“The sky is the killer of us all.” Enemy Ace – A Review

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. Enemy Ace - nihilism at its best

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.


Great article in Centauri Dreams: explains fallibility of Fermi’s Paradox, human impatience

“Lost in Space and Lost in Time: The Consequences of Temporal Dispersion for Exosolar Technological Civilizations” by Dave Moore, Centauri Dreams.

Mark here. This is an excellent article. I have always believed the problem lies more with our human-centralized impatience to “find idealized Star Trek aliens” rather than the simple fact we A.) are alone, or B.) the enormous spacial and temporal distances involved simply preclude a galaxy burgeoning with sentient lifeforms that mirror our own spatial-temporal frame.

In other words, the chances of advanced alien lifeforms inhabiting the same time-frame of our own civilization, given the age and enormous volume of the universe at hand, is pretty damn slim, and more likely zero.I fully expect this scenario is pure fantasy and wish-fulfillment. Occam's Razor is more than likely in effect: we're alone.

I maintain we will find microbial alien life, or come across archeological evidence of another civilization, long before we meet another  alien species face to face. You cannot ignore the time frame and galactic spacial distances involved, especially when coupled with the life spans of civilizations in relation to that.

Humans need to stop thinking in such limited and parochial terms. Even our galaxy isn’t a neighborhood. It’s enormous, enclosing both enormous time frames and distances. Once again, the ingrained impatience of our species is showing.

If you want to get down and dirty about it, Occam’s Razor is probably best here. We are alone. Star Trek, a federation of alien civilizations who exist at the same spatial-temporal point in their technological curve, is pure fantasy and will never be actualized. The actual age, and distances involved, preclude such an event. The distribution and rates of occurrence of alien civilizations are much too thin.

The Magical Reality of Reading

I used to read everywhere. Lying on the floor, in bed, in the tub, under a tree, in a tree, on the ground, in the car, at the dinner table, in the living room while everyone else was watching TV, late at night, under the stars, on a train, walking to and from school, inI used to read everywhere. Didn't you? school, in restaurants, under a table, under a trailer, in a deer stand, on the edge of a field, beside a campfire, in a tent…whew! I guess the one place I didn’t do much reading was church because that would have gotten me slapped.

I read everywhere. I probably couldn’t remember all the places if I tried, and what I put down here doesn’t begin to exhaust the list. When I think back to all the places I read it feels, well, kind of heavy in my mind. Like there were a lot of them.

Anyway, I read everywhere I could, whenever I could. I was voracious. I read everything, and I loved it.

I partly read to escape my life, but I also read because I enjoyed the physical act of reading. I liked carrying a book or a magazine around with me, its pages dog-eared, spine cracked. It seemed like it was always ready. There was something about it that felt right to me.

I will always remThe first comic I ever bought was Hot Stuff, haha. What was yours?ember the very first book I bought with my own money, and where I read it. It was a comic book about Hot Stuff, the Little Devil. We were living in Pearl, Mississippi at the time. I sat on the gray concrete stoop outside our front door and read that comic book while my baby brother took a nap. It was the beginning of a long, and often lonely, journey.

I say lonely because reading is a lot like writing. It’s a bit of a lonely exercise. Unless you are reading for someone or in front of someone. Otherwise it’s a solitary act, much like writing. Which is why they go so well together, I guess?

As I got older I read less, but I read more critically. Over the years, especially as an adult, I stopped making it a point to finish whatever book I started reading. I  used to be proud of that. I outgrew it fast enough when I began to understand it’s not how much you read, but how well you read.

I very much believe a good writer must be a good reader. Not of books, but people, too. Writers are always watching people and reading them in an unobtrusive way. We watch how they act and move and speak and change, and are changed, by the world around them. We read other people, and ourselves, and the world, as they circle around us.

We never stop because I think it’s sort of innate behavior with writers. I don’t know if it’s something you can teach. Maybe. If not it should be.

But all that reading doesn’t go to waste. When I attended a family reunion a while back one of my relatives pushed his little boy forward and said, “He wants to be a writer like you. Can you maybe give him some advice?”

I did.  I told him the best thing he could do right now was read. “Read as much as you can,” I said, “and everything you can. You like fantasy and that’s what you want to write, so that’s what you should read most. But you should also read mysteries, romance, science fiction, history, everything. Keep doing that, and the writing will come.”

I often think of my little relative from time to time and wonder if he’s reading. I used to lie in bed late at night (0n a school night, no less) and have the bathroom door cracked just enough so I could see the page and make out the words.

Is he reading? I expect he is. If he’s a writer, even at that unformed age, I can promise you he is reading.

I did it. You did it. Yeah, I bet he is, too.

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