Secret Origins #45: Blackhawk and El Diablo

Ryan Daly and Rob Kelly review the origin of Blackhawk from Secret Origins #45. Then, five-time Secret Origins Podcast All-Star Doug Zawisza helps Ryan uncover the brand new origin of El Diablo, but probably not the El Diablo you’re thinking of.

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Additional music: “My Way” by Los Lonely Boys; “Mighty Wings” by Cheap Trick.

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39 responses to “Secret Origins #45: Blackhawk and El Diablo

      1. Ryan,

        I wouldn’t worry too much about the Suicide Squad movie version of the character taking over the name. I don’t think people will remember that movie in five years. All it takes is a good writer using them again to success — maybe in a team book — and you might just get that trade paperback you want.

        1. Mike, are you saying that Enchantress mindlessly gyrating as she speaks in a dubbed voice ISN’T going to become one of the most iconic villains in all of cinema? Because if so, I’ll have to ask you to step outside!

          Because it’s such a nice day and I’d rather shake your hand and agree with you out in the sunshine.

  1. Geez, I really need to update that FILM AND WATER promo.

    Re: the Batman villains list–dang, I forgot Hugo Strange! Might have to bump Ra’s now.

  2. What a dull story the Blackhawk one was, well, the new bits. I’m certainly of the school that believess Blackhawk’s past should boil down to ‘I heard he killed a man once’. And yes, we only need the regulars. Count me in for a reprint of the Spiegle/Evanier series, that was good stuff.

    I never read a single El Diablo story, the look is so unprepossessing – closer examination of the story reveals that his superhero costume is his folk dancing costume… being an expert in pulling faces can’t hide that!

  3. I don’t own this issue and have never read any El Diablo so I don’t feel capable of commenting on that half of the book. That said, your discussion of the story makes me think I need to look for it in the various comic bins I thumb through.

    But Blackhawk? I can definitely comment on Blackhawk.

    I think my first interaction with the team was in the mentioned Brave and Bold #167. Earth 2! Marv Wolfman! Dave Cockrum!!! Plus, there was something odd but appealing about the Grumman Skyrocket. As a kid, I couldn’t believe those were real planes!

    The next big interaction was in the Chaykin mini-series. I know I am a Chaykin apologist but I really love that mini-series. Like many of Chaykin’s books of that era, the story is exceedingly nuanced (a clever way for me to say confusing). It took me a few rereads to follow exactly who was doing what. Once I got it, the plot is pretty brilliant. Now I understand, having Jan be a more liberal person who gets ostracized by the US and goes on a three week bender isn’t classic. But there is so much more than just that change in the origin. And yes, I know, Natalie Reed replaced Zinda. I like Natalie! I’d recommend reading it again.

    Based just on the love of the miniseries, I picked up some of the ensuing solo title and will pick up the brief 70s run when I see it in bargain bins.

    As for my favorite Blackhawk, has to be Chuck Sirianni, an Italian-American electronics expert. While he looks more like a Northern Italian, I have to support my paisans, especially when there isn’t a whiff of organized crime on him !!!! A rarity for Italian characters in comics!

    Too bad this Secret Origin story doesn’t include more of the dog-fighting prowess of the team.

  4. HAAAAWWWWWKKKKKKKKKAAAAAAAAA!

    Ah yes, Blackhawk. The only WWII era characters that ever interested me (well, of the non-superpowered ones).

    Funny you mentioned the Brave and the Bold #167 Ryan, I literally picked that up two weeks ago from the back issue bins. Haven’t read it yet, but now I’m anxious to get home and crack it open! Thank GOD I have tomorrow off. Epic action packed cover BTW.

    Now as for the part you KNOW I would bring up, Blackhawk in Action Comics Weekly. Here’s the deal, I can’t give you much info. I’ve INTENTIONALLY tried to not read ahead so that I can provide relatively fresh thoughts as I go, unencumbered by “future knowledge”. So, as I type this, I’ve only read #601-#603 worth of Action Comics Weekly Blackhawk.

    I see what people mean. We need Blackhawk in a war. In the fight. That’s where the story is MOST exciting. But I can’t just let the negative air surrounding the stories from ACW go unanswered. Those stories may not be the most exciting Blackhawk tales, but they are IMPORTANT I think.

    Blackhawk(s) may fit best in a war. But there’s at least AN interesting story to be told by following a “War Dog” without a war to fight. The battle is won, what does he do? There’s almost a slight PTSD angle to follow there and it’s ALMOST hinted at, but seems to be dismissed when a strange woman pops up offering to pay him for his services. Obviously, for me, it remains to be seen if it plays out in a coherent and interesting way. But CONCEPTUALLY it intrigues me. There IS a story there. Should Blackhawk remain enthralled in that? No, eventually adventure and war must return. But there’s SOMETHING there worth exploring. Blackhawk(s) is just too interesting to be confined to “fighting Nazi’s in the skies”.

    But like I said, it remains to be seen if it pays off as I proceed in ACW.

    Blackhawk is definitely one of my two favorite stories to follow in ACW (the other being Secret Six). So much so I’ve since hunted down the Showcase volume 1 TPB and even have a few OLD issues of the series, #242 & #243, the last two issues before the series was cancelled in 1968 and then restarted in ’76 continuing the numbering (which I think have some gorgeous covers).

    As for El Diablo?…..well, I guess that was a thing. Not a thing for me. But a thing nonetheless I suppose.

    PS: Thanks for playing the ACW promo!

  5. Not only did Blackhawk have a serial, he was played by the late, great Kirk Alyn! You know, Superman.

    Chaykin’s series was wonderful. I know it’s not for everyone, but i like my comics with grit and bj jokes.

