'Blackhawk': Who Is Steven Spielberg's DC Comics Team?

The filmmaker, who is tackling the property for Warner Bros., inadvertently helped revive the World War II-era property in the 1980s.
Dan Spiegle/DC Entertainment

Steven Spielberg has finally found his way to DC's Blackhawk.

Spielberg has plenty of experience with World War II drama, and is poised to produce (and possibly direct) an adaptation of Blackhawk for Warner Bros. — a film that would center on the heroic team of DC characters that the director actually has something of a hidden history with.

But first, for the uninitiated, who are the Blackhawks?

Inside the mythology of DC’s comic book history, the Blackhawks — properly, the Blackhawk Squadron — were, as originally created, a group of pilots from across the world who used German planes to strike against Nazi and Nazi-allied forces in the Second World War. Their lineup reflected the, shall we say, more simplistic styles of the 1940s, with characters being given names like “André,” “Olaf” and, most embarrassing of all, “Chop-Chop,” to denote their countries of origins. Set against this rather unenlightened approach, it’s worth pointing out that Blackhawk, the leader of the group, was originally an intentionally mysterious Polish pilot, before later being retconned into being an American called, of all things, Bart Hawk.

Later creators would reverse this change, and do their best to fix the latent xenophobia of the characters’ early appearances, giving each member of the team more realistic names and character traits — Chop-Chop became Weng Chan, for example, while Olaf went from a dumb brute to Olaf Friedriksen, the group’s radio operator. Another change was the addition in 1959 of Lady Blackhawk, who wouldn’t become a full member of the team for some time, with her identity shifting across multiple revisionist takes of the team.

(Strangely enough, the original Lady Blackhawk would be thrown forward in time from the 1940s to the present day in a 1990s story, later becoming a member of the Birds of Prey team currently being developed as its own movie.)

Blackhawk wasn’t originally a DC property; it launched in 1941 as part of Quality Comics’ Military Comics No. 1, expanding into its own title three years later. Created by Will Eisner, Bob Powell and Chuck Cuidera, the strip also featured the work of a number of classic comic book creators, including Reed Crandall, Dick Dillin and Batman co-creator Bill Finger. (Quality ceased publication in 1956, at which point DC licensed Blackhawk to continue the series; it would later go on to purchase the company’s intellectual property outright years later.)

The original Blackhawk comic book would continue through 1984, with two breaks in publication and only minor shifts in focus through its 40-year initial run. For a brief period in 1967-68, the team abandoned the aviator angle and became superheroes — blame Batmania — and, in 1976 , the team was moved to a contemporary setting as mercenaries-for-hire for six issues before the title was placed on a second hiatus due to low sales.

Ironically, it was rumors of a potential movie adaptation from Spielberg that got Blackhawk revived in 1982, with the characters returned to their WWII setting and original Axis-fighting purpose. The two-year run that followed seemed like the last hurrah for the characters in a market shifting ever-more towards superhero dominance but, like the plucky fighters they were, the Blackhawks managed to survive. 1988 saw a miniseries by critically acclaimed writer/artist Howard Chaykin that retooled the concept as a period political thriller, which was later spun out into a run in the short-lived anthology Action Comics Weekly and, later, a 1989 monthly series called, of course, Blackhawk.

The most recent incarnation of the concept came in 2011, when Blackhawks launched as part of DC’s line-wide reboot, The New 52. A contemporary techno-espionage series, the eight-issue series used the Blackhawk name but little else from the original version; since then, the original take on the concept has since made brief appearances, most noticeably in the recently completed Dark Nights: Metal miniseries that set up a number of new concepts and storylines for DC’s comic book universe moving forward.

With 2018 seeing Spielberg finally getting his hands on the Blackhawks, it’s not unlikely that history will repeat itself and DC will launch a new Blackhawk comic off the back of the movie interest. If so, will the characters return to WWII for the first time in almost 30 years, or find an all-new battle to fight? The answer is obvious: Keep watching the skies.

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