, has a career in rapid boardwalk portraiture to fall back on when the whole crimefighting business dries up. Good to know. And who doesn’t love that there are “Anti-Mystical-Neutralizing-Paints.” Of course there are.

One note: Only once in this book do the Blackhawks fly planes, and then only on a training mission. Actually, two notes: Never do they utter their “HAWKAAA” battle cry. I FEEL GYPPED.

And there you have it. Silver Age Blackhawk nuttiness. Honestly, I’m not sure if it’s good or bad, or even if I like it or not.  It could have been worse. Much worse. Someday we’ll take a trip down the “New Blackhawk Era” memory lane. (If you’re unfamiliar, that was quite possibly the most stupendously stupid remodeling of a comic book team ever.) This stuff could never stack up against the Man of Steel’s somewhat similar canvas adventures, but Kal-El was/is so much more at home in such stage-dressing. Having the Blackhawk Squadron battle porcupine men and magic paintings (and Mexicans, don’t forget the Mexicans) feels a bit like having the Beach Boys breakdance. Each are a poor match, but each have a strange “this is weird” appeal.

Once again, I don’t know if I like this or not. But somebody did. So somebody knew what they were doing.

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