The Blackhawks got their start way back in the 1940's, in an ongoing series published by Quality Comics. The comic featured an internationally flavored team of ace fighter pilots, and was one of Quality's most popular ongoings. There were Blackhawk novels, Blackhawk radio plays, and even a Blackhawk movie serial. DC kept the series running when they acquired several Quality properties in the last 1950's, and attempted a complete revitalization of the franchise back in the 1980's. For the most part, however, the Blackhawks faded away, with only bits and pieces of the series, such as the original Lady Blackhawk, Zinda Blake, popping up from time to time.
Now, DC is attempting to revamp the franchise once again, keeping much of the team's international flavor, but giving the book a new tone and cast of characters. They've brought in Mike Costa, a writer best known for his work on G.I. Joe comics, and apparently hope to compete with IDW by offering a G.I. Joe title of their own. There's not much of a focus on the piloting aspect of the book, and while I do think we'll see our characters do some flying in most issues, the Blackhawks are now a special-ops team first and foremost. Everything feels a little bit larger than life than it did in older Blackhawk tales, and it'll be interesting to see if they incorporate some of the series' wackier elements later on.
I've praised DC for their diversification of genres, but titles like Animal Man, All Star Western and even Men of War still felt like a part of the DC universe. Mike Costa's Blackhawks, on the other hand, feels like something completely different. There was just something about this book that felt really seperated from the rest of the 52 books, and were it not for the Blackhawks name and symbol, I would readily believe that this was published by an entirely different company. DC's received some criticism for not taking real risks to draw in new readers, and I think there's a little of that here, even though the story itself doesn't feel all that new. It's normal for a comic book story, but not for a DC story, and that's what makes the difference.
While I appreciate wanting to show as much of the team as possible in the first issue, I wish Costa had used a few less characters here. Some characters, like the Ukranian born Irishman and American teammate Canada, made a clear impact on me, but there were others who I struggled to remember, and I had to flip back pages a few times in order to keep track of who was who. On the same note, only a few members of the cast got a chance to really demonstrate their skills or show off their personality. I liked the characters I did spend time with, but I think at least during the beginning, this book would be better off telling stories with just a few Blackhawks at a time, especially when so many other things are going on.
This book is inevitably going to be compared to Men of War, but I think it does a good job of differentiating itself from DC's other military comic. Where Men of War tells a classic, cinematic war tale that's fairly realistic for being set in the DCU, Blackhawks is action packed and leans towards the fantastical. Rather than keeping metahumans as something imposing and far away, Blackhawks seems to be confronting these aspects directly, with an opening storyline dealing with weaponized nanites. This is where you come for crazy comic book technology, for unbelievable but fun fight scenes, for special ops stories in which you don't feel the presence of the military so strongly. It's not a bad niche, and I can definitely see this book finding an audience.
Ken Lashley and Graham Nolan's artwork is full of energy, and absolutely shines during the action scenes. Where it sometimes falls short is during the book's less frentic moments. There are some really nice panels, but a lot of the facial expressions feel off, and the posing feels stiff and lifeless compared to the comic's earlier kinetic scenes. I suspect part of the problem is the way the creative team works, with Nolan putting together the book's layouts, and Lashley finishing each page. This suits the bigger scenes perfectly, but leaves the smaller ones feeling really inconsistent and uneven. Nolan will be handling the book solo from issue 2 on, so the book may have a very different look in issues to come.
I'd recommend this one for readers who'd like to read about something besides superheroes, those looking for a comic full of non-stop action, and of course, to fans of G.I. Joe. This isn't one of the best titles of the week, but it's pretty good, and it's different enough to keep my interest for at least this storyline. Longtime fans of Lady Blackhawk or the Blackhawk series may be disappointed- this is a true reimagining, and I'm pretty certain the Lady Blackhawk mentioned here isn't Zinda- but this book has a lot of offer those who aren't that interested in DC. And for that, it earns my respect.