    I loved me some El Diablo. A little perspective – i grew up at a time when diversity wasn’t really a thing. As a brown kid, I didn’t have a lot of heroes I found relatable. There was The Fly (always great to name a character after a pest), El Dorado, some dude in Team America, and…. That’s all I got.

    Then came El Diablo. Sure, he was dressed in all the fashion missteps of 90s southwestern fashion. And sure, he was neither written nor drawn by a brown brother, but I had a book that felt like it was set in a place I recognized. And it had a guy who was brown –and that became a facet of his character and thankfully not his sole defining quality. He wasn’t a janitor, or a cook, or “an illegal”, he went to law school and was a public servant. And he was as much a part of his city as Batman was to Gotham or Superman was to Metropolis. He was symbolic of promise and potential. And I’m glad he was given a shot, even if it was for less than years.
    Man, I miss that character.

    But not the costume.

  6. I first met the Blackhawks in that excellent Wolfman/Cockrum B&B issue. I loved that comic to death. That was the first time I saw both the Blackhawks, and the original look Golden Age Batman.

    I’ve always liked the Blackhawks more from afar, rather than actually read any of their solo stories. I’m always happy to see them show up, however. Their appearances on Justice League/Justice League Unlimited were a nice treat. I did recently find the first issue of the Evanier/Spiegle run in a dollar bin and really enjoyed it, so I need to be on the lookout for those, per Rob’s suggestions.

    El Diablo was a character I wanted to give a try, but my trips to the big city and a comic shop were infrequent in my pre-driver days, so I missed out. I’ve never owned this issue of SO, even. I can still see the loose-leaf Who’s Who entry on this version. The fact that the original Vigilante shows up later in the series makes the whole thing that much more appealing. More fodder for bin-diving. You and Doug sold me.

    Okay, okay. Stop twisting my arm. Here’s my top 5 Bat-villains, but I’ll go even further with caveats. I’m not counting Joker, Penguin, Catwoman OR Riddler. They were such a part of the Bat-zeitgeist following the 60s TV series, that they would take up nearly the entire list. They have to be there. So beyond them:

    5. Man-Bat or Mad Hatter. I can’t decide. I love Man-Bat too much, but realize he’s pretty one-note.
    4. Ra’s Al Ghul
    3. Mr. Freeze (post-BTAS only)
    2. Two-Face
    1. The Scarecrow

    Chris

    1. But Chris, if you limit Mister Freeze to only the Animated Series until current you miss out on those fiery red eyebrows! The eyebrows, Chris! THE EYEBROWS!!!

  7. I have the least emotional attachment to Two-Face among Batman’s most classic rogues because he wasn’t a part of my childhood experiences. He wasn’t on TV, and I don’t think I saw him before checking out “Batman: From the 30’s to the 70’s” from a grade school library. I only read the more modern stories, because I had no taste for the “old timey” stuff back then, but I seem to recall the visual of Two-Face springing out (or Sprang-ing out, more likely.) I honestly can’t recall reading an actual story about Two-Face before 1987’s Batman (The New Adventures) #411, an unimpressive second part of a two parter by the out of date creative team of Max Allan Collins, Dave Cockrum, and the real acid to the face, Don Heck. Aside from his complexion, he came off as a common thug. Within the next few years, I got to read a few more yarns that fared a little better (a multi-parter with Catwoman by Moench & Mandrake from ’86) or a lot better (The Dark Knight Returns,) but I was still not feeling Two-Face. Year One helped, but what really sold me was the interpretation on Batman: The Animated Series that showed Harvey Dent as both a good man fighting crime alongside the Caped Crusader, but also a deeply damaged person who only needed that one brutal push to go over the edge. I was very impressed by the voice talent Andrea Romano was bringing to the show, and was already a fan of Richard Moll from Night Court and various low budget ’80s horror/fantasy movies, so I was pleased for him to get such a meaty role. By the way, why doesn’t anyone ever wax nostalgic for Moll the way they do Conroy, Hamill, Sorkin, or even Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.?

    I was a big fan of Tommy Lee Jones before Batman Forever (cue “which is the pretty side” jokes) and hoped he would offer a nuanced, intimidating contrast to Carrey’s Riddler instead of trying (and failing but with a grating “e” for effort) to be equally obnoxious in chasing the ghost of Jack Nicholson. It might have ruined Two-Face for me, but the following year Bruce Timm wrote the best story about the character I’ve ever read, “Two Of A Kind” in Batman Black and White #1 (the highlight of an excellent mini-series.) That one tale was such a high water mark of the entire Batman library to me that Two-Face shot right into the upper part of my favorite Gotham rogues. I don’t go out of my way to read more, but that lasting affection had me more excited about Aaron Eckhart than Heath Ledger ahead of The Dark Knight’s release (and also after, though he should have stayed Harvey Dent until the sequel.)

    I was relieved to find the Two-Face tale was my favorite Secret Origin of this issue, since I recently met Mark Verheiden, who’s a super good guy I wouldn’t hesitate to run down in a critique because I’m nowhere near as nice as him. I didn’t assume that a dual narrative was built into this story, and I don’t care if Harvey’s perspective doesn’t align with Gilda’s TV show monologue (since her omniscient captions often operate separately from Two-Face’s actions, and are not employed at all for large portions of the story.) I don’t believe this is a case of Gilda telling the overall story, but rather having her moments of her TV appearance juxtaposed against objective flashbacks (including Harvey’s unexpressed thoughts in distinct captions.) I’m fond of Pat Broderick’s art in general (which is good because I’ve also met & commissioned work from him,) and especially so in this period… though I think it’s diluted somewhat by Dick Giordano’s inks (especially his inconsistent failed attempts to “fix” the women’s faces more to his liking.) I wish Broderick had done more horror work, because like Sal Buscema, he’s great at drawing mainstream figures and then adding that one askew element that renders the whole image more unnerving than more overtly ghoulish artists. His Harvey Dent is a handsome, heroic looking guy, but then that eye and that melt face sock you in the icks.

