Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Star Spangled War Stories #144

Star Spangled War Stories #144 (On Sale: February 18, 1969) has a cover Joe Kubert.

Enemy Ace stars in "Death Takes No Holiday" by Robert Kanigher, Neal Adams and Joe Kubert. Von Hammer and his Jagdstaffel face a squadron of French fighters who wear skeletal attire. In their first encounter with the ghostly French squadron, one of von Hammer's men, Stephan, crash lands into a cemetery and Hammer leaps from his plane to pull him from his burning wreckage, just as it explodes. Somehow Hammer manages to get Stephan back to their field, but the Enemy Ace's hands are badly burned and he leaves Wilhelm in charge as he and Stephan head for the hospital.

Stephan has horrible nightmares of the burning plane and the French fighters sending him to "hades" while von Hammer is haunted by their ghoulish skull faces. Even when propositioned by the lovely Marlene von Hammer sees the skeletal images and knows he must return to his men. He and Stephan return to a shell-shocked Jagdstaffel as Wilhem's plane returns on fire and he barrels into the tarmac.

Hammer pulls him from his burning Fokker, but Wilhelm dies and Stephan states that he cannot fly again. Sensing that if Stephan does not return to the air now, he never will be able to, von Hammer orders Stephan to be his gunner and they head out to search for the hidden field of the French ghost squadron. They spy the squadron, but Stephan is at first paralyzed with fear, unable to shoot. Hammer does not fire his guns, waiting for Stephan to save himself and von Hammer. It works. When he finally snaps out of it, Stephan cuts down plane after plane. That night von Hammer is again plagued by the skull apparitions.

At dawn the ghost squadron attacks von Hammer's field and as Hammer takes off he finds a ghost plane on his tail, in the kill position. Just then Stephan comes out of nowhere and smashes into the trailing plane, saving von Hammer's life at the sacrifice of his own. Hammer follows one of the smoking French planes down and discovers the squadron's secret field, which he strafes repeatedly exploding fuel and ammo. The squadron takes to the air and follow von Hammer back to his field, where they surrender knowing they could never get back to a base of their own.

Von Hammer laments about the death of his country's youth and wonders what good it does, but as a soldier he knows he must return to the killer skies again and again until he himself must pay the ultimate price.

Alex Toth had asked to do an Enemy Ace story and Joe Kubert, being under the gun with his new editor duties on top of his existing artist duties readily agreed. Now Alex Toth had a reputation for taking liberties with scripts, so when Kubert gave Toth the Kanigher script, he instructed Toth not to change the story, which Kubert had already read and edited.

However, Alex Toth being Alex Toth, when Kubert got the artwork, it bore little resemblance to the Kanigher script. In Bill Schelly's Kubert biography "Man of Rock" Kubert says he told Toth: "...beautiful story, but it's not the one that Bob wrote...I will not publish it." This caused a rift in the friendship Kubert and Toth had developed over the years. I have seen versions of this cover where the box in the lower right corner read "Special Issue Story Illustrated by Alex Toth."

As for the Alex Toth Enemy Ace artwork, it was destroyed by water damage after Toth kept it in the trunk of his car for months.

Like last month's Teen Titans book, this is another case where Neal Adams came in and saved an editor's butt. Also according to "Man of Rock", Adams offered to help Joe out saying "It would be a great honor for me if you would allow me to pencil this book. You have a very, very tight deadline, you have other stuff to do (and) my schedule is not bad." After seeing the finished result, Kubert said of Adams' work here "It was like somebody had crawled into my mind."

Thanks to Steve Rowe and Sharon for helping me out on this one. It really helps to have readers who know their comics! Reprinted in Sgt. Rock #14, Enemy Ace Archives Vol. 2 HC and Showcase Presents: Enemy Ace Vol. 1 TPB.

Edited by Joe Kubert.

4 comments:

Sharon said...

Coincidentally, I just picked up the new Kubert biography "Man of Rock" by Bill Schelly a few days ago--and I'd read about how Neal Adams came to pencil this very story for editor Kubert!

Since Kubert and other artists had been promoted to editors under Infantino's regime, naturally their non-art related workloads and responsibilites increased. According to the book, Adams offered to help Joe out saying "It would be a great honor for me if you would allow me to pencil this book. You have a very, very tight deadline, you have other stuff to do (and) my schedule is not bad."

After seeing the finished result, Kubert said of Adams' work here "It was like somebody had crawled into my mind." The book cites a 1998 Adams interview as its source.

Steven Rowe said...

I have no idea of my source - but Toth changed the story without asking Kubert, so Kubert rejected it.
the artwork was destroyed by water damage as Toth kept it in the trunk of his car for months....

Sharon said...

Okay, I've reached the part in the Kubert bio that relates to this incident with Toth--it was not mentioned in the Neal Adams vignette I related earlier, but appears much later (closer to the end of the book). It's as Steve says: Toth asked to do an Enemy Ace story. Toth had a reputation for taking liberties with scripts, so when Kubert gave Toth the Kanigher script, he instructed Toth not to change the story (which Kubert had already read and edited).

When Kubert got the artwork, it bore little resemblance to the Kanigher script. The book quotes Kubert as saying to Toth: "...beautiful story, but it's not the one that Bob wrote...I will not publish it."
This caused a rift in their friendship (Kubert and Toth had known each other a long time).

The book does not specify the issue or the story, but in light of what I'm reading here it's clear it's about "Death Takes No Holiday."

-Keller said...

Thanks Steve and Sharon. I will rewrite this entry this weekend to take into account what you both have said which now sort of rings a bell with me too and sounds so much like something Toth would have done. Like I said, I have seen a copy of this cover with Toth's name on it as the special guest artist, so I know this is the issue. Thanks again!