by Doc Quantum
Will Hawk moaned loudly and awoke with a start, his heart pounding fast as a jackhammer.
“Are you all right, Will?” said the beautiful blonde Veronica Lake lookalike standing over him with a concerned look on her face.
“It was just the dream again,” he replied.
“Is there anything I can do to help?”
Will couldn’t help but smile at the look of worry on Zinda Blake’s face. “I’m OK, honey. I could use a kiss, though.”
Zinda leveled her eyes at him. “I think you’re doing better. Personally, I think you’d be better off with a cold shower.”
He laughed lightly at that, glad for the company. The dream and variations of it had been plaguing him for the last two months, ever since he left California. If only it was nothing more than a dream, he thought. If only it wasn’t so close to the truth.
“Come on,” Zinda said, tossing him his clothes and opening up the curtains to let the morning sunshine in. “The Vice President’s waiting for you. You don’t want to keep him waiting like you did last time.”
“The V.P.’s an old family friend of mine,” said Will, smiling. “I really don’t think he’ll mind too much.”
Zinda looked back at him, deadly serious. “I think this time is an exception. President Richards is waiting for you as well, with some special guests they want you to meet. Now get ready.” At that, she stepped outside and closed the door just enough to give him privacy to change into his clothes.
Several moments later, Will and Zinda were walking together down the length of the White House hallways to the Oval Office. Will was again proudly dressed in uniform, this time for his chief commanding officer. Two Secret Service men at the door to the Oval Office allowed them in.
“Will! How are ya, bud?” said the Vice President, a smile on his face as usual. Even after he was drafted into politics, he’d always been an easygoing, down-to-earth kind of guy — except when he got angry, and it took a lot to get him angry.
“I’m doing much better, Mr. Vice President,” Will replied.
“I’ll have none o’ that, m’boy. Y’can always call me Chuck. If it was good enough for your father — may he rest in peace — it’s good enough for you.”
“Now, now, Chuck. You’re embarrassing the boy,” said the man next to him, the President of the United States of America. He extended a welcoming hand to the young pilot. “Dan Richards. Pleased to meet you, Captain Hawk.”
“The honor is all mine, sir — and you can call me Will,” he said, shaking his hand. As a president, Donald Daniel Richards — known affectionately to the public as DDR — was easily as popular as his predecessor, Brian O’Brien, and almost as well-regarded as JFK or FDR.
President Richards examined the U.S. Air Force pilot soberly. “Son, we’ve brought you here to the White House for a reason. Chuck, here, has assured me that you’re every bit the man that your father was, maybe even more. What I want to know is — are you?”
Will hadn’t expected the question. “I could never replace my father, sir. He was a hero.”
“I’m not asking if you could replace your father, Will,” said the president. “I’m asking you if you’re up to the task we’re about to propose to you.”
The son of Blackhawk stopped to consider. He was being put to the test, he knew. The President wanted to see if he was made of the right stuff.
“I am, sir,” he said with conviction. “Consider me at your service.”
President Richards continued to examine him, his stare evenly met by the young pilot’s matching gaze. Finally, the President smiled and patted Will on the shoulder. “I think Chuck may be right about you, after all. You are every bit your father’s son.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Will, I’d like you to meet a few brave young men — young people, that is — pilots like yourself. You may know some of them, may have heard of the others.” The President motioned to a couple of Secret Service agents to bring them in.
A smile broke upon his face as Will recognized the first man. “Jimmy!” he said excitedly as he regarded his longtime friend. Thanks to their fathers being members of the famed Blackhawks, the two had known each other their whole lives. “What brings you here? I thought you were living up in Vancouver now.”
Jimmy Chan smiled, nodding at the President and Vice President, and replied, “Hopefully for the same reason you’re here, Will. Our countries need us.”
The next man to walk in was Dmitri Pushkin. Will had heard of him and his so-called Rocket Red Squadron over in Russia. If the reports were true, this man could equal the best American pilots any day. Will shook his hand and was received with a wide, crooked smile behind the Russian’s beard.
Behind the two men walked Elsa Hendrickson, daughter of the famed Hans Hendrickson of the Blackhawks. Will greeted his old friend with a warm hug, biting back a patronizing remark about how beautiful she had become, now that she was all grown up.
Two other men Will didn’t recognize followed her in, one a regal-looking black man and the other a Spaniard who resembled another of his so-called uncles.
“Will, I’d like you to meet Reed Grover-Baines of England,” said the President.
The Englishman stepped up and shook Will’s hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“The pleasure is all mine,” said Will. “Am I correct in assuming that you’re the pilot responsible for rescuing the Queen and bringing the Royal Family to safety in Canada?”
Reed smiled politely and said, “You’re giving me too much credit. It was Sir Justin Sheldrake who saved the Royal Family. I just came along for the ride.”
“No need to be modest, Reed,” said the President. “You were, after all, the co-pilot.” He turned to another man. “And this is Paco Herrera. He’s Andre Blanc-Dumont’s nephew.”
“So you’re Andre’s nephew!” said Will ecstatically as he shook the Spaniard’s hand.
“Yes,” Paco said with a slight accent as he returned the handshake. “My mother was Andre’s half-sister.”
“He was a good man,” said Will. “I was very young when he was killed, but I remember how he always had chocolate for me.”
