Thursday, December 4, 2014

Steve Savage - The Balloon Buster: All-American Men of War #113 (Feb. 1966)

Balloon Buster is the lead feature in the very next issue of All-American Men of War under a fantastic Joe Kubert cover.  This 2nd B.B. tale, 'The Ace of Sudden Death,' written by Robert Kanigher & drawn by Russ Heath, picks right up where the 1st story ended, with a commendation by the general, praising Steve Savage and his killer instinct.  There's also a little foreshadowing (to events much later, and in a different series), as the general compares Savage to that other 'born killer,' Hans Von Hammer, the Enemy Ace.
The set-up for most 'Balloon Buster' stories for years to come
Restless after another chewing out by the major, Savage hitches a ride with a truck-full of American infantry on their way to the front.  Savage is surprised to discover the perceived class system of the U.S. Armed Forces.  An infantry captain refers to the pilot as a 'gentleman of the skies,' though our 'saddle tramp,' Balloon Buster knows there's nothing further from the truth, in his case.

Savage experiences first-hand the hell of trench warfare, as German artillery, directed by observation balloons, rains down on the American unit.

Reunited with his squad on patrol the next day, Savage can't help but disobey orders to stay in formation, by attacking the observation balloons that caused the casualties witnessed the day before.  The balloons are destroyed, but not before Savage is wounded by a German ace in a tiger-striped Fokker named Von Sturm.  The following day, Von Sturm drops a leaflet challenge to the recovering Balloon Buster - 'I'll be waiting for you in the skies above your field!'  Before Savage can react, the challenge is taken up by a young pilot admirer in Savage's squad.  Von Sturm shoots the young pilot down, which was the biggest mistake he ever made, as this spurs Steve Savage into action.

German ace Von Sturm drops a gauntlet at the feet of the Ballon Buster
Berated by the major for his earlier insubordination, Savage comes to the conclusion that perhaps the official uniform of the Air Corps doesn't suit a 'saddle tramp' like himself.  So before 'saddling up' to take on Von Sturm, The Balloon Buster dons his ten-gallon hat, which completes his distinctive look.

The distinct look of The Balloon Buster is now complete
Savage promptly takes down Von Sturm, but is left wondering whether pride and family honor is worth the collateral damage in allies' lives.  This second story confirms a pattern begun in the first - Savage behaves true to his nature and disobeys his superior - though he 'saves the day' and ends up killing the bad guys, the horrible price paid for these 'victories' leads to great self-doubt in our hero.

The letters page, at the back of the book, gives some unusual insight into the creative process.  In his response to Alvin Kessler of Newark, NJ (ever wish for a 'Where Are They Now - Comics Letter Hacks' book?  Yesterday's letter writers are today's bloggers/podcasters, I guess), writer/editor Robert Kanigher, in the spirit of what I hope is jest, calls out artist Russ Heath, giving him a hard time for his slow work pace.  Considering that All-American Men of War was a bi-monthly book, and these 1st two Balloon Buster stories were only 15 pages each, Heath must have worked at an incredibly deliberate pace, or perhaps had too much on his plate and fell waaaaaay behind. Whatever the case, in the next issue, a new artist is drawing the adventures of Steve Savage.

I don't recall responses like this in the back of old JLAs or Green Lanterns

No comments: