How many Polocks does it take to lose WWII?
None. Really, no joke; those guys were badasses.
When Germany rolled across the border, the Poles put up a hell of a fight, killing 16,000 Nazis and destroying 1/3 of Hitler's armored vehicles in just about a month of battle. This didn't cripple the German army, but it did slow them down significantly, allowing Poland's allies, England and France, time to get ready for war. Poland's government escaped and reformed in London, raising an effective army, air force and navy in absentia, while the Armia Krajowa (Home Army) stayed in Poland and acted as spies and saboteurs against the occupying forces - hundreds of thousands of resistance soldiers fighting for their homeland. The Polish Air Force did more than any other country to defend England during the Battle of Britain. It was the Poles who broke the famous Enigma cipher, allowing the Allies to keep track of what the Germans were up to, and Polish operatives who infiltrated the concentration camps and told the world what was happening there. Poland was the only occupied country that didn't put up a Nazi-sympathizing puppet government after the Germans invaded, and despite being the first country targeted in the war, they never surrendered. And how do we honor all that? With jokes about screen doors on submarines.
Even in fiction, the Poles were recognized as capable warriors, as evidenced by Quality Comics' Blackhawk. A Polish emigrant in America, Janos Prohaska was outraged when Germany invaded his home country. He returned to Europe and joined the Polish resistance, flying night strikes in a jet-black airplane. Unfortunately, one night he was followed home, and his family was killed by German bombs. Like so many pulp heroes before him, the young aviator swore vengeance.
Now alone in the world, Jan took the name Blackhawk and began striking back at the Axis on his own, without any official governmental sanction. Other pilots, hearing rumors of Blackhawk, sought him out and joined him in his mission, forming the greatest volunteer paramilitary unit in history and taking their squadron callsign from their leader: the Blackhawks. They had a fight song and everything.
There was at least one Blackhawk figure before, as part of the 12" GIJoe line, but this is his very first appearance in the modern action figure scale. Part of DC Direct's New Frontier line, Blackhawk ships in a display box rather than a blister card. The packaging isn't jaw-droppingly impressive or anything, but the colors they used for it - sort of an aged red and blue - look really nice and help the figure stand out on the shelf.
Originally published by Quality Comics (home, too, of Plastic Man), Blackhawk was designed by Chuck Cuideria, and he cuts quite the dashing figure. Much like Timely Comics' Captain America, Blackhawk adopted enemy imagery to turn it into a positive. While Cap stole the racial stereotype, Blackhawk took the clothes. As Cuideria said, "the Germans had designed such great costumes, we decided to use them ourselves. It was like fighting fire with fire." He designed Blackhawk as a man in black leathers - if you didn't know any better, this could be an SS officer (uh-oh, no one tell Sid Cyngiser - he might over-react to something he doesn't understand).
In his New Frontier series, artist Darwin Cooke looked to fill the gap between DC's Golden and Silver Age stories. His art had a minimalist, almost animated look to it, and the figures in this series reflect that well. Blackhawk is dressed much like Lobster Johnson, which makes sense since they're both WWII commandos. He's got knee-high boots, starched jodhpurs, a front-buttoning jacket and an officer's cap. The lines are very blocky, to match the artwork, and the wrinkles are really carved into the surface with a vengeance. It's like a smoother version of Mezco's Hellboy figs. The buttons and emblem on his chest are fully sculpted elements, and his bundled scarf just peeks out of the upturned collar of his jacket.
Blackhawk was once described by artist Jim Steranko as "the Tyrone Power of comics," and you can definitely see that in this figure. His eyes peer out sternly from below the brim of his cap, and he looks broodingly serious. His face is a bit square, re-creating Cooke's art well, and he's got a small cleft in his chin. Even in a world with Superman and Batman, this is obviously not a guy you want to fool with. Blackhawk will mess you up.
The paint is solid, if not very impressive. This is an almost all-black figure, after all. Johnny Cash thinks this guy could use a little color in his wardrobe. The blacks are all matte, even the leather gloves and boots, but there are crisp silver details painted on, and the Blackhawk symbol (which isn't one of the many seen in the old comics) is painted perfectly. They even painted the little bags under Blackhawk's eyes.
Articulation is good. BH moves at the boots, knees, hips, wrists, elbows, balljointed shoulders, balljointed head and yes... wait for it... at the waist. Amazing! That's, like, what, three DCD figures now that have waists? Victory is on the march! The bottom part of his jacket is soft plastic, so it won't get in the way of the hip articulation, but it would have been nice if they'd worked out some kind of bicep swivel so Blackhawk could put his arms behind his back, to stand at ease.
You really want to be impressed, though, look at the accessories. Well, first we get a sort of '50s-styled display base to unify the line,
though they can all stand fine on their own. It's the sort of amoebic swoop that you'd see as the tabletop pattern in some roadside diner or as the face of a clock in a retro housewares collection. There's actually a false top on the base, allowing a translucent circle to show through the light metallic blue paint, showcasing the name of the line. The base is a bit taller than most, but it's designed nicely. However, that's not the truly impressive feature.
Tucked inside the working holster on Blackhawk's right hip is a "Broomhandle" Mauser C96 - you nerds out there will recognize that as the gun George Lucas turned into Han Solo's blaster. The gun is silver and has a painted brown handle simulating the wood grips.
In a great attention to detail, they even included the metal loop that hangs off the butt of the Mauser. If they stopped right there, this would still be a very cool accessory. But Blackhawk has another working pouch a bit further back on his belt, and when you open that one, you'll find two unspeakably small magazines for the gun. Yes, they come out of the pocket, and yes, either one will fit snugly in the gun (though it might be a bit hard to get back out, and easy to lose). That's freaking awesome! This is a ToY contender.
Blackhawk was a very down-to-earth hero, leaving aside the fact that he flew an amazingly advanced jet and called a secret island base his home. In fact, he was something of a forerunner to today's grim anti-heroes. Like Wolverine, he was originally a man of mystery with no solid past - his real name and back story were filled in much, much later. He didn't use crazy gadgets like Batman - rather than a batarang or a gas gun, he used a real semi-automatic handgun, like the Punisher would today. Even his plane, advanced though it may have been, was an existing model. Blackhawk was the comicbook hero with real-world credibility.
Unfortunately, that was also his undoing - when you're a character dedicated to eradicating Nazis, eventually there's no one left to eradicate. Even if you don't get them all, Father Time's got your back. Janos is dead, according to official DC continuity, but you can bet he went out with his eyes on the skies.
Who's your favorite WWII character? Tell us on our message board, The Loafing Lounge