    Unlike the Penguin story, this Two-Face SO inspired me with its thoughtful take on Two-Face, his failings, and his potential redemption (for me more effectively than DKR, BTW.) As the public has become more aware of conditions like severe bipolar disorder, it’s easier to understand and more intriguing to see Harvey as someone who can go to extremes in both directions, violent mania and crippling depression, deeply loving and callously cruel– and recognize that he’s under the sway of a power greater than any of us could overcome without extensive help and a lot of strong medication. My only complaint is with Dalton Perry, who I agree takes up far too much space as a one-off antagonist, though perhaps the whole point was to seed his return and a face turn for Two-Face at a later date. I was thoroughly engrossed in this story, so I would have been interested in seeing that developed by this team in a mini-series.

    TOP FIVE BATMAN VILLAINS:

    Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order) Bane, The Court of Owls, Deacon Blackfire, The (Pre-Crisis Only) Joker, Kobra, Magpie, Mr. Zsasz, The Penguin, Poison Ivy, The Riddler, & Two-Face.

    5) Catwoman
    Going into this list, I already knew that the top three would be on it, though not that they would rule over it. Four was something of a left field surprise, a character I’ve always really liked and whose mystique I respected, but I didn’t realize she would so easily hold off all other comers. The only true competition was fifth place, which I arrived at by a lengthy process of deduction with the final competition being Two-Face. At that point though, despite resistance on my part, it was an easy call. There are metric tons of Catwoman stories, most of mediocre to bad quality. Her solo books aren’t usually to my taste, and most of the time I don’t even think of her as a villain anymore, just an anti-hero or supporting character. That said, I’m still simply more likely to enjoy reading a Catwoman story than those of the other rogues, especially the “classics.” When she’s good, she’s very good, and when she’s bad, she’s better. If only as a heterosexual male, I have always and will always prefer to watch a Catwoman in live action over any gross dudes, but also the performances of her various actresses are usually a cut above her compatriots (including the Jokers and especially Michelle Pfieffer in the Burton/Schumacher cycle, but also Anne Hathaway in the Nolan films, and Eartha Kitt in the ’60s.) The role even got Halle Berry to make a Vixen movie concealed as a Catwoman one (not an especially good example of either, but better and more sensible as a Vixen movie.)

    4) Lady Shiva
    My favorite super-heroes have tended to specialize in martial activities (not specifically “martial arts,” though that often comes into play,) so I love a great big brawl involving the highest ranked masters of the form. When Lady Shiva shows up in a book, she’s either going to kick ass or her opponent is going to gain access to the upper echelons of ass-kickdom. Shiva is at least on a par with Batman, but I believe she’s the superior combatant, and therefore the gatekeeper for who else can teach that arrogant rich boy humility through the infliction of bodily trauma. Shiva translates in the Gotham Urban Dictionary as “ohhhhh shhhhhhhh…”

    3) Dr. Hugo Strange
    This is the archetypal “nerd who shouldn’t stand a chance against a guy with Batman’s rep who proves his brilliance while exposing how overrated Batman is in fact.” His only exceptional ability is the mind-funk, but it just so happens Bruce Wayne’s low emotional I.Q. is his kryptonite. He was in the earliest Batman stories, and his revivals since the ’70s have proven to be greatest hits of many popular runs (Englehart/Rogers, Moench/Gulacy) that also happen to be personal favorites. I like more Strange stories than some of the higher ranking villains, but he’s not as strong an adversary conceptually, or I just don’t like his stories to as great a degree.

    2) Killer Croc
    Waylon Jones was the prototype for Bane, a wild card new arrival to Gotham who swiftly kills his way up through the local mobs before uniting the rogues of Gotham in one mass assault on the Batman Family. He stands apart from that lot by being less “The Prince” and more “King Conan,” someone with the strength, cunning, and gift for violence to topple empires. Jones isn’t really a sympathetic villain, because he’s so vicious, but he’s also the fault of a society that never gave him a chance. Underneath his skin condition was an African-American heritage that saw him brutalized by racist cops before he’d even hit puberty. He isn’t some scrawny weirdo misfit– he was never allowed to be a part of any social setting he didn’t force his way into, regardless of whatever person he might have been under that hide. Croc demonstrates the limits of the Dark Knight Detective, an extremely hostile unnatural force that at his best can sidestep his opponents’ safeguards and rip the hell out of them. Oh, you’d better have something in that utility belt, or you’re gonna die!

    1) Ra’s al Ghul & Talia
    The Demon’s Head steps up Batman’s game to a global stage and existential stakes, which shakes the Dark Knight loose of the rut of local creeps mucking up a corrupt city. However, you also need Talia as her father’s conscience and the traitorous ace that allows The Detective to pull off a win against otherwise impossible odds. Grant Morrison ruined that dynamic and the character of Talia, so as the years go by, this ranking will likely either slide downward or be propped up by long past glories.

    1. Oh shoot– I posted this to the wrong episode. That’s what I get for listening to the new feedback while writing to the old between tabs. Oh well, harder to ignore it next week, at least.

    2. I think the first regular Two-Face story I read in comics (not graphic novels or trades) was that same two-parter by Max Allen Collins and Dave Cockrum.

