Friday, December 19, 2014

Christmas with the Super-Heroes #2 (1989)

To help get me in the holiday spirit this year, I dug Christmas with the Super-Heroes #2 out of  the long boxes.  This 64-page giant is packed with 6 stories starring a variety of DC stars - each story having some connection to the holidays.

I picked this up a few years ago when I went on a buying spree, trying to get everything artist Gray Morrow did for DC Comics.  Re-reading it now, I'm shocked at the amount of talent in all of these stories.  Paul Chadwick writes & draws a touching Superman story; Dave Gibbons writes and Gray Morrow draws a Batman story, as told by the Batcave; there's a Wonder Woman story written and gorgeously illustrated by Eric Shanower; the Flash & Green Lantern star in a story by then-Flash scribe Bill Loebs and drawn by a couple other favorites of mine, Colleen Doran & Ty Templeton, who, together, make a fantastic team; and the only Deadman story I've ever really liked, by Alan Brennert & Dick Giordano.  This story is notable for Deadman's encounter with a thinly veiled Earth-1 Supergirl, who perished/ceased to exist in the Crisis on Infinite Earths 4 years prior to this story - appearances by parallel universe/non-existent characters were a company policy no-no, at the time. Not sure how this 'snuck' through editorial, but I guess if the Vice President of the company (Giordano) is also the story artist, you'd let something like this slide.

Also included in this issue, is a short story by writer/penciler John Byrne & inker Andy Kubert starring none other than the 'Hammer of Hell,' Hans von Hammer, World War I German flying ace.  I thought a look at this story would help ease the transition away from The Balloon Buster for a couple of posts.

Considering the number of characters John Byrne has written and drawn for DC, it is a little surprising that this might be his only work on this long-established property.  The story, called 'Silent Night' is well executed and provides a little insight into the nobility of a character that in strict geographical terms, was a true Enemy Ace.  Byrne chose to tell this story entirely in pictures - there are no word balloons.

A Red Cross hospital, low on supplies in the dead of winter, is filled with wounded Allied soldiers.  Though the situation is desperate, the soldiers are tended by a buoyant, pretty nurse.  Everyone is stopped in their tracks when they hear the sound of an approaching aircraft.

Effective, wordless panel - The Enemy Ace approaches
Those patients and staff who are able, collect outside to see that their visitor is none other than the greatest pilot ace of the Germans, Hans von Hammer.  A tense moment follows before The Enemy Ace reveals his intentions - he's taken pity on these wounded men and their caretakers - and has come to deliver much needed supplies.  The staff cook seems particularly happy, and scampers off with the goods to prepare a great meal.

For a moment - awkward
Von Hammer turns to leave, but is asked to stay, to enjoy the meal he has provided.  Von Hammer is even asked to dance by the nurse, a show of gratitude for what must have seemed like a Christmas miracle for the hospital.  During the dance, Von Hammer notices a board with the names of deceased servicemen.  He pauses for a moment, to salute their sacrifice.

Dancing with the Enemy
A young soldier takes this opportunity to threaten Von Hammer with a gun.  This tense moment is relieved when another Allied serviceman knocks away the firearm in a sign of respect for their Enemy/Savior, or at least for his efforts on their behalf.  At this point, Von Hammer is told to leave, which he does, but not before stealing a kiss from the nurse - a 'thank you' for the dance - before departing into the killer skies.

A wordless story can be an interesting experiment if done well, and this story is just that - it certainly captures the conflicted nobility of Von Hammer - a trait the character's had since his earliest appearances. If anything it was nice to see the name Kubert attached to an Enemy Ace story again - there are panels where Andy Kubert's inks on John Byrne's pencils evoke the style of Von Hammer co-creator, and Andy's daddy, Joe Kubert.

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