Friday, April 10, 2015

Enemy Ace v. The Balloon Buster - The Unknown Soldier #265 (July 1982)

Hans Von Hammer is the lead in a new serial beginning in issue #265 of The Unknown Soldier, with Steve Savage playing the guest star this time around.  This 3-parter not only follows up on the 'Balloon Buster' saga from the previous 3 issues, but also serves as a sequel, of sorts, to the duel between the 2 WWI aces from issue #s 181-183 of Star Spangled War Stories published almost 10 years prior.  Despite having met on fairly cooperative terms during their last encounter, in this new adventure, Hans Von Hammer & Steve Savage are once again antagonists.

Pitting the two pilots against one another are writer Robert Kanigher (creator of both characters), and artist John Severin a long time vet, who'd worked on many titles for many publishers, specializing in westerns and war books (which would seem to make him the perfect artist to work on a Balloon Buster story).  He had worked with Kanigher previously on DC war features including the 'Losers,' 'Sgt. Rock' and an earlier 'Enemy Ace' serial.  Having served in WWII (along with most of the talent who'd previously worked on both Enemy Ace & Balloon Buster), Severin had a great eye for detail, and his aircraft & firearms are probably the most realistic looking of all the artists who worked on either WWI feature.

The bounty's out
This first chapter opens with a bold challenge in the form of leaflets dropped from the sky.  Though this is a familiar plot device from many EA or BB stories, this challenge is a little different - the leaflets advertise a $150,000 reward of the killing or capture of Von Hammer.  Having a job to do despite the bounty on his head, The Ace takes to the skies.

A familiar yellow Spad - could it be --?
Once there he's immediately confronted by a couple of French bounty hunters - of whom Von Hammer makes short work.  Making his way back to his own lines, Von Hammer witnesses the explosion of a German observation balloon, it's assailant in a familiar American yellow Spad.

For the balls necessary to bring a pistol to an airplane flight, a strangely hat-less Steve Savage gets the ol' Enemy Ace salute!
The Balloon Buster, Steve Savage, makes a move on another balloon, emptying his guns into the target as Von Hammer approaches.  Completely out of ammunition, Savage (looking strange sans his distinctive cowboy hat) attempts to ram Von Hammer, who manages to swerve away from the attack.  Characteristically not giving a f*** about no ammo, Savage takes a couple of potshots with his sidearm from his cockpit - though this, too, is easily evaded by Von Hammer with a salute.

To unwind the next day, Von Hammer engages in one of his favorite pastimes, hunting.  Returning from his excursion, Von Hammer is attacked by another bounty hunter, and in the cliffhanger, his car is shot off the road.  'The Hunt for Von Hammer' (my cheesy title, not Bob Kanigher's) would continue in the next issue of The Unknown Soldier.  Nice start to an exciting serial, and John Severin's art makes a nice contribution to the adventures of both The Enemy Ace and The Balloon Buster.

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