Hawk faces off with The Claw. Artist: Will Eisner.


Original medium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: self-syndicated
First Appeared: 1936
Creator: Will Eisner
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Will Eisner, one of the greatest comic book cartoonists of all time, has been responsible for jungle heroes like Sheena, sports heroes like Rube Rooky, military heroes like Blackhawk, cop heroes like John Law and superheroes like Samson, Doll Man, The Black Condor and many more. The very first success of his many famous comics heroes was both a seafaring man and (apparently, at least) an aristocrat — a …

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… notorious pirate, said the authorities, but one who worked tirelessly for the cause of freedom and justice — the hero of his syndicated comic Hawks of the Seas.

Through most of his brief existence, that hero went by the name "The Hawk". Readers never saw him called by another. He was the only "Hawk" in the series, tho both nouns in the series title were plural. In Spanish (most of the comic's circulation was overseas, and the Spanish-language version was collected into the comic book Paquin in South America) series and man were both "Aguila Azul" ("Blue Eagle").

The Hawk was first seen in 1936 as The Flame (no relation, tho that's another one by Eisner), credited to Eisner's pseudonynm, "Willis B. Rensie". The teenaged Eisner had submitted it to editor S.M. "Jerry" Iger earlier that year, and Iger published it in his Wow Comics (which had no connection to the Wow Comics that started in 1940 featuring Mr. Scarlet and, later, Mary Marvel). Wow lasted only four issues, but within a couple of years, Eisner and Iger were in business together, with Iger mainly handling the business and Eisner mostly on the creative side.

Most of their work involved producing packaged comic book features, ready for publishers like Fiction House and Fox to send straight to the printer, such as Shark Brodie and Wonder Man. But they also syndicated a Sunday page, re-running the old "Flame" material under a new name, and continuing the story. Hawks of the Seas, still under the "Rensie" by-line, began in 1937.

The story opened with The Hawk's arch-foe, "Claw" Carlos (so-called because he had a hook in place of his left hand) plotting nefarious deeds. The Hawk was already working to foil them by the end of the first page, and of course there was a princess involved, and you know how it goes.

One of the problems The Hawk had with Claw was that he did business with slavers, working to facilitate the subjugation of men to do the hard work of taming the American continents. Political correctitude was scarcely a gleam in the eyes of would-be social reformers, but Eisner already had his hero take a principled stand against the practice, even as it was getting started in this part of the world. In fact, Eisner's hero had become The Hawk in the first place after being forced into life outside the law because he refused to tolerate slavery.

Eisner's artistry, and his understanding of the comics medium increased noticeably during the course of this comic. Scholar Dave Schreiner (whose editorial and production work at Kitchen Sink Press includes books on Alley Oop and Fearless Fosdick) has noted an abrupt improvement in Eisner's storytelling sense about 3-4 months into the weekly pages, which might correspond to a hiatus between what was published in or scheduled for Wow, and the story's resumption as a newspaper comic. In any case, anyone interested in the development of a major talent can see the beginning of Eisner's progression from neophyte to grandmaster in Hawks of the Seas.

But as his mastery of the medium developed, he was moving on to new work (such as The Spirit, which became his most famous creation), and Hawks of the Seas had to give way. By 1940, it was over. A total of 127 pages were produced, As The Hawk, it was printed in the American Jumbo Comics (Sheena, Sky Girl), starting in its first issue, but it was mostly forgotten.

In 1986, using proofs rescued from oblivion during childhood and preserved ever since by artist and collector Al Williamson (Star Wars, Flash Gordon), Kitchen Sink Press (Steve Canyon, Li'l Abner) reprinted it in a tabloid-size deluxe compilation — which stands today as the definitive edition of Hawks of the Seas.


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Text ©2010 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Will Eisner Estate.