Monday, 30 March 2009

Enemy Ace

Enemy Ace was a great series that ran in various DC war books throughout the Bronze Age. Written by Bob Kanigher & illustrated by Joe Kubert, it was set in World War 1 and followed the adventures of Hans Von Hammer, Germany's greatest fighter pilot in the War To End All Wars.

Von Hammer is one of comics' greatest conflicted hero's. Feared as much by the young fliers who serve with him ( who refer to him in hushed whispers as The Human Killing Machine ) as by his enemies ( to whom he's known as The Hammer Of Hell ), he's an unutterably lonely man.
Born into nobility, and with no talent for anything other than fighting & killing, he spends just about every episode torturing himself over the destruction he causes, and waiting, almost eagerly, for the day when it'll be his turn to be shot out of the sky.
He also considers himself one of the few men to be fighting the war with honour, constantly giving enemy pilot's another chance to live, as if he was fighting some kind of duel. The fact that, often, his enemies lack the same mercy is immaterial to him.
Von Hammer has no friends, and though women are always attracted to his mystique, it never takes too long before they're fleeing from his arms & the scent of death that always surrounds him.
His only companion is a mysterious wolf he hunts with in the depths of the Black Forest, a companion that may only exist in his tortured mind, or may even be the spirit of Death itself.

Not exactly cheery stuff then. But it's also incredibly readable. Kubert, here at the peak of his powers, draws Von Hammer as everybody's idea of a german aristocrat, with a kind of cruel, distant sadness about him, and although each episode is more or less the same story ( Von Hammer always walks with the wolf, his pilots always talk about him, he always regrets winning the battle ), Kanigher does ring the changes enough to keep you reading. There are interesting visual concessions to the superhero book too, both in Von Hammer's Hawkman like headgear, and in colourful villains like The Hangman, Steve Savage & St. George.
But in the end, it's Rittmeister Von Hammer and his endless, lonely war that keep you reading; He's just one of those characters that stays with you.
Here's a great episode: The Devil's General. For more, get Showcase Presents Enemy Ace. And quickly, for the sky is killer of us all...

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