There's no writing credit for this 9 page story, entitled "The Firing Squad Can Wait," and there are a couple of details that make me think it was written by someone other than Balloon Buster's creator, Robert Kanigher. Steve Savage mentions his hometown, Howlin' Creek, which differs from the original 'Mustang River' and gone now is his identification with 'The Gun!' which was such a big part of those earliest BB stories.
The art, on the other hand, is credited to Ric Estrada, who did a lot of work for DC, working in just about all of the genres the company published. Estrada did quite a few stories in DCs war line around this time and would go on to draw for many superhero titles throughout the 70s. The first time I read through this story, I kind of looked past the art, as it was so different from the work of Russ Heath and Joe Kubert. Whereas there is an almost gritty realism in the work of Balloon Buster's former artists, Estrada's work is quite a bit more 'cartoony' and would seem to lend itself more to a super-hero book, or maybe even a humor title. But after re-reading the story, I've come to think that the art is its real strength. While Estrada's work reminds me of someone like Joe Staton (whose drawing I like a lot), some of the linework in this story evokes the work of more contemporary artists like Eduardo Risso or Marcelo Frusin.
The air battle scenes here are pretty spectacular - in an unexpected way, they rival the work of Heath & Kubert. I'm not sure if credit should go to Estrada, or an unnamed letterer, but the SOUND EFFECTS take these dogfight panels to another level. The air is filled with 'BBRATATATs' & 'VIPVIPVIPs' lettered boldly in red and orange. The letters take on an architectural quality as it seems like the planes are zipping around and through these words suspended in the sky. Very effective.
|Aircraft & SOUND EFFECTS fill the air|
The execution of German officer Count Von Ulricht by a German firing squad is interrupted by a lone American plane diving through anti-aircraft fire. The pilot of this plane, Steve Savage, dressed in his gaudy combo of cowboy boots and hat, flight jacket, scarf & goggles hops out and is determined to halt the execution with his own testimony on the Count's behalf.
The Count has been accused of abandoning his squadron and leaving them to be shot down - a crime The Balloon Buster himself has been charged with in the past, but for which he's never been formally punished. This perceived kinship with the German pilot has urged Savage to shed some light on the situation, as he apparently had some involvement in the incriminating incident It seems that several weeks in the past, while flying solo, Steve Savage came upon a group of German bombers protected by a squad of Fokkers including the Count and a few rookie pilots. Seeing an opportunity to add to his German kill total, Savage dove right into the thick of things. Engaging bombers and fighters in a sky filled with gunfire, Savage is doggedly pursued by the Count, who manages to chase the Balloon Buster far enough away that the bomber squad is spared.
|Finding it hard to shake the Count|
|Drama! That's gratitude for you.|
|The final showdown|
When next we see the Balloon Buster, he'll face his toughest challenge yet - The Enemy Ace!