Although war comics haven’t completely disappeared, they have certainly declined in popularity in the modern age. In this post I want to look at one of the more interesting war series from the Silver Age: Robert Kanigher and Joe Kubert’s Enemy Ace.
Throughout the later Golden Age (after WW II) and well into the Silver Age, one genre of comics became so immensely popular that virtually every mainstream publisher had at least one title in this genre. I’m talking, of course, about the war comic.
The ‘Enemy Ace’ series was a brilliant attempt to turn the conventional war comic story upside down. He was created in 1965 when Kanigher and Kubert, who had already collaborated on the Silver Age Hawkman series and, in the war genre, created Sgt. Rock for DC, decided to write a different kind of war story.
Unlike most war comics of the time, Enemy Ace was set in World War I not World War II (since the protagonist was German, this made sense, it would have been difficult for an American audience to cheer for a Nazi).
WW I was actually a much more messy and complex affair than the subsequent war, even if just as brutal and violent. Enemy Ace, subsequently, follows the adventures of Hans von Hammer, an aristocratic German fighter pilot and ace dogfight virtuoso also known as the “Hammer of Hell”.
With his iconic Red Fokker Tri-Plane, von Hammer was obviously meant to invoke the Red Baron, whom he is clearly modeled on. The introspective nature of the character and the attention to realism, both beautifully promoted by the combination of Kanigher’s scripts and Kubert’s dynamic art, alone would have made this series decent. What makes it stand out is the fact that the stories are told from von Hammer’s perspective.
At heart von Hammer is nothing if not noble. Yes, he is on the wrong side of history, fighting for a belligerent cause grounded in nothing but misguided nationalist fervor, but this is precisely what makes his stories so poignant. As a German he has a duty to serve his country. Although he takes no pleasure in killing, he realizes that the alternative would be his own demise.
In effect, these stories are successful because they manage to give the Enemy Ace a complex appeal. The combination of the thoughtful nature of the protagonist, in contrast to his icy cold exterior and reputation, allows for a complexity to emerge in the narrative which is exemplified by the respect von Hammer is able to have for the enemy pilots he faces. The Enemy Ace, therefore, becomes a quite compelling and ultimately tragic anti-hero.
It all begins here, this is the first appearance of Rittmeister von Hammer, the Enemy Ace. All the factors that made this series popular are there from the beginning. Von Hammer’s brooding and thoughtful nature, the waste and bleakness of war, the paradoxical nature of being incredibly good at something objectively questionable. Not that the pessimistic themes it evokes have managed to damper values on this book. Our Army at War #151 has seen strong long term positive returns on all but two grades (9.0 and 8.0), which is strange as, with its black cover, this book is hard to find in high grade. Over the last year, the biggest winner on returns for this comic have been 6.5 grades. After two eBay sales (03/14/2019 and just the other week on 07/13/2019) the comic has sold for $140.07 and then for $157.00. A 7.5 sold on 08/29/2018 for $325.00.
Enemy Ace never had a self-titled ongoing series, his stories would mostly appear in various anthology comics. Also worth seeking out, Showcase #57 (July 1965) the first cover appearance of Enemy Ace, and Star Spangled War Stories #139 (June 1968), (pictured above) which features the origins of the Enemy Ace. Happy reading!