  8. It was testament to the quality of the Blackhawk story that Rob talked about it like he had cab waiting outside with the meter running.

    Doug is charming as ever and I’m not the slightest bit jealous that he got to do the Doom Patrol origin and then have 5 more appearances. I’ll just settle for being a lousy two-timing bastard.

    Make lists of villains, sure! I can’t bring myself to think too hard about Superman’s foes as I think it’s a much shallower bench. As an exclusive to the Secret Origins podcast here’s my TOP 5 DOOM PATROL VILLAINS (much harder than I expected):

    5. The Chief
    4. The Candlemaker
    3. Monseiur Mallah (& the Brain if it’s not considered cheating)
    2. Animal Vegetable Mineral Man
    1. Mr Nobody

    1. On the bright side, I just ran the numbers, and you’ve had twice as many appearances as twenty-one people and you’re still in competition with ten at five episodes to go. If you’re on every single one, you can top the “six timers club” of Chris Franklin, Shag and Siskoid (would you guys prefer “The Three 6s?” Could it be… Satan?!?) And if Kyle Benning is five, if Doug Zawisza is five, if I am five, then you could be SEVEN! And GOD is SEVEN! I personally am comfortable with matching Bill Murray, but if you can make The Walken, that would be continental.

      1. And Lo, the mark of the devil was upon the beast with three heads and the heads were known as Chris, Shag and Siskoid and they did call unto one another via Skype.

    2. If you can’t come up with five good Superman antagonists, Flanger, you’re not trying!

      5 Mr Mxyzptlk – infinite magical abilities and the power to annoy, Silver and Bronze Age

      4 Parasite – absorbs super powers and gets stronger, extremely wily, Silver and Bronze Age

      3 Metallo – The Man With The Kryptonite Heart, Bronze Age

      2 Brainiac – alien with a computer mind and a wee monkey, Silver and Bronze Age

      1 Luthor – Friend turned foe with occasionally lapses into nobility, Silver and Bronze Age

      Honourable mentions for Bizarro and Titano, who are formidable, have amazing visuals, but don’t mean to hurt anyone.

  9. Blackhawk took over the numbering of UNCLE SAM QUARTERLY.
    Blackhawk Express was around in the 80s-90s as part of their “secret government super-hero” themed comics, the ones that tied into the Janus Directive.

    El Diablo is a very Golden Age style character, with liberal amounts of Daredevil thrown in, in that we see the public servant putting on a costume to do what the law can’t, in the vein of the Guardian, Air Wave I, or the Red Bee. I like to think that he put the costume away after a few years, and became the DCU version of Matt Santos, Jimmy Smits’ character from the West Wing.

  10. I can’t recall when I first encountered Blackhawk; probably in house ads, as they didn’t have much of a presence in the Bronze Age. I definitely picked up some of the Spiegle/Evanier run and read a few of the Steve Skeates issues (with Dick Dillin on the art). The concept always worked for me: a Foreign Legion of the air.
    I’ve since read a few of the Golden Age stories and there are some really good ones there. I specifically remember one that was reprinted in one of the DC-100 Pg comics, featuring Miss Fear. She was the Blackhawk version of the Dragon Lady, as Blackhawk always mined Caniff territory. That character later turned up, along with Chop-Chop, in Tim Truman’s excellent but nearly-unseen Guns of the Dragon. The Golden Age stuff mixed Caniff’s Terry & the Pirates, various aviation strips and pulps (things like G-8 and his Battle Aces) and the real life Flying Tigers, who were, technically, mercenary pilots flying for the Nationalist Chinese government.
    Chaykin’s mini-series had me jonesin’ for more, from the moment I saw the cover art (which DC turned into an awesome poster). It also confused the hell out of me. You have Blackhawk being grilled by Congressman, about Communist connections. Wait, is this set after the war? The whole HUAC thing was in the late 40s. Nope, it’s WW2. It was just plain weird. Still, it was damn good action, with Chaykin’s cynical reworking. I love Chaykin; but, I thought he overdid it a bit, with Blackhawk. I know he was a fan; but, I don’t think he was the right guy for this. For me, it was Mike Grell (at least, writing). More on that in a few. Marty Pasko picked up where Chaykin left off and he really tried, taking Blackhawk into America’s Domino Principle secret wars; but, politics kind of overwhelmed plot. Pasko used some real history; but, it didn’t really gel, for me.
    Mike Grell had the right idea, in that first Action Comics Weekly storyline. He looked at Blackhawk after the war and went to the same Caniff well that Will Eisner and William Woolfolk used; only this time, he used Steve Canyon. The Blackhawks are a private cargo company who are hired for a bit of treasure hunting, where they run into a character who is alluded to be the daughter of Pat Ryan and the Dragon Lady. This was fun stuff and really explored the idea of soldiers in search of a war. I would have liked to have seen more; but, Marty Pasko took over and we got the more cynical stuff.
    This origin is fine, though the new material doesn’t do a whole lot for me. I do agree that they work better in WW2; but, I think you can do them after the war; but, not as CIA operatives/dupes, as a pseudo-Air America (which is what Blackhawk Express was). Mercenary adventurers, yes. I can see them in the Congo, flying for the Katanga sepratists, against the UN. I can see them in the Nigerian Civil War, supporting the Biafrans. I definitely see them helping the Israelis, in the War of Independence, in 1948 (maybe even flying Israel’s first fighter plane, surplus German BF-109 Messerschmitts).

