Friday, October 16, 2009

Star Spangled War Stories #148

Star Spangled War Stories #148 (On Sale: October 16, 1969) has another wonderful Enemy Ace cover by Joe Kubert.

We begin with Enemy Ace in "Luck is a Puppy Named Schatzi" by Robert Kanigher and Joe Kubert. This is just a neat little tale of Von Hammer and a puppy. It is the kind of story that Enemy Ace was created to tell, for it gives you an unsettling feeling of death waiting around every corner, of the uneasy feeling of being in war and Hans Von Hammer's acceptance of this unreal reality and his small part in the bigger picture. This is wonderful stuff and Joe Kubert was at the top of his game in 1969, of that there is no doubt.

A small puppy sniffs around the Jagdstaffel field before running out to play in the grass, not knowing that he is playing on a runway until a squadron returns and lands almost on top of him. Von Hammer finds the dog under his plane, his foot damaged and he takes the dog in. The other pilots cannot believe that the Hammer of Hell is cuddling a puppy, but hammer sees Schatzi as another soldier injured in the perilous war. The next day Schatzi rides with Hammer to the coast near Cuxhaven where English planes have been using a battle ship for an air base and inflicting much damage.

Hammer's squadron arrive to find Cuxhaven in flames and as they move in closer the English fly out from behind the columns of thick black smoke and attack. Hammer watched one of his men, Kurt, on his second patrol, go down in flames. Hammer gets his men under control and they begin to attack the English who quickly turn and run back through the dark pillars of smoke. Hammer and his men follow only to find the battleship off the coast, now shooting at them. Hammer maneuvers the English Sopwiths in behind him and they follow as he hoped they would. he then dives toward the battleship and sips sideways between the ships funnels, while the less maneuverable Sopwiths impact into the ship in a fiery crash.

When they return to base his men congratulate Hammer but he asks them who will congratulate Kurt (whose name has morphed into Josef in the last three pages) who went down in flames over Cuxhaven? Hammer then takes his good luck charm Schatzi off into the woods to meet the black wolf who sometimes seems to be Hammer's only real friend. When they return to the Jagdstaffel Hammer is informed that his squadron is to provide air support for a drive into France.

In perfect Kanigher fashion they fly into France though a downpour and Hammer tells Schatzi, "Stay under my collar, little one...this rain will not last for long...then the sun will dry us out! Do not whimper, Schatzi...only the heavens my cry in war!" They fly into a pitched battle with the British depicted with amazing skill by Joe Kubert. It is during this battle that the cover scene happens, as Hammer summer-saults to dislodge a pursuer, Schatzi falls from his cockpit. In other comics there would have been some amazing heroics to save the small pup, but this is Enemy Ace and Schatzi falls to his death...and Von Hammer goes berserk! Or as Kanigher puts it, "Like a madman, the Hammer of Hell tears into battle--wreaking a terrible havoc..."

In the aftermath his men return to Germany and their Jagdstaffel, but Hammer does not return with them. One says they saw him land amidst the dead, "It--it was horrible! Like something out of Dante's Inferno! Perhaps...he landed to confirm his kills! He is truly a killing machine!" But of course he landed to properly bury Schatzi. Reprinted in Enemy Ace Archives Vol. 2 HC and Showcase Presents:Enemy Ace Vol. 1 TPB.

The back-up is "The Fall of the Red Knight" drawn by Ric Estrada. I wouldn't be surprised if Estrada also wrote this short retelling of how Captain Roy Brown shot down the most famous of all WWI aces, and the obvious template from which Hans Von Hammer sprang, Rittmeister Baron Manfred Von Richthofen, the Red Baron.

We end with at two-pages spread Battle Album on aircraft carriers drawn by the wonderful Ken Barr.

Edited by Joe Kubert.

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