A few months ago I noticed that this blog was getting an occasional visitor from a reader (or readers) in China. I was cracking wise on my Facebook page about how my blog hadn’t yet been blocked by the Chinese government and I wondered what I was doing wrong.
This post’ll be the one that does it.
I’ve been thinking about this Blackhawk story for a long time and had intended to post it ages ago; it’s the reason for my “Blame it on Blackhawk” post (from more than a year and a half ago) and for this blog’s disclaimer (which I encourage you to review before proceeding with this post, to save you the time of writing and sending me an outraged polemic about my “lack of political correctness” and, more important, to save me the time of reading it). I’m glad I didn’t write this post sooner, because it’s directly connected with a fallacy which really bugs the crap out of me, and which I’ve encountered again recently.
I wish I had a dollar for every columnist, blogger, and writer who has said something like, “André, the French member of the Blackhawks, died early in the series’ run, but was later mysteriously resurrected and remained a member of the team throughout the rest of the series.” I’ve seen this in print articles, I’ve seen it in blogs, I’ve seen it on message boards. Either there are a lot of people who just parrot things which others have written, or else very few people bother to read the comics about which they are blathering (or, perhaps, both). There’s nothing “mysterious” about André’s return; in fact it was a key plot point across several issues of Military Comics during the book’s first year.
And that brings us to today’s tale, in which we’re going to kill multiple birds with the same stone. We’re going to finally read the story which occasioned the writing of this blog’s disclaimer, we’re going to get this blog banned in China, and we’re going to launch a series of posts which will show conclusively that what happened to André wasn’t the usual clichéd unexplained comic book resurrection but was an event which actually helped drive the Blackhawk series’ plot for several issues.
I’m also going to do something I haven’t done for a while: I’ll intersperse my own comments between the pages to call your attention to a few points which might just change your mind about the portrayal of Chop-Chop in the pages of the 1940’s Blackhawk books.
As always, you can right-click a page and open it in a new tab to enlarge it for easier reading. Today’s story is from Blackhawk’s third comic book appearance, which was published in Military Comics #3 cover dated October 1941.
I love Chuck Cuidera’s splash panel, because we get to see just how badass those uniforms are. It’s also obvious that Chuck and writer Will Eisner hadn’t yet settled on the classic seven man roster of Blackhawks (as there are eight characters in the illustration).
Blackhawk Island is said to be in “the mid-Atlantic” here. At least once during the book’s first year it was also said to be in the North Sea. It appears that Blackhawk Island moves around as much as Wonder Woman’s Paradise Island does.
We get our first look at Chop-Chop in the last panel. His appearance would change many times over the years, but this panel was the basic template for Chop-Chop’s look throughout the 1940’s. In this story Chop-Chop is drawn as a grown man; in later stories, he’s depicted as a child or young teen.
I’m struck by the depiction of angry swearing in these panels. We’re all familiar with the use of random punctuation symbols to denote the use of “naughty words” (a staple of the newspaper strips), but this story was published very early in the genre’s history and the symbols used here are a lot more creative than the standard punctuation marks which have since become a comic tradition.
Let’s take a moment and consider what’s just happened. Even though Chop-Chop is being played here for laughs, he’s revealed that (to save Miss Ann) he jumped into an airplane that he doesn’t know how to operate, flown it until the wings literally came off (bits of the plane are hitting the ground in one panel before the fuselage finally drops in another), and crash landed it on Blackhawk’s uncharted island. That takes some stones. Say what you want about the racial caricature, Chop-Chop is far more than some token stereotype: he will go on to save the Blackhawk team’s individual and collective bacon time and again throughout the Golden Age. He’s in the stories for far more than mere laughs, and his serio-comedic entrance on the last two pages is just the first of many, many times in which Chop-Chop shows his bravery. (If you’re familiar with the original Silver Age tales of the Metal Men, Tin serves almost the identical function in those stories, right down to his possession of a quirky speech pattern.)
Yes, it’s her – Miss Ann is the same nurse from the very first Blackhawk tale.
In the 1940’s being a smoker didn’t make one a social outcast as is the case today. In this case, it’s an example of more stereotyping: André is French (and very cosmopolitan), so of course he’s puffing on a butt.
Notice that the Blackhawks are flying their trademark planes: the Grumman XF5F Skyrocket. The Skyrocket was a real-life experimental model and was never mass-produced. It was a twin-engine fighter with the wings mounted in front of the cockpit, very bleeding-edge stuff in 1941. The plane was such a classic that you can still purchase plastic model kits of the Skyrocket, and the Web abounds with photos of Skyrocket models painted blue and red, sporting the Blackhawk insignia.
Unlike the dismal Chaykin portrayal of Blackhawk in the 1980’s, the original 1940’s Blackhawk is a man of character, so much so that his men would willingly give their lives to save his…
…and will also do so for the Allied cause. André knows he’s already a goner, so he uses his own body as the catalyst for an avalanche which buries the German troops.
Obviously, the editors were left with an unexpected extra page to fill.
As noted earlier, present day Blackhawk “historians” make much of André’s apparent death in this issue, and frequently mention his unexplained reappearance in later issues. But there’s nothing “unexplained” about it; it’s all there in four colors, had these lazy readers continued to peruse additional issues of Military Comics. There’s much more to André’s story, and we’ll look at the next chapter in our next post.
Have fun! — Steve
Fans of Blackhawk and the Hideouts and Hoodlums roleplaying game will find my writeup for Blackhawk (and an essay on the character’s history from 1941 to the present) in Supplement IV – Captains, Magicians, and Incredible Men Part II, available for purchase at RPGNow!
Copyright 2013, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.