    You guys failed to mention one Blackhawk essential: Black ‘n’ Blue Hawks, from the original comic book version of MAD. Wally Wood went to town on it and the EC guys satirize the 50s, anti-Communist/evil dictator-fighting Blackhawks. Wood loved the series and he drew the heck out of the parody. They even parodied the Blackhawk fight song: “Over land, over sea, we fight for Dough-Rei-me…”

    The planes, the Gruman XF-5F Sky Rocket, was being developed as a naval aircraft, to provide a twin-engined carrier-based fighter. It had serious engine overheating problems, which is why it never made it into service. It was a unique design, which is why Quality latched onto it. It’s not a totally unique idea, though, as the P-38 Lightning, which did see service (Army Air Force) was even wilder, with twin engines and twin tails, on separate booms, with a central cockpit body. Among its pilots was Richard I. Bong, who was America’s most decorated ace, in WW2, with 40 kills.

    There were other Blackhawks in early stories. It took a few issues before they fully settled on Blackhawk, Chuck, Olaf, Stan, Andre, Hendrickson and Chop-Chop.

    Fans of Blackhawk should check out Eclipse Comics’ Airboy series (if they haven’t already). It tread in similar territory; but in a pulpier, more exciting manner (as the original Hillman comics did). Of particular note are the Sky Wolf back-up stories. Sky Wolf was a definite Blackhawk knockoff, even back in the 40s. Here, we follow him from the end of WW2, to Korea, Guatemala (when the CIA backed a coup of the democratically elected Arbenz government), and, eventually, French Indochina (he ended up at Dien Bien Phu). He is seen in the present, aiding Davy Nelson Jr, flying an AH-64 Apache gunship.

    El Diablo was one I didn’t check out at the time; but, have since acquired the issues, after hearing how good they were (and coming to appreciate Mike Parobeck on Batman Adventures and Justice Society). They are in my to-read pile, still. Got to get those out. I did read a few stories of the western character, with awesome Gray Morrow artwork.

  11. Rafael Sandoval is El Diablo? It seems he’s retired from superheroics and is now devoting his time to illustrating Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps.

    I can’t recall who it was that referenced a villainous version of Batman, but for the record, the character is called “Wrath,” not “Wraith.” On the topic of that character, I really liked his origin, that his parents were criminals who were shot and killed by Jim Gordon in a botched attempt (or successful attempt?) to apprehend them.

    And since you asked for it, here are my top 5 Batman villains:

    -Killer Croc:
    I really don’t know why, but I always enjoy reading stories about Killer Croc. I prefer for him to appear mostly humanoid, but scaly enough so to really not be believable when the writer tells you he just has a skin condition (such as Ichthyosis, as he has in Batman: Earth One vol. 2, which did have the sort of visual depiction of the character that I like). For me, he has to toe the line between “skin condition” and “Spider-Man’s ‘The Lizard.'” Seeing Killer Croc with a tail is just too much for some reason, but a green, scaly man is juuuust right. Okay, I’ve gone on about appearance for long enough.

    I particularly like Killer Croc stories, because it generally plays to the theme of nature vs. nurture, which I find fascinating. To paraphrase a line in the Suicide Squad movie, “they treated him like a monster, so he became one.” This tends to be the theme of most Killer Croc stories. But generally, Killer Croc is not a horrible person, just someone who, because of his appearance, has been put through the wringer throughout his life, and has come out all that much stronger. To compare him to a Star Wars character, it’s a similar story to that of Darth Bane from the pre-Disney EU, a character who becomes a Sith because he needs to, and excels due to past traumatic experiences, but he isn’t an evil bastard despite all outward appearances.

    I didn’t even realize how much I liked Killer Croc when I started writing this. And for the record, I thought he was criminally underdeveloped and under-utilized in Deadshot and Harley’s Hour of Adventure–I mean Suicide Squad. He was really just played for laughs.

    -Two-Face:
    Two-Face stories, like Riddler stories, are rather fascinating to me when done well. For Riddler, I feel a good story has to have good enough riddles to keep Batman and the readers guessing. For Two-Face, it is my opinion that the writer has to really maintain the balance between Two-Face being a victim of his own psychosis, and a truly evil man. In some cases, he’s overtly evil (clean side of the coin, he kills his hostage,
    scarred side, he tortures them and their family, then kills them), which I find to be uninteresting. I prefer to see Two-Face stories where he has a grand plan, but struggles to accomplish it when the whim of the coin decides otherwise.

    -Mr. Freeze:
    Something about Mr. Freeze is always compelling to me. Except for in Batman and Robin, in the New 52, in Gotham, and in The Batman. But my first real exposure to the character was in Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero. For anyone who’s seen that movie, I think that’s reason enough for why I find the character so intriguing.

    -Man-Bat
    Similar to Killer Croc, Man-Bat seems to fall into the “misunderstood monster” category of villains in many cases. What I tend to particularly enjoy with Man-Bat stories is when they play this angle on the surface, while Langstrom has some ulterior motives he’s trying to work.

    -Killer Moth
    This one really was a toss up with Bane, but I just love Killer Moth too much to not have him in my top 5. He’s just so fun to read. He’s so ridiculous that I can’t help but love the guy. The fact that he started out as a poorly executed villainous Batman, complete with Mothmobile and a Mothsignal. It’s just too good to be true!

    Honorable Mention: Zebra Man

  12. Like Doug Zawisza, I was in my first routinely accessible comic shop (in a few years, anyway) and El Diablo was on their racks. I picked it up, I gave it a toss, I put it back. Years later, I devoted my time and money to learning about and collecting the DC Universe to the exclusion of much else, but even in the discount bins, I’d maybe pause on El Diablo for a second before flipping on. Having read and seemingly enjoyed the last half year of Gerard Jones’ Justice League America more than most, I remained unswayed toward quasi-member El Diablo. Even as I specifically bought comics about minority characters and issues of Secret Origins, I passed on this. I’ve got the Who’s Who loose-leaf entry. I’m good.