“Ladies and gentlemen,” President Richards said, addressing the seven men and women in the room, “the reason I’ve brought you all here is this. As you all know, the unthinkable has happened — Nazi Germany, thought to be long extinct, has risen again from the underground and attacked our world. Even the continental United States has been attacked and partly occupied by an Imperial Japanese faction working with the Nazis. No single goverment has been able stop them yet, nor should any of us try to go it alone in the face of this worldwide crisis.
“Our world has been attacked by a very powerful enemy, one that has held everyone under its thrall before, and one that seeks to do so again. The only thing stopping them are the hearts and minds of good people all over this green Earth. But the battle for morale, which is the first battle we need to win, is one of the most difficult battles of all.
“We’ve all seen the Nazi propaganda and the claims they’ve made that extraterrestrials — aliens from the planet Mars, no less — are helping them win this war. The Nazis claim that the Martians have recognized the so-called superiority of the Aryan race and have rallied behind it, supporting the Nazi cause with amazing technology and their greatest warrior, whom they’re calling the Manhunter.”
President Dan Richards wore a look of disgust as he said the name. It had been decades since he’d been a rookie policeman who took the law into his own hands as the vigilante crime-fighter known as the Manhunter, but he knew the choice for that name was deliberate.
“The Nazis are currently winning the war for morale, ladies and gentlemen,” continued the President. “Some of us may laugh at the idea of a Manhunter from Mars, but I can assure you that the people of Russia are not laughing. As Dmitri can tell you, this genetic abomination the Nazis are calling the Manhunter is currently slaughtering hundreds of men, women, and children every day in the Ukraine and Russia.”
“Da. It is true,” said Dmitri grimly. “I have seen the monster at work myself. He has slaughtered village after village, almost enjoying it. It is like he does not even care as much about the military victory as the killing itself.”
“And as if that were not enough,” continued President Richards, “this so-called Martian is the leader of a group of sadistic men with super-powers who have also been given the names of our world’s heroes. The S.S. Ubermenschen is no joke, people. With the Freedom Fighters gone missing ever since the Crisis on Infinite Earths and the lack of any real opposition, this team of Nazi super-agents has captured the public’s imagination in a way we never dreamed possible only two months ago.
“To add insult to injury, except for the Ray, the names that most of these men have taken — the Red Torpedo, Magno, the Invisible Hood, Neon the Unknown — are the names of some of our dearest heroes. The men who originally held these names died in a mission led by Uncle Sam to prevent a sneak attack on a U.S. naval base called Pearl Harbor. While they were unknown at the time, the world now knows how they died in a valiant but doomed attempt to stop a war. They may not have stopped a war, but their deaths brought about a much larger and more powerful team of Freedom Fighters that did eventually help win that war. (*) And I will tell you this, ladies and gentlemen — I won’t have their names dragged through the mud much longer.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Crisis on Earth-X: The Prequel,” All-Star Squadron #32 (April, 1984).]
“Uncle Sam and his Freedom Fighters may be missing either temporarily or for good, but we can’t pause for one minute to wonder where they are or whether they survived the Crisis at all. (*) What the world needs now, more than ever, are heroes.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Freedom Fighters: The Fight Continues.]
“Your fathers, Will, Jimmy, and Elsa, and your uncle, Paco — they fought and died battling this evil that has been set loose upon the world once again, leaving behind only two survivors. As Chuck can tell you, it wasn’t an easy fight. And they lost good men along the way. But they never gave up, even in the face of certain destruction. As you all know, the world lost the Blackhawks in 1968 when they made a valiant but doomed attempt to destroy the Nazi mind-control devices before they went on-line and enslaved the entire world. As one of the precious few unaffected by the rays, I can tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that in 1968 things looked bleaker than they ever had before. And yet, a mere five years later, the scourge of Nazism was wiped clean from the face of the world.
“Today we face another disaster of seemingly unsurmountable proportions. Mere hours after the Crisis, as the world was just starting over and picking up the pieces, we learned that Nazism was not merely something to be remembered as a dark blot in history, but that it lives on to this day. We learned that the moment those Nazi bastards came from nowhere and overran the globe in a record amount of time, establishing a Fourth Reich and turning the world back to war. And now the fight continues. It’s almost as if the last thirteen years had never even occurred, as if those years of peace had been a mere interval between times of war. But I will tell you this: It won’t be another five years before the world regains its freedom. I know this, because even without the Freedom Fighters, the world still has heroes. And heroes are what the world needs now more than ever.”
President Dan Richards paused to look into the faces of each of the men and women standing in front of him and said, “Will, Zinda, Jimmy, Elsa, Reed, Paco, Dmitri — the world needs all seven of you to stand against the powers of darkness. The world needs the Blackhawks once more. Will you be the heroes that our world so desperately needs? Will you be the new Blackhawks?”
Captain William Hawk looked around the room. He saw Zinda smile at him, and Jimmy give him a slight nod. He saw the others nod their assent as well, and he looked at Vice President Chuck Wilson, who gave him a thumb’s-up sign.
“I think I speak for us all, sir,” said Will, grinning, “when I say we’d be proud to serve.”
“If Uncle Sam were here, I know what he’d say,” said the President, smiling broadly. “We beat ’em before — and we can beat ’em again!”
Vice President Chuck Wilson shouted in a Texan drawl, “And don’t forget to give ’em hell, boys!”
The room erupted with applause and the famous whooping cry of the Blackhawks: