Cover Versions: BLACKHAWK

April 28th, 2012

Being an irregular series wherein I spotlight some particularly beautiful cover runs, from some comics you might have forgotten about, or never seen before. This time it’s the turn of Martin Pasko and Rick Burchett’s Blackhawk

 

This 1989 version of Blackhawk came hot on the heels of Howard Chaykin’s fairly radical reinvention of the characters after they’d languished for years unable to make the transition from daring WW2 flyboys into the spandex world. Chaykin’s solution was to take them back to their origins and he crafted a complex, occasionally impenetrable tale of intrigue black ops and treachery, which looked stunning but was fairly hard going.

Pasko & Burchett took Chaykin’s reinvented Hawks into an ongoing that dialed back the heavy design somewhat (not to mention the Chaykin patented ‘bastardry’ – their Blackhawk is a tad more roguish and likable)  and produced a pretty strong run. Pasko writes dense, involving espionage thrillers which luxuriate in period detail. They very much have a pulp flavour, but he attempts to add complexity and tackle issues of the day with a contemporary eye.

But for me it’s the work of Rick Burchett that provides the real hook though. I’m a huge fan of his work and it’s clean, strong sense of design and composition. He’s a fluid, adaptable cartoonist who has continued to evolve with each project – I’ve talked about him a bit in an earlier Cover Versions on the Black Hood and his work was most recently seen on the rather wonderful Batman: Brave & The Bold comic.

Each of the covers for the 16 issue run is pretty ace but I’ve selected 6 of my favourites. The first issue, at the top of this post, is just a great iconic first issue cover. I love the bold pulp layout of this – it does everything you want – it sells the swashbuckling nature of the protagonists, as they tower over a night time cityscape. Add in some searchlights and a soaring plane and you have a simply great cover. Also: Lady Blackhawk has triggered a hitherto unknown eyepatch fetish in me.

 

I love the simplicity of this cover – it’s alive with movement, and the lemon yellow background really makes it pop. Burchett’s confident, fluid line work is really on display too. Also: hot air balloons, mid-air knife fights = easy win.

 

 

A classic ‘Uh-oh!‘ cover this. I love a cover image that leads you into the comic, and this is a great feint tactic. We know the Blackhawks aren’t finished, but we’re intrigued nonetheless. I really like the sad look on Andre’s face too – ahhh, poor Andre! Don’t worry, you’ve got ten issues yet! Note again how Burchett chooses not to clutter the image with unnecessary backgrounds. His bold use of space is a continual feature of these covers.

 

 

A great use of negative space here with Blackhawk picked out against a black background. Once again it’s beautifully composed – look at the way the planes arc around the main figure, depicting the evolution of the strip through the change in aircraft. Simple, elegant and effective.

 

 

A nice collage image that signals the strips move into a 1950′s setting – each image surrounding the main characters an iconic representation of the US political tensions of the day. Aside from the dubious colourwork (‘yellow peril’ indeed!) this is just a strong, nicely laid out cover. I really like the font used as well. I haven’t mentioned it yet, but I also love the Blackhawk logo. It has a nice period tang, but is confidently modern in a way that reflects the increasingly graphically adventurous 1980′s.

 

 

Finally, possibly my favourite of the bunch, a cover that combines all the previous factors into one killer image. The composition is perfectly judged: a mid-shot of Blackhawk set against the quasi-silhouetted figure behind him, with planes arcing past. The grid of the map behind them serves only to enhance the near-geometric perfection of the image. Burchett’s confident brushwork is at it’s very best here too.  Check the smooth arc of Blackhawk’s scarf or the bouncing curls of  Lady Blackhawk. Add in the ever-present Blackhawk emblem on the compass (so very cool and iconic) and the whole thing just sings.

So there you go. If you fancy a dip in some pretty fun period espionage comics from a time when DC were actually trying to push a few boundaries, you could do a lot worse than get hold of some of these cheap. But for me it’s just a pleasure to soak up some more of that good Burchett art.

Now where do I find a girl with an eyepatch…?

4 Responses to “Cover Versions: BLACKHAWK”

  1. Martin Pasko Says:

    With no slight of all the solid fill-in art on this BLACKHAWK run intended:

    For all the reasons you cite and more, Rick Burchett is tied with Walt Simonson on my mental list of Favorite. Collaborators. In. Adventure. *Ever*. (I never worked with Howard directly, and I’m so jealous of writers like Andy Helfer who have that I don’t words to express it. And in humor, Joe Staton heads that list.) That said…

    Because those writing about Rick’s work usually attribute his well-deserved reputation only to his “animated style” DC Comics stuff, which displays less of the strengths you enumerate, I’m very grateful to you for bringing your readers’ attention to why I’m so proud to be associated with this. Rick’s earlier work for the Impact! line and his subsequent, direct collaborations with Howard also show his great talent for naturalistic adventure work, which so many super hero fan types overlook.

    A shout-out to my old friend Mike Gold, who first brought Rick to DC (if I have my history right), for handing me one of the happiest periods in my career to date.

    I love Rick’s work, and working with him. I’d kill to collaborate with him again sometime on a spec indie (listening, Rick?). Thanks, Mindless Ones, for giving more exposure to work I’m deeply proud of, thanks to Rick.

    (And, on a purely selfish note, I trust you’ll forgive me for not finding you quite so “mindless.”)

    Best,
    “Pesky”

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  3. tam Says:

    That’s some lovely artwork! It’s worth mentioning that’s not the only underrated Blackhawk run though. Mark Evanier and Dan Spiegle, (a great artist, who could draw just about anything) also did a great run prior to Chaykin’s reboot.
    They were some of the best kids’ war comics I’ve ever read and certainly the best American ones of their period; often downbeat and pointing out the ironies and tragedies of warfare in stories which owed more to the EC war comics than the gung ho heroism of, say Sergeant Rock which is I suspect why they’ve been quietly forgotten.

  4. The Beast Must Die Says:

    Thanks for stopping by Martin – nice to have your input as well. I’m a sucker for a lot of the work that DC was putting out back then – it seems so much more adventurous and idiosyncratic than today. Helfer’s Shadow, Giffen and DeMatties’ Dr Fate, O’Neill and Cowan’s Question, Wasteland …even some of the more gonzo stuff – Sonic Disruptors? Tailgunner Jo anyone…? – has at least something to recommend even a cursory look for any comic fan.

    Tam – thanks for the heads up. I’ll keep my eyes peeled.

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