Friday, April 17, 2015

Enemy Ace v. The Balloon Buster - The Unknown Soldier #266 (Aug. 1982)

Hans Von Hammer, The Enemy Ace, survives the attack suffered in last issue's cliffhanger, though his injuries force him into a short convalescence at the outset of Chapter 2 of 'A Very Private Hell' the latest Enemy Ace serial by writer/creator Robert Kanigher and artist John Severin.

During Von Hammer's absence, the maverick American ace Steve Savage, unaware of the situation, drops a note of  challenge over the German airfield, requesting a rematch with The Enemy Ace after being spared the German's bullets as a honorable courtesy due to his own lack of ammunition.  A brash German lieutenant, seeing an opportunity to earn some mega points by dueling such a notorious American pilot, steals Von Hammer's distinctive red Fokker and accepts the challenge on the injured Baron's behalf.

Steve Savage, once again Stetson-ed, shoots down the Enemy Ace 'stand-in'
Savage, once again topped by his trademark white cowboy hat, makes short work of the imposter, the lopsided duel witnessed from the ground by Von Hammer & Co.

Wracked with anger & guilt, and troubled the following day by morbid images of his deceased stand-in, Von Hammer composes his own note of challenge, explaining to Savage that he'd gunned down the wrong man.  Still not 100% healed from his injuries, but determined to face The Balloon Buster himself, Von Hammer makes his way in a replacement red Fokker toward the American airfield.

Haunted by visions, Von Hammer issues his challenge
Intercepted by a couple of British planes, piloted by bounty hunters after the huge reward sum placed on his head, Von Hammer manages to run both into the ground - just as his plane develops engine trouble.  Willing his plane the last few miles to the American field, The Enemy Ace manages to safely land, but is greeted by an armed detail of American soldiers.

Von Hammer runs his hunters into the ground
Pushing his way through the crowd, Steve Savage, in a strange reflection of a previous encounter between the two top guns, takes Von Hammer prisoner.

Not the fiery end to their relationship envisioned by the two WWI aces
The almost tidal, rhythmic quality over the course of these two characters' relationship is interesting.  Aerial chases, followed by one taking the other prisoner, followed by a daring escape.  Will this pattern repeat in the next chapter?  We'll see.  The next story does have some significance, as it is the last Enemy Ace (or Balloon Buster, for that matter) adventure written by series creator, Bob Kanigher.

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