    Rafael Sandoval is the face of feel good white liberalism, and helps to validate many of the most contested publishing decisions of ’90s DC Comics. In 1989, I was not interested in social justice, cartoon-style art, geriatric super-heroes, or well intentioned stereotypes. I still liked Wolverine. Whilce Portacio and Jim Lee were drawing my favorite, The Punisher. Within a couple of years, I was buying as many new, fresh, fly, awesome, radical creations and recreations on the proto-Image tip as I could afford. Even the DC book I bought, New Titans, was the most Marvel-stylee EXTREME title they were publishing at the time, before I got tricked into trying their more traditional heroes again as part of their stunt icon breaking events. When I bought Black Lightning briefly in the ’90s, it was because the art and redesign made him look like a badass, before I knew better. I did pick up Action Comics Weekly as a back issue for a while, and that’s where El Diablo belonged. A “nice” feature with heart buoyed by more commercial fare. Even today, in spite of recommendations for the title that recall some of the reasons why I love Jack Cole Plastic Man, I won’t invest in El Diablo, because he isn’t cool and he doesn’t matter.

    I think Todd McFarlane is a turd and I enjoy a lot fewer Spawn comics than I read, but I routinely give that character props because it’s still the best selling comic book title of all time with an African-American lead and the top selling non-Big 2 comic book ever. Spawn tapped into the zeitgeist with one of the most popular creators of all time, and knowing that, had the balls to star a black man and not have that fact negatively impact on the work in any significant way. People didn’t buy Spawn out of a sense of duty or because it reflected their ethnicity, but because it was dope. Also kinda stupid and meandering and pointless and excessively violent, or like I just said, dope. Plus, guess what, my black friends bought Spawn, and appreciated their representation, but I also sold it to rednecks in republican country who surely in some cases had to overlook its black cast because they were fans of the toys or were collecting it as an “investment.” Even if I only read material by guys like Alan Moore or Grant Morrison or Neil Gaiman, I probably couldn’t pull together sixteen Spawn comics crafted with more care or with greater passion or overall merit than the run of El Diablo, but I probably won’t ever read it because the art isn’t sick in the way I like it (even from Parobeck, as it seems like a compromise of his best remembered “animated” look to appear more like a middling mainstream book of the time) and I’m not confident the stories would be boss.

    The problem with white creators coming up with minority characters in mainstream comics of the Bronze Age and long after is that even if they do a ton of research, they still aren’t of the people they’re trying to represent and bring with them unconscious prejudices. How many gritty street level super-heroes does a comic book universe need? Why must minorities always be “realistic,” meaning low-to-non-powered characters of modest means, often from the ghetto/barrio/Little China/etc? Why are they so often off in their own little corner, saddled with a ton of handicaps because the creators are specifically “trying something different,” meaning in love with their research and indulging in non-commercial stories they’re into but broader audiences are not? Why must minority super-heroes be treated as experiments or vanity projects unlikely to make an impact on the market? How are the escapist power fantasies of minorities being served by honkies pretending to be down and keeping it real, yo?

    That’s why it bums me out that the last big corporate character creations like Deadpool and Harley Quinn or well received legacies like Ghost Rider and Green Lantern didn’t employ minorities the last time it mattered, during the speculator boom. Hell, even current adaptations of esoteric creator owned work from that period has needed some coffee added to its milk (looking at you, Preacher, and Tulip is still the least developed character on your show.) Rafael Sandoval is a non-powered detective with some fighting skill and acrobatics, just like two-thirds of every DC Comics characters created in the Golden Age and a good 20% since. Like #BlackLIvesMatter statistics though, the numbers really spike when you break it down by white versus non-white characters. It’s Gangbuster Syndrome– the tendency to throw a minor league thrift store minority hero into a book as a supporting player. Sometimes you score a relative win when someone like Night Thrasher gets to lead the New Warriors, until you remember that he’s dead, been turned evil in resurrection, been replaced, and has fewer solo comics than Speedball. The Michael Collins Deathlok had a decent run, but imagine if DC allowed anyone but white boys to be Robin, how a Tim Drake with a darker complexion could have turned out. Rafael Sandoval did nothing to change this game, and has nothing to offer today barring an unlikely TV adaptation where he’d still suffer in comparison to Arrow, the weakest section of the Berlantiverse. How about some extraordinary abilities, some major scale, or at least a suit that doesn’t look fresh off a velvet painting on Ricky Ricardo’s bathroom wall?

    Thankfully, we now have an El Diablo with fire! Joining the one Brazilian super-heroine… with fire powers. And may Firebrand III and his fire powers rest in piece. Must be that hot Latin blood. But at least El Diablo III isn’t an embarrassing gangbanging stereotype like Vibe used to be. Oh. Man, Cisco Ramone is the greatest Latino super-hero in DC Comics history. What the hell?!?

    1. Ignoring everything else (because I can only read so many novels at a time)…Cisco Ramone has his own TV show, sir. Granted he lets the really speedy guy hog the title credit, but we all know who the REAL star of that show is.

  13. For years Blackhawk was a character I only knew from the DC Cosmic Cards trading card set. Thankfully I finally got a little better information later on that he wasn’t just a parachuting Nick Fury-looking guy.

    The majority or my time with El Diablo comes from the Justice League America recruitment issue where he and Fire spend 90% of their time speaking Spanish/Portuguese to each other while Ice can’t understand a thing.

