Comic Art Friday: Two hawks, no doves

Darkhawk and Blackhawk, pencils and inks by comics artist Tod Smith

For my birthday a couple of months back, the Pirate Queen gave me a fistful of cash to put toward new art commissions. That’s what you get for the guy who has… well, not everything, but pretty close.

Wanting to stretch my windfall as far as possible, I turned to fellow collector Damon Owens for counsel. Damon, in addition to boasting a collection that makes me weep every time I compare it with my own, is a master at discovering artists who offer budget-friendly commission rates. Damon responded to my inquiry with a list of artists with whom he’d enjoyed positive commission experiences recently.

At the top of the list was Tod Smith, a name I recognized from his lengthy stint drawing Marvel’s Darkhawk series in the early 1990s. Immediately I thought, Who better than Tod to execute a Common Elements pairing of Darkhawk and the high-flying aviator hero known as Blackhawk?

No one better, as it turns out.

I’ve always had a fondness for teenage superheroes. In the ’90s, Darkhawk represented Marvel’s latest contribution to that long-standing comics tradition. Young Christopher Powell discovered a high-tech amulet that enabled him to switch spatial location with an animated suit of superpowered armor, with which Chris shared a telepathic bond. (If that sounds suspiciously like a pseudoscientific riff on Captain Marvel… well, I didn’t say it was the most original concept ever.) When Chris reclaimed his place in the universe after a fight, the Darkhawk suit beamed to an alien spacecraft, where any damage it incurred was repaired.

In addition to battling evildoers on his own, Chris and his android alter ego hung out on occasion with a team of fellow juvenile crimebusters, the New Warriors. If I recall correctly, Darkhawk was also a member of the Avengers — or was it Avengers West Coast? — for a brief period. (Then again, who hasn’t been in the Avengers?) He was also befriended by Spider-Man, Marvel’s best-known take on the teenage hero theme (although Spidey had long since matured into adulthood by the time he met Darkhawk).

Blackhawk holds the distinction of being one of a handful of characters to leap from the comic book page into other media. At the peak of his popularity during comics’ Golden Age in the 1940s, Blackhawk starred in his own radio drama, as well as a film serial. Pretty impressive, for a guy who’s basically just a fighter pilot in a fancy outfit.

In his original incarnation, Blackhawk was the leader of an international squadron, whose members were portrayed as a colorful collection of ethnic stereotypes. The writers could never quite agree on whether Blackhawk himself was American, or Polish, or an American of Polish heritage (the character was identified as each of the above at various points in his career). After World War II, the squad busied itself combating various non-military threats. During the 1960s, in a misguided attempt to keep the characters relevant, DC temporarily transformed Blackhawk and the boys into superpowered heroes, with such lame code names as “M’sieu Machine” and “Dr. Hands.” (Yikes.) In the most recent reboot of DC continuity (a.k.a. “The New 52”), the Blackhawks have been reinvented as a crack modern-day commando unit (think GI Joe). Me, I still prefer the original.

Tod Smith — who, in his post-Darkhawk career, probably is best known as the longtime artist of the Elvira: Mistress of the Dark comic book — seemed to get a kick out of being reunited with his old friend Darkhawk after a couple of decades. I love it when a plan comes together.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

 

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One Comment on “Comic Art Friday: Two hawks, no doves”

  1. rahkyt Says:

    Hi there. Not trying to hijack your thread or anything. I’m a comic art fan too, have been for many years, drew comics myself growing up, until adulthood, still use my art occasionally. Haven’t followed comics in years as I made a choice after they went over $1 not to and spent the years since in pursuit of other types of knowledge. I’m writing because I’d like to ask you a couple questions backchannel but could not find an email address here. I found your old blog and saw that you lived on Hamilton AFB in the early 70s. I did also. You also lived on Crete, I did also, from 77 – 79, you did not mention the years you were there. Always glad to see another brat out there doing their thing. My email is rahkyt@gmail.com . Thank you in advance. ~Mark


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