COMIC REVIEW: Black Hawk The Intergalactice Gladiator

It was 1979, I was 11 years old, a black kid growing up in a London that was still trying to work out how to deal with its first generation West Indian citizens. An era in which the black guy never made it to the end of the movie and a year away from race riots caused by the “Sus laws” ( a law which allowed the police to act on suspicion, but was at that time perverted by racial profiling)

Into this arena, the English weekly comic Tornado landed and launched a series called Blackhawk.  Blackhawk was an African warrior of Nubian descent who was enslaved by the Romans.  His warriors pride was reinstated when he saw a desert hawk (symbol of his people woudn’t ya know).  The Hawk seems to adopt him and so our hero adopts the name Black Hawk.  Presumably because he is Black and has a Hawk. (See what they did there?)

Blackhawk and his fellow slaves are taken to a ship where the Arab auxiliaries turn on their Roman masters and attempt to kill everyone on board.  Showing the iron will and strength that will become his trademarks characteristics Blackhawk breaks his chains and helps defeat the Arabs, As a reward he is given his freedom and given the rank of Centurion. However due to the inevitable prejudice a Nubian faces in Rome he is left to find 100 men on his own.

And that’s the first 5 pages.

Blackhawk is forced to build his squad from  ex gladiators, criminals, and diseased outcasts.  Despite these humble beginnings his squad are soon acknowledged to be actually quite good and get sent on all the dirtiest missions finding themselves in German forests, Judea, Britain (fighting Boadicea) and back to Rome to face treacherous enemies in the senate. All the while wondering if he can trust his own men and facing racial prejudice at every turn.  Yep poor Blackhawk is facing it on all sides. However Blackhawks aforementioned determination wins through every time.  What stops the stories becoming run of the mill efforts is that Blackhawks sense of Justice allows him to see through the situation as it first appears and more than once he has to play a double bluff in order to outwit Rome as well as achieve his goals.  Throughout all his adventures his Hawk has been his constant companion, guiding him true and casting good omens.

This was all to change though. Blackhawk appeared in Tornado issue 4 and by issue 22, Tornado was done. It was amalgamated into the fantastic 2000AD.  Blackhawk was one of the only two strips to survive the transition but it needed to be Sci-fied up. So at th end of the last Tornado strip Blackhawk was beamed up to an intergalactic gladiator arena. The biggest problem here is that it was without his hawk so really his name should have been shortened to Black but I guess the inherent problems with that are obvious.

So now it all gets a bit wacky Blackhawk faces the terrors of the arena, space pirates, a hell dimension controlled by the Great Beast, has his soul stolen by a soul sucker and becomes friends with a giant singing bear called Ursa and a psychopathic dwarf called Zog.

The Tornado stories were written by Gerry Finley-Day and drawn superbly by Alfonso Azpiri.  The wacky space stuff was written mostly by Alan Grant and the majority of the art which was stunning (and had cleaner lines than Azpiri ) was by the late Massimo Belardinelli.

So, is it any good?  It has many many flaws. Prime among them is the prejudice experienced by Blackhawk from the Romans. While not overrun with black people, they certainly were not an alien sight at that time. Racial prejudice based solely on colour is a fairly recent invention. However this was the first time I had seen a black character take centre stage like this and experience things that I myself was experiencing. So I happily accept the artistic license. For this alone the story is relegated to greatness in my eyes.

The characterisation in both incarnations of the story is fairly week with no sense of a meaningful backstory.  However I loved Blackhawk, what he stood for, his pursuit of justice, his indomitable will. I loved his space adventures, even though I kept querying the absence of the hawk and his wacky companions were a source of delight.

The art was consistently fantastic. When Blackhawk looses his soul, his eyes become pupiless reflecting galaxies and nebulae from far away. The imagery has stayed with me for over 30 years, and that I think speaks for itself.

It is truly a product of its time and must be taken as such but reading Blackhawk in its entirety is a joy. And to it’s credit, no comic has done what this one has done. Buy it, read it, celebrate it.

ZOG!!

GS Reporter: Monts

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