    Since we’re making lists, I’ll just randomly throw out my Top 5 Brainiacs because why the heck not.
    5. Vril Dox II
    4. Post-Crisis Brainiac (especially during Panic in the Sky)
    3. Brainiac 8
    2. Brainiac 5
    1. SuperPowers Brainiac (with POWER ACTION COMPUTER KICK!)

  14. Top five Supergirl villains
    Honorable mentions – The Gang, Blackstarr, Dollmaker, Cat Grant, Nasty Luthor, Black Flame

    5. Lesla Lar – brilliant evil Kandorian scientist who was a lookalike for Kara, killed by her own plots, she came back from beyond the grave to attack Supergirl once more. One of the few true recurring villains for Supergirl.

    4. Superwoman – good mystery and solid story telling in the early Gates/Igle run

    3. Satan Girl – has fought Supergirl in three previous incarnations. The first Satan Girl was Supergirl herself. Love that she consistently shows up despite reboots.

    2. Reactron – has fought 3 versions of Supergirl – bronze age, Gates era, and television. Gates version killed Zor-El. He totally has moved past his spangled purple trunks silliness.

    1. Silver Banshee – has become a Supergirl villain, stripped from Superman’s gallery. Fought the PAD version, the Gates version, the New 52 version, and the TV version. A good foil as a mystical character. Also had a frenemy quality in New 52.

  15. It was an interesting episode Ryan, even though my familiarity with the two characters is limited. I only ever saw the Blackhawks in cameos, and in one Batman Confidential story arc. El Diablo I remember from the JLA appearance and that is it. I have read the Gerard Jones Justice League America run but only when you mentioned it did I remember that El Diablo was part of it! In Gerard Jones and Will Jacobs “Comic Book Heroes”, Jones said that they developed El Diablo as a miniseries, but that Jeannette Kahn said that this was the type of book that DC should promote and it was published as an ongoing instead.

    Not sure about the hate for Suicide Squad, I thought the film was very good and felt the incarnation of El Diablo was very good. That version of El Diablo was in New 52 Suicide Squad from the start but I did not realise that that version of El Diablo had his own miniseries in 2008 by Jai Netz and Phil Hester. I understand that miniseries linked his origin to that of LAzarus Lane, the first El Diablo.

    Ok and lists:

    Best Batman Villains:
    1. Riddler
    2. Joker
    3. Poison Ivy
    4. Ventriloquist/Scarface
    5. Penguin

    Best Superman Villains:
    1. Lex Luthor
    2. Metallo
    3. Parasite
    4. Prankster (Post Underworld Unleashed)
    5. Mr. Mxyzptlk (spelling?)

    Best JLA Villains
    1. Secret Society of Super Villains/Injustice Gang (Any combination really of individual villains that match with the heroes).
    2. Despero
    3. The Key
    4. The Extremists
    5. Crime Syndicate of Earth 3

    Top 5 Green Lanterns:
    1. Guy Gardner
    2. Hal Jordan
    3. Kyle Rayner
    4. John Stewart
    5. Kilowog

  16. Ryan, your “Blackhawks In Space” idea was a joke, right? Please tell me it was a joke. :)

    That kind of thinking is what gave us the Blackhawk New Era, in which all the members of the Blackhawks (except Blackhawk himself) become the worst superheroes ever seen anywhere.

    Blackhawk was the original “Dark Knight,” and that term was used in Quality Comics’ original Blackhawk stories long before DC appropriated it for Batman. And trust me: he EARNED that title.

    The real reason that the series is called “Blackhawk” and not “The Blackhawks” is first, because it wasn’t intended to be an ensemble series, and second, because Blackhawk is a total badass. His first adventure featured Blackhawk tracking down over the course of many months a bloodthirsty Nazi pilot named Von Tepp, who was responsible for mercilessly gunning down his non-combatant sister and brother during the German invasion of Poland. Keep in mind that Blackhawk managed to track down and kill Von Tepp in a duel at a time when nearly all of Europe was occupied by the Nazis, requiring a great deal of stealth and skirmishes behind enemy lines. Batman or the Punisher couldn’t have done better. And that was only the first of many such missions. The Blackhawks essentially acted as backup for their leader, but never drove the plot in those early stories.

    The other members of the Blackhawks eventually gained broad personalities of their own, largely based on national stereotypes that were amusing to readers at the time but will only make modern readers cringe. Chop-Chop was the most egregious, but also the most popular, and starred in his own backup series that was straight-up slapstick comedy completely divorced from the routine missions that the Blackhawks went on.

    Each of the Blackhawks were heroic in their own way, but Blackhawk was always the real star of the book, around whom all the Blackhawks revolved. He shouldn’t be shunted away to the sidelines like General Abernathy/Hawk in the G.I. Joe series, or giving orders from a remote location like Mockingbird in the original Secret Six series.

    You really have to read the original Blackhawk stories by Will Eisner to understand why this character was so popular in his time, that he ended up featured in his own serial starring Kirk Alyn.

    (You can read nearly all of Blackhawk’s excellent Quality Comics stories in Military Comics, Modern Comics, and the Blackhawk series on Digital Comic Museum, by the way.)

    Zinda Blake, alias Lady Blackhawk, wouldn’t be introduced until the DC Comics issues which are still copyrighted, but by that time the series had begun to really lose its way, and she was about the only good thing to come out of DC’s Silver Age treatment of Blackhawk. By the early ’60s the Blackhawks would end up fighting cheesy aliens and terrible, TERRIBLE super-villains for years upon years, until finally the Blackhawks were turned into super-heroes themselves for a short time before cancellation (though we were treated to two fantastic last issues written and drawn by Pete Morisi of Charlton Comics fame).

