DC’s Showcase: Enemy Ace , written by Robert Kanigher and penciled by the legendary Joe Kubert, is the most unrelentingly nihilistic comic I’ve ever read.
It presents the face of war from the side of the enemy. In this case it’s Hans Von Hammer, a WWI fighter pilot modeled after Baron Manfred Von Richthofen, better known as the “Red Baron”. Like his namesake Von Hammer collects victory cups for each plane he shoots down and flies a red Fokker DR1, just like the Baron. There are many other aspects of his life that parallel Richthofen’s, which makes the comic (for those who know something about WWI aces) a real joy to read.
The technology and fighting tactics are correct for the most part. But, these are comics and sometimes you get goofy characters the Enemy Ace has to go up against and defeat, or situations that stretch credulity. But overall the stories themselves are top-notch and crushing in their nihilism and bleak outlook of men at war.
Von Hammer has no friends. Death follows him. The ground crew call him a killing machine and always remark on how cool he looks and how easily he kills. He cannot connect in any emotional way with other human beings, and his only friend is a black wolf he meets in the forest — another killer. They develop a psychic connection. They both know one day they will be killed. Killers are always killed — Nature demands it. Von Hammer returns to the forest many times between missions. He can find solace only at the side of this black wolf, his only true friend. It is his only moment of peace.
But more than that it is the sky which endures in these comics. The sky, as Von Hammer notes, is the “enemy of us all.” He is “a killing machine” but one day he knows the sky will kill him. The sky itself is a main character in all these stories. It is vast, uncaring, unmoving. The sky strikes down friend and foe alike. There are many panels where Von Hammer’s plane is but a tiny speck in the vast space. He is nothing compared to the infinite power of the sky, and he knows he can never be anything but a lonely speck waiting his turn to be killed. As he kills.
About the only drawback to these stories is they are presented in black and white. These were originally four-color comics and we miss the red of his plane, the blue sky, the checkerboard green quilt of the land below. Sometimes a comic can still work published in black and white even though it first appeared in color. The Showcase: Jonah Hex collection is such an example. But the absence of color hurts the overall appearance of these Enemy Ace stories, I think. We want to see his red plane. You can tell some of the panels were set up to enhance the color and make the action more alive.
Aside from that these stories are pretty darn good. If you want to read a nihilistic comic and are interested in WWI flying aces, this collection is the one to read.