DC Comics History: Enemy Ace (1964 - 1967: The New Look)
By Deejay Dayton
April 4, 2020 - 07:07
Enemy Ace made his debut during the period 1964 – 1967: the New Look. He made three back-up appearances in Our Army at War before moving into a two issue try-out in Showcase, and I have always wondered if that was a way of testing the waters, or preparing the reader. After all, as the character’s moniker implies, this is a war story from the point of the view of the “bad guy.” Enemy Ace is pretty clearly based on Baron Von Richtoven, the Red Baron, and making him the protagonist demands that Allied fighter pilots will take the role of the antagonists in the tales. The stories were written by Robert Kanigher, and he used them to discuss the madness and futility of war, while Joe Kubert executed some visually stunning art in the dogfights.
Hans Von Hammer, the Enemy Ace, made his debut in Our Army at War 151, the first of three back-up outings in that book. Set during World War I, these tales give the hero role to a German flyer, but one who takes no pleasure in the violence of war. Hans Von Hammer is, nevertheless, an extremely adept pilot and gunman, and gets the better of all the Allied flyers who face him. On the ground, Hans finds it difficult to relate to other people. Right from this first story, he has his wolf companion, who he meets while out hunting. The wolf is the only one Hans considers can really understand him. It's a sad but powerful series, even if this first instalment is pretty basic. It does, however, set up the basic format that the bulk of Enemy Ace stories will follow.
The Enemy Ace story in Our Army at War 153 develops a bit more of the format for the character. Between his successful bouts in the air against Allied forces, Hans Von Hammer deals with the two ways that people treat him on the ground. Some are distant, considering him a not-quite-human killing machine, while other fawn over him, and cannot understand why he does not take pleasure in his vast collections of trophies for his kills. The plot of the tale has to do with a photographer, taking pictures of the various German flyers before they begin their sorties. The flyers all wind up getting killed on the days their pictures are taken, and come to believe that it is bad luck. Hans has no patience for this, and though he has no real interest in a commemorative photo, he allows one to be taken to show his men that their beliefs are silly. Hans does almost die in that day's fighting, but prevails. Ironically, it's the photographer on the ground who winds up getting strafed.
The last story, from Our Army at War 155, begins with Hans Von Hammer chasing and shooting down an English flyer, only at the end realizing that the other pilot's guns had jammed. He regrets this conflict, feeling that he had an unjust advantage, and spends his time on the ground, and with his wolf, feeling bad about it. Another English pilot, furious with Von Hammer for taking advantage of his enemy, challenges him to a duel. Von Hammer accepts the challenge, but goes up without guns. He deftly avoids being shot, and the English pilot realizes that Von Hammer has no guns with him. The English pilot understands what this means, and that Hans had not knowing killed his friend. Very nicely done.
After the three “set-up” tales, Kanigher and Kubert took Hans Von Hammer, the Enemy Ace, into Showcase 57. The story is very much of the format for Enemy Ace tales. Hans Von Hammer is an ace pilot, fighting for the German side during World War 1. The opening of the story sees him taking down a French flyer. But while everyone else in his squadron rejoices in his victories, Hans takes no pleasure in the bloodshed, and has little respect for his idolizing comrades. He takes off to hunt in the woods, bonding with the wolf that he considers his only friend. This story pits him against the Hunter, a Canadian pilot with a reputation as a great dogfighter. This is clearly based on Billy Bishop, who did actually have an encounter with Baron Von Richtoven, the inspiration for Enemy Ace.
Hans sees two German pilots fleeing from the Hunter and forces them to battle the Canadian. The men both die, and Hans, who has been seriously injured, decides he must meet the Hunter and avenge them. One of the recurring themes in this series is the meaninglessness of the victory cups that Hans keeps being awarded. Kubert illustrates that most powerfully in this story. The climax of the tale has Hans and the Hunter in deadly battle with each other. The story makes them virtually equals, and both wind up injuring the other, and forcing the other's plane to crash. Hans is not critically wounded in the crash, but the Hunter is. The triumph does not go to the better pilot, simply the more fortunate one. A hollow victory, which helps make for a powerful story.
The second and last Enemy Ace issue of Showcase, number 58 is pretty much a pure battle issue, with Hans Von Hammer taking on a number of French flyers. Once again he has some frightened comrades who he forces into the air, and once again that proves fatal. This one details more of his clever flying techniques, although Hans does get shot down by a French pilot, the One-Eyed Cat. He has his normal period off hunting with his wolf. This time he comes across an injured woman. Another of the tropes in the series is the women who are attracted to Hans, but then repulsed by his coldness. As if he were death itself. Hans recovers and takes to the air again, challenging and defeating the One-Eyed Cat. The issue ends with the standard request for readers to write in to see more of Enemy Ace. The response must not have been overwhelming. It took three more years for Enemy Ace to return, with a cover series in Star Spangled War Comics.
Enemy Ace returns in the next period, 1967 – 1970: It’s a Happening!
Enemy Ace: Our Army at War 153, 155, 157 (Feb 65, Apr 65, June 65)
Showcase 57, 58 (July/Aug – Sept/Oct 65)
Next up – Immortal Man!
Last Updated: May 19, 2020 - 12:25
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