Sunday, October 04, 2009

Showcase #57

Of course, DC only dared to reveal the enemy side of World War I; I doubt they would have been willing to do a similar series on WWII. It's tempting to attribute this to the success of the Snoopy versus the Red Baron strips appearing in Charles Schultz's Peanuts comic strip (and the hit songs by the Royal Guardsmen), but according to the Wikipedia entry on the latter, Snoopy's first battle against the Red Baron didn't take place until 1966, while this issue is cover dated July-August 1965. Perhaps there is a third source which influenced both Schultz and Robert Kanigher, the writer of the Enemy Ace stories?

Incidentally, this is not Enemy Ace's debut; that actually came a few months earlier in Our Army At War #151 (February 1965). He's clearly based on Manfred von Richtofen, the famed Red Baron; they're both aristocrats, both the greatest ace of the war for the German side.

As the story begins we learn that Hans von Hammer is a killing machine, and as we watch, we learn how apt that description is. On an apparently uneventful patrol, von Hammer is attacked:

At the same time, he spots a British bomber attacking a German train. Using the bomb blasts as cover, he manages to elude the Hanriot, then shoot it down, followed by the bomber:

This gives you a pretty good idea of the general format of the series. It was long on details about the planes and their armaments, terrific in covering aerial tactics, and very much obsessed with the concept of honor and courage. Von Hammer genuinely admires his enemies, at least those who fight with valor.

In the second part of the story, we see von Hammer alone, recuperating from a wound he suffered during the battle. He meets up with a wolf in the Black Forest, who is also a hunter. Again we get insight as to what the Enemy Ace values in his companions:

Later, he spots two other German fighter pilots running from a single Canadian ace, known as the Hunter. Furious with them, he insists that they answer the challenge with him:

Von Hammer watches on the sidelines as the two German pilots battle the Canadian again. The Hunter brilliantly eludes the German on his tail and loops around to shoot him down. Then he plays a little game of chicken:

The second German pilot blinks first, and the Canadian guns him down, winning the duel. Von Hammer was there as an observer only, but both aces know that the next time they meet, one of them will die. Not that Enemy Ace has any doubt who that will be:

Afterwards, von Hammer shoots down a Spad that had destroyed two German observation balloons. Then it is time for the climactic battle:

And the aerial battle ends with both planes crippled and crashing to the ground. Von Hammer tries to capture the enemy pilot, but:

Comments: This is as good as it gets in the Silver Age; complex characters and thrilling battle sequences drawn by Joe Kubert, DC's dean of war comics, with an intelligent script by Bob Kanigher.