    The ’70s revival in the vein of James Bond was largely forgettable, but still much better than most of the ’60s, and a lot has already been said about the Evanier/Spiegle early ’80s series, as well as the Chaykin miniseries, so I won’t bother to rehash them.

    The ongoing Blackhawk series that followed their Action Comics Weekly stories is a really underrated series that deserves to be collected in trades. The writing is excellent, and the artwork is absolutely phenomenal, but then I’ve always been a huge fan of Rick Burchett. In a better world, Burchett’s fame would have taken off. Instead we got the Image guys and a lot of bad anatomy and cross-hatching. So much cross-hatching. Sigh.

    I won’t comment on anything past that series, since I haven’t read it, but as a huge Blackhawk fan I strongly oppose any attempts to update the character for a modern take. Every attempt thus far has been disastrous and wrongheaded. If you want a team of fighter pilots in space, create new ones. Just don’t call them the Blackhawks.

  17. The Evanier/Spiegel Blackhawk series occasionally turned up on the spinner racks of my alternative buying options like Gemco and B. Dalton Booksellers, but I never bought any new. I specifically recall being impressed by the audacity of Howard Chaykin’s cover to #257, with the smirking hero standing atop a smoldering swastika with twin automatics drawn. In 1988, my best friend got a grocery sack full of old comics that included some issues, so I read a few of those. I thought Domino was really hot and the War Wheel was alright. It 1989, I bought roughly the first 18-20 issues of Action Comics Weekly as back issues with the intention to save them for summer reading, but they all got stolen before then. I did read the first several Grell/Pasko/Burchett Blackhawk installments, and at least skimmed the rest. More often than not, it was the most enjoyable strip in a book I didn’t care much for, so I didn’t weep over their theft. In the mid-90s, I read the “Blood & Iron” mini, one of the Chaykinest books ever. When I had my shop, we had a few of the last issues of the original run from 1968 I at least thumbed through. I have vague memories of the 1992 Ostrander/Vosburg Special, as well.

    None of these books did much to make me think of Blackhawk as more than a somewhat more successful DC war comic hero well past his prime. Then I read the chapter of The Steranko History of Comics where Jim shared his love for the series, and I now love it second hand. I still haven’t read any great stories, but I adore Jim Steranko’s descriptions of the yarns he read in his youth. How Blackhawk basically appropriated the fashion and attitude of the Nazis while assuaging our guilt over digging on fascism by turning their Reich’s imagery against it. Blackhawk himself was an icy killer, while his men were a colorful collection of refugees from countries taken over by the Reich. Despite their all being pilots in modified Grumman XF5F Skyrockets, the team spent most of their adventures on their feet in exotic locales against heinous adversaries. I still haven’t gone back to read the earlier adventures Jim Steranko spoke of, even though they’re in the public domain and readily available online. Lack of time and fear of disappointment, I suppose. I’ve bought some issues of the 1976 and 1982 revivals dirt cheap, halfway liking the ones I’ve read with plans to try more for future blogging/podcasting.

    I suspect Blackhawk is another of the common instances of DC buying a successful property from another company, not understanding what made it work, and “fixing” it to death. For instance, I like the looks of those mid-50s Blackhawk books where they battle commies, cultists, and UFO invaders. Then DC takes over in 1957, the art is immediately blander, and they’re up against cheesball rejects from Strange Adventures. Then in 1964 they switch to the eyesore Christmas-colored theater troup suits. Then in 1967 the Justice League mocks the Blackhawks on a cover until they decide to become the worst super-team ever. Then cancellation and revival in the leasure suits with the v-necks plunging to their bellybuttons. Wooo DC, there’s no starting you now.

    I think the Blackhawk Squadron were such an inspiring model for team books that you could port the brand to other eras and genres, but if you make them Voltron or the X-Men or whatever, why call it Blackhawk anymore? The old squadron can work outside World War II, even into sci-fi and the 1960s, but I do think they need to be retired beyond that point. I like the idea of wartime groups like the Blackhawks having to pick up the JSA’s slack in the Atomic Age, routing the monsters and strange invaders in full blossom the Society would have once nipped in the bud. I’d like to see a modern day version of Blackhawk standing on his own as a soloist with a new squadron serving as his support staff/occasional private army. I put a lot of thought into how to adapt a new incarnation of Blackhawk into the modern metahuman world, and I see a ton of potential there.

    1. Funny, since the New X-Men (as they were known) were modeled after the international flavor of Blackhawk, by mega-fan Dave Cockrum. The only thing he didn’t do was put them in the same uniform. Cockrum later gave us Sky Wolf (not to be confused with the Hillman character, who was revived by Eclipse), in Marvel Fanfare.

      I read the same Steranko piece and have sampled some of the Golden Age stuff, beyond what DC has reprinted. There’s plenty of great stuff, with plots swiped from Terry & the Pirates and other newspaper strips, but made gorgeous by Reed Crandell’s art.

      1. I fully intend to dive into the public domain Blackhawk in… 2018 or so, by my calculations. I know that sounds like a gag, but really, I’m hopping to get into that material after wrapping podcast celebrations of all the comic book 75th anniversaries.

  18. Another great episode! I’m sad you are in the home stretch. I look forward to this show every week!

    I’d forgotten that Parobeck drew El Diablo!! I think I’ll have to look for these too! Sadly we’ll never see any new Parobeck art, so this is as close as I’m going to get. It’ll be new to me!!

    Batman foes? Ra’s al Ghul doesn’t rate for me! So there! Here are mine today (could change any moment). This also assumes that “Joker” is a given on every list:
    – Ventriloquist
    – Riddler (when done right)
    – Catwoman
    – Scarecrow
    – Two-Face

    Thanks again for another great show!!

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