Blackhawk 251 was the first war comic I ever read, I believe. I probably picked it up after reading in Comics Scene magazine that Steven Spielberg was interested in doing a movie version. (And, as it happens, the distant possibility of that is probably the reason the series was brought back at this point, anyway.) I'd certainly never heard of the series, and by starting with issue 251, it wouldn't have caught my eye as a new DC comic. Whatever the reason, I did pick it up, and thus became a lifelong love affair with the creative team of Mark Evanier and Dan Spiegle.
Okay, that may not be entirely accurate. I had probably read their work before, in the pages of Scooby-Doo at least. And I must have seen Spiegle's art in any number of Disney movie adaptations from Gold Key/Whitman. But this would have been the first time I had read a story from them as a collector, with a newfound awareness of creators' credits.
And, again, if I'm honest, it wasn't love at first sight. Still early in my comics collecting career, my ideal artists would have been George Perez on New Teen Titans, Keith Giffen on Legion of Superheroes, and Dave Stevens on the Rocketeer. This issue came out the same month as Batman Annual 8, still my favorite Batman story of all time, with Trevor Von Eeden's exciting new art style, so previous to this, I would have been mostly interested in slick, detailed artists. At the time, I told myself that Spiegle's work here was meant to deliberately evoke feelings of the crude Golden Age art I had seen. My early adolescent tastes hadn't actually grown at that point to embrace the idea that art could come in different styles, and each one could be equally good.
My grandfather had grown up in Germany as a Jew, and left before WWII, sensing which way the wind was blowing. As a twelve or thirteen year old kid, I knew just a little about his history, but didn't really understand what things must have been like. Reading this story, about the Nazis trying to force a small Dutch village to vote in favor of occupation, felt like I was finally getting a picture of the sort of world my grandfather had fled.
Viewed in context of the entire series, Blackhawk 251 is a good issue, but perhaps not the finest of the series. As an introduction, however, it's great. The cover, by Blackhawk fan Dave Cockrum, is an iconic image that effectively communicates the tone of the story. The first page, with its storybook retelling of Hitler's background, sets the scene, but it's only with the double-page splash on pages 2 and 3 that the reader is thrown into the action, literally.
The story itself is fairly simple, with the abduction and rescue of Blackhawk more a vehicle for retelling the group's origin than an important part of the plot in its own right. Having said that, it's told well, with both the writing and art working together extremely well.
The voice Evanier gives this comic is distinct and personable, almost as if we are listening to someone telling the story out loud. It's reminiscent of--and clearly inspired by--the great war comics of Robert Kanigher, but not as bombastic.
It's an effective first issue, which made me feel as if I understood the characters and the premise. While later issues, free of the burdens of introductions and exposition, gave us stronger stories, this one is just fine. It made me want to come back for more, which is the most important job of a first issue.