Friday, January 30, 2015

Steve Savage, The Balloon Buster v. The Enemy Ace - Star-Spangled War Stories #182 (Oct. 1974)

Billed on the cover as an Enemy Ace feature, the back-up story in issue #182 of Star-Spangled War Stories (behind an Unknown Soldier lead feature) is the 2nd installment of the Ace v. Balloon Buster serial begun in the previous issue. Between the last story and this, the creative team of writer Robert Kanigher and artist Frank Thorne have switched the narrative perspective from WWI German ace Von Hammer to the maverick American pilot, Steve Savage.  The change of pace is obvious as the action intensifies.

The frontispiece to this chapter of the duel - this time, Steve Savage takes over the narration
The story picks right up with Savage just having been captured by Von Hammer.  The rules of combat etiquette to which Von Hammer subscribe dictate that he invite the captured pilot to dine with he & his officers that night.  This strange ritual is not understood by Savage, who subscribes only to his own rules.

When Savage is toasted by Von Hammer, rather than returning the favor, he unexpectedly throws his drink in the German's face, steals a sidearm and shoots his way out of the dinner party.

Steve Savage - not the best dinner guest
Savage crashes through the window, but is confronted by a German biplane, whose pilot has a real mad-on for the Balloon Buster.  In what seems like a lopsided game of chicken, Savage stands his ground to the approaching plane - its guns blazing.  Savage, so skilled with firearms, manages to kill the pilot and hijack the plane - just as Von Hammer reaches the airfield, silent in his frustration & anger.

He's the gun! Savage in a dangerous game of chicken / A master class in balloon bustin' witnessed in silent anger by Von Hammer
Greeted by a sky filled with German observation balloons, Savage can't help himself but to destroy each & every one of them.  This expenditure of fuel forces him down in the French town of Crouy - which is a great coincidence, since he had a date that very evening with a woman there, named Celeste.  She reports that he's been listed as missing - presumed dead.  Savage takes her in his arms and vows to sort it all out . . . in the morning (ooh la la).

Still able to make his date
Savage, finding his way back to base the next day, witnesses Von Hammer tearing up the American airfield with his distinctive red tri-plane. With a saluting gesture, The Enemy Ace drops a boot with a challenge to meet in the skies at dawn the next day. Savage accepts to himself, but aims to cheat and get there early.  That battle will be chronicled in the final chapter - next issue!

The final challenge
In the tease for that next issue at the bottom of the last page, we get what, I guess, is the closest thing to a character symbol for Steve Savage (kind of like his Superman 'S').  I'm assuming the belt buckle-with-two-pistols-and-an-'s' was designed by Frank Thorne.  It didn't go one to get much use, but it's nice to see this small attempt to 'brand' the Balloon Buster.

No comments: