Comics featuring aviators were hugely popular during the Golden Age, and of these four color airmen Blackhawk ruled the proverbial roost; his appearances in Military Comics and, later, in Modern Comics were among the best selling comics of the era. In late 1944 Blackhawk was given his own title by Quality Comics (replacing Uncle Sam Quarterly) and his adventures appeared in both Modern Comics and his own book until late 1950 when Modern ceased publication.

Blackhawk retained his popularity after the end of World War II, but the focus of the book was forced to change as a matter of necessity. Instead of fighting Axis forces, the Blackhawks turned to battling spies, mad scientists, and deranged inventors; strange inventions and weird superscience were the primary plot drivers in the post-war era. It was during this period that the first Killer Shark was introduced (in 1952), a character who was later revamped when DC Comics bought Quality Comics (and its characters) later in the Fifties and who quickly became Blackhawk’s primary nemesis.

Of all of the high-tech mechanical menaces faced by the Blackhawks, none resonated as strongly with readers nor enjoyed more longevity than the high-tech super scientific engine of death known as the War Wheel. First unveiled in Blackhawk Comics #56 (published in 1952, the same year as Killer Shark’s first appearance), the War Wheel grabbed the imagination of Blackhawk’s readers. After DC acquired the rights to publish Blackhawk in 1957, they were happy to use the War Wheel as an recurring engine of destruction in the Blackhawk squadron’s adventures.

In fact, it was argued for years that the War Wheel had been directly responsible for the Blackhawks’ destruction. Blackhawk had been cancelled with issue #243 in 1968, but was revived (to my great delight as a teenager) in 1976. The new series featured a contemporary setting and ran for seven issues. The final issue (#250) pulled out all the stops and featured both Killer Shark and the War Wheel. The final page depicted the death of Chuck (who sacrificed himself to destroy the War Wheel) and hinted that he’d not be the last Blackhawk to die:

Blackhawk Comics #250, 1977

The series ended with the page shown above and, although the Blackhawk comic book did return a couple of times, there was never another Blackhawk issue set in the contemporary era. The title returned in 1982, but was set during World War II (and was mysteriously cancelled after 23 issues despite brisk sales). The Howard Chaykin post-Crisis reboot in 1987 is considered non-canonical by die-hard Blackhawk fans, and with good reason – Blackhawk was re-imagined as a drunken womanizing boor, in line with the “edgier” comics of the era, and in no way resembled his earlier incarnation (showing once again that, although he’s a fine illustrator, everything Chaykin touches as a writer turns to crap). Because 1977’s “final” issue #250 showed Chuck’s death and depicted the Blackhawks in a tight spot with no later contemporary appearances of the team, it was argued that all of the Blackhawks had died the 1970’s. Much later Bruce Timm set our minds at ease with an excellent third season Justice League Unlimited TV episode which featured Chuck as a surviving Blackhawk member, while a 2009 multi-issue story arc of the Batman Confidential comic featured a superannuated Blackhawk in a prominent role.

The War Wheel was itself featured (briefly) in the same Justice League Unlimited episode, and had previously appeared as a super-weapon in a three episode arc of TV’s Justice League in which Vandal Savage replaced Hitler in an alternate Earth’s Second World War. The War Wheel had been retconned as a Nazi secret weapon in the early 1980’s Blackhawk comics, but (as you’ll see in this blog post) it made its actual first appearance in 1952 as the weapon of an unnamed “aggressor nation” (presumably the Soviet Union).

The War Wheel still has a place in comic book culture today. The most recent set of miniatures (as of this writing) for the Heroclix game features the War Wheel as a large-sized collectible figure:

Image courtesy of eBay

Image courtesy of eBay

That game piece is how this blog post came to be. Some of my gamer friends have asked me about the first appearance of the War Wheel and I’m delighted to present it in its entirety in today’s blog post, exactly as it appeared in 1952 in Blackhawk Comics #56 published by Quality Comics. As always, please right-click a page image to view it in a larger size in a new tab.

The pages are courtesy of The Digital Comic Museum.

Blackhawk Comics #56, September 1952

Blackhawk Comics #56, September 1952

Blackhawk Comics #56, September 1952

Blackhawk Comics #56, September 1952

Blackhawk Comics #56, September 1952

Blackhawk Comics #56, September 1952

Blackhawk Comics #56, September 1952

Blackhawk Comics #56, September 1952

Blackhawk Comics #56, September 1952

Blackhawk Comics #56, September 1952

Blackhawk Comics #56, September 1952

Have fun! — Steve

Copyright 2015, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.

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