Friday, March 13, 2015

Steve Savage, The Balloon Buster: The Unknown Soldier #263 (May 1982)

Writer Robert Kanigher and artist Dan Spiegle continue the 3-part 'Balloon Buster' serial in issue #263 of The Unknown Soldier, picking up right where they left off . . . but first . . .

At the time this story was published, Spiegle had been drawing comics for over 30 years.  He specialized in adventure strips, but worked in just about every comics genre.  His work was versatile and could oscillate between realism and a looser, more cartoony drawing style.  If Alex Toth's and Joe Staton's style had a love child, I think it would be the work of Dan Spiegle.  Spiegle sandwiched this 'Balloon Buster' serial in between a long-running 'Nemesis' back-up feature in The Brave and the Bold, and a re-defining run, with writer Mark Evanier, on Blackhawk (at which I'd like to take a close look soon on this blog).

The Enemy Ace's I.O.U.
The pressure from last issue's stand-off is relieved by the sudden appearance in skies by Hans Von Hammer, the Enemy Ace.  Just as it appears that Steve Savage will be forcibly taken prisoner to face court martial, The Enemy Ace pilots his plane through heavy ground fire to drop a message to The Balloon Buster - basically, 'thanks for saving my life - I owe you one.'  The bubble of tension burst, the pause allows Savage's patron, Gen. Talbot to swoop in & again explain the benefits of having a killer such as Savage available to fly missions, much to the dismay of Major Michaels.

On his very next mission, Savage comes close to meeting his end: caught in the explosion of a German bomber, Savage just manages to pull his plane up before crashing, but not before contemplating suicide with a bullet as alternative to burning to death.

Gruesome thought before pulling up
Visiting his young, blind friend Rene the next day, Savage is informed by the boy's sister Marie that there is a doctor capable of restoring Rene's sight.  The catch is that the doctor operates only in Berlin - behind enemy lines!  Thinking he might be able to call in his marker from Von Hammer in this situation, Savage agrees to help the family.

Dropping a note for Von Hammer over the German airfield, Savage and Rene wait in a field miles away from the front.  Von Hammer rolls up in a Mercedes (strange seeing The Enemy Ace operating any vehicle besides his distinctive red triplane) and honorably, characteristically, agrees to take the boy to Berlin for the sight-saving medical procedure.

Heading back to his own airfield, Savage is attacked by a couple of Fokkers from Von Hammer's squadron.  This battle and the first and last Balloon Buster/Enemy Ace TEAM-UP will conclude - next issue!

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