The Blackhawk Comic Inspired by Opera and Operation Vengeance

War comics often contain a wealth of historical references just waiting to be unraveled.  Blackhawk included such historical touchstones from the very beginning.  The Blackhawks' plane was modeled after a real-life aircraft called the Grumman XF5F Skyrocket. The Grumman Skyrocket was part of a massive media blitz in newspapers and magazines across the country from 1940 to 1942, which generally touted the aircraft as the fastest and most deadly war machine to ever take flight. The XF5F never made it past the testing stage, but a successor model was later put into production.  This is far from the only such real-world historical reference in Golden Age Blackhawk comics, and Modern Comics #78 cover-dated October 1948 from Quality Comics is another fascinating example. There's a high-grade Modern Comics #78 CGC 8.5 available in Heritage's 2020 July 19-20 Sunday & Monday Comics, Animation, & Art Weekly Online Auction.

Modern Comics #78 featuring Blackhawk, cover-dated October 1948 from Quality Comics.
Modern Comics #78 featuring Blackhawk, cover-dated October 1948 from Quality Comics.

Modern Comics #78 was written by William Woolfolk and drawn by Reed Crandall. Both creators had a longtime association with Blackhawk.  Crandall served in the U.S. Air Force during World War II, while Woolfolk served in the Army.  Interestingly, while Woolfolk apparently didn't have a direct connection to the Air Force, he did continue his editorial association with the kind of aerospace technology that often appeared in later-era Blackhawk comics when he launched the aerospace industry magazine Space World in 1960.  Space World was published by Woolfolk, with fellow comics great Otto Binder as his editor.

The magazine's contributors included a number of aerospace industry heavy hitters, including Wernher von Braun in the debut issue. In another intriguing twist, Woolfolk later sold Space World to Raymond Palmer.  Palmer, the inspiration for the secret identity of the Silver Age version of diminutive DC Comics hero the Atom, was also a longtime friend of Otto Binder and DC Comics editors and writers such as Julius Schwartz and Mort Weisinger.  Palmer later became a pulp and magazine editor and publisher of note and was investigated by the FBI for his apparent role in helping to kickstart the UFO phenomenon. In short, Space World can be seen as a fascinating sort of continuation of Woolfolk's work on Blackhawk.

As for Modern Comics #78, the villain of the issue, Madame Butterfly, was obviously inspired by the opera of the same name, which was enjoying a resurgence in America around the time that this issue was written.  Based on various clues in story, the setting of this tale is the Maldives, a nation spanning 1192 islands in the Indian Ocean.  But most interestingly of all is this line from Madam Butterfly in the issue:

You see, I too, once loved a man! He was Mitsamo, chief of the Japanese Secret Intelligence! He died in the flaming plane of Admiral Yamamoto, killed in a Yankee sky ambush!

This is an obvious reference to Operation Vengeance, the retaliation against Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, commander in chief of the Japanese Navy, who had planned the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Interestingly, one can also plausibly say that his assassination was made possible by a security failure on the part of Japanese Signal Intelligence.

Modern Comics #78 CGC 8.5 contains references to important World War II history, and there's a copy available in Heritage's 2020 July 19-20 Sunday & Monday Comics, Animation, & Art Weekly Online Auction.

Modern Comics #78 featuring Blackhawk, cover-dated October 1948 from Quality Comics.
Modern Comics #78 featuring Blackhawk, cover-dated October 1948 from Quality Comics.

About Mark Seifert

Co-founder and Creative director of Bleeding Cool parent company Avatar Press. Bleeding Cool Managing Editor, tech and data wrangler. Machine Learning hobbyist. Vintage paper addict.

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