Friday, April 24, 2015

Enemy Ace v. The Balloon Buster - The Unknown Soldier #267 (Sept. 1982)

Presenting the final meeting between The Enemy Ace and The Balloon Buster.  It ain't going to end well for one of them!

Continuing to back up the Unknown Soldier in #267 of his title, Hans Von Hammer, The Enemy Ace finds himself a 'guest' of the Army Air Service Squadron to which Steve Savage, The Balloon Buster belongs.  In this final chapter of the 3 part 'A Very Private Hell' by Kanigher & Severin, Von Hammer, grounded across enemy lines due to engine trouble, is escorted by a gaggle of American officers to a dinner in his honor (a customary practice for WWI adversaries and a display of the code of honor to which Von Hammer, himself, strictly adheres).

Conspicuous by his absence from the meal, is Steve Savage.  Earlier, Von Hammer had witnessed the maverick ace test-flying his own red Fokker - recently repaired and being put through its paces by the wild flying of the Balloon Buster.  Ostracized by his companions for being nothing but 'white trash,' Savage used the opportunity of the dinner (to which he probably wasn't invited) to hatch a plan to restore a sense of what he considers honor - yet another crack at a final duel between himself and Von Hammer.

Prison Break
Under the cover of night, Savage releases Von Hammer from his quarters and quickly escorts him to his triplane, so that they might duel at dawn.  What follows is a beautiful aerial ballet, gorgeously illustrated by Severin as Savage and Von Hammer chase each other through the sky.  Von Hammer finally gets Savage in his sights, but before he can deliver the killing burst, his guns jam!

Duel in the skies
Not willing to take advantage of an unarmed opponent, Savage gestures toward the ground - his single-minded obsession to decisively end this rivalry compels him to engage Von Hammer in a pistol duel.  Unaccustomed to the rules & ceremony of a formal duel (being nothing like the western-style shoot outs of his youth) Savage needs a quick lesson from Von Hammer.

Duel on the ground
They pace, turn, fire and - - Von Hammer takes a flesh wound to the shoulder, but Savage takes quite possibly a mortal wound to the gut.  Unwilling to finish his opponent off, Von Hammer helps Savage to his plane, as the maverick ace claims, 'If I'm tuh die . . . I'd rather be in the sky . . .'

Like a wounded bird spotted by a hawk, Savage limps back to his line, but captures the notice and draws the fire of Von Hammer's own squadron.  In a final, honorable gesture toward his respected opponent, Von Hammer waves off his cronies, allowing Savage to fly toward the sunrise - his fate unknown.

The Balloon Buster limps off into the sunrise, under the watchful eye of The Enemy Ace, his fate unknown
An ambiguous ending to this latest (and last) Enemy Ace/Balloon Buster saga.  Significant, too, as this is the last time these great war characters were written by their creator, Robert Kanigher.  Enemy Ace would go on to guest star in various titles throughout the 80s & 90s, and even star in his own graphic novel and a couple of mini-series'.  The legend of the Balloon Buster would alternately (and unfortunately) lie dormant for some time - the ultimate fate of Steve Savage would not be revealed for another 15 years.

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