Saturday, March 22, 2014


THE ENEMY ACE ARCHIVES VOL. 1 (DC, Second Printing, 2002; Hardcover)

Collects Our Army At War Nos. 151, 153, 155, Showcase Nos. 57, 58, and Star Spangled War Stories Nos. 139-142 (cover dates February, 1965- January, 1969)

Writer: Bob Kanigher

Artist: Joe Kubert

DC was liquidating their Archives stock a couple of years ago. It was not uncommon to find boxes of them at comic conventions or in comic shops selling sealed copies for $20. I grabbed both of these Enemy Ace Archives with no real knowledge of the title. One of the greatest joys of collecting comics, especially the collected edition variety, is that all comics from all eras exist simultaneously. I can just as easily discover Enemy Ace in 2014 as I can The Sixth Gun. It is the relative affordability of collected editions that has leveled the playing field in terms of access to vintage material such as this. 

Enemy Ace is the story of Rittmeister Von Hammer, “The Hammer of Hell”, a “human killing machine” Germain airplane pilot in the days of World War I. He flies his tri-wing crimson fokker in battle against French and English airplane fighter pilots. The fact that this book is written with the German as the hero a mere twenty odd years after World War II is curious. Hogan's Heroes was a television series around this time that made Nazis seem almost palatable to people. I wonder if there were some Anti-Semitic leanings in the country at the time. It just seems strange to have the star of the series be the enemy of our country. Or maybe I am reading something when there is nothing.

While I have no interest in World War I or dogfights in the sky, the writing and artwork are of such high quality that the material transcended my perceived limitations of the genre. Indeed, Von Hammer is a man of honor and filled with guilt and regret. His only friend is a black wolf that he sees whenever he goes into the forest for shooting practice. If not for one encounter with a woman it would almost seem as if the wolf was a figment of his imagination, which would be infinitely more interesting.
The original batch of issues were published in 1964 and 1965. The strip was resurrected in 1968 due to popular demand. The first batch was set in 1917, while the second batch mentions 1914. There are no occurrences that would disrupt the continuity if this is indeed the case. 

There is a recurring antagonist called the Hangman who is eerily similar in appearance to Hooded Justice in Watchmen. Seeing as how Alan Moore based most of the characters on 1960s Charlton heroes it is not a stretch to think that Hooded Justice may be an homage to the Hangman. 

While this was a very enjoyable read it is apparent how out of step with the times that DC was. Marvel was so much hipper than DC during the '60s.
Junk Food For Thought rating: 4.25 out of 5.

The OCD zone- DC Archives are wonderful books with really high production values. It makes many of DC's current collected editions choices all the more frustrating. DC knows how to make quality books and chooses not to.
The covers to Our Army At War #153 and 155 are not included.

DVD-style Extras included in this book: Foreword by Joe Kubert (2 pages)

Linework and Color restoration rating: 4 out of 5. Most of the linework looks really good, but Showcase #58 is somewhat murky. There is also some pixelation in that issue.

The original color palette is maintained for the most part. The problems I have with it mostly stem from the occasional lazy airbrush gradient blends. While the spirit of the original comics is maintained the blends are sometimes harsh and unpleasant to look at if you have original comics (or scans of them) to compare side by side. It should be noted that this critique is being done with “2014 eyes”. There have been leaps and bounds in the technology and techniques used to restore these books since this book was released. This was a perfectly serviceable restoration job for the time that the book was published. Comparing this book's restoration to modern collections would be a lot like taking a mastering job done for a 2002 DVD and playing it on a modern high definition television and pointing out the limitations in the resolution compared to a Blu-Ray. It is not an entirely fair comparison. It should also be noted that DC's restoration techniques were the gold standard at the time of publication.

Paper rating: 5 out of 5. This paper is the ultimate. Dull matte finish coated stock with a slightly creamy color to it, like the original pulp paper had when the book was brand new. I love the look of pulp paper when it is mint. I loathe it when it is yellowed or browned. This paper is the best of both worlds.

Binding rating: 5 out of 5. Smyth sewn binding, 8 stitches per signature. Book lays completely flat. Again, the quality of this book only makes the cost saves DC has done on so many modern collections even more maddening.


  1. Gotta love that Joe Kubert art! I haven't read Enemy Ace, but it's definitely on my list. Have you read any of the Sgt. Rock Archives?

    As for the protagonist of this series being a German, I don't think it has much to do with anti-Semitic leanings in America at the time. But the 1960s and '70s did see a lot of people questioning some of the country's most readily accepted historical master-narratives, one of which was the conception of WWII as a war literally between "good" and "evil." The idea that there could be "good" people on the "evil" side was especially opened up by the Vietnam War (during which "Ho! Ho! Ho Chi Minh!" was a not-infrequent chant at anti-war protests).

    The fact that Enemy Ace is set during WWI, rather than WWII, could represent both a gesture toward this idea and a reluctance to embrace it fully. I'm assuming Von Hammer is the "enemy ace" of the title, for example, which calls attention to the broken taboo of the series' protagonist even as it defines him in relation to American values -- as an "enemy." I would be curious to see what other things this series does to undercut its protagonist -- to differentiate him or show him up, even implicitly, as somehow "lesser" than an American protagonist might have been.

    1. The thing is, there is nothing of that kind going on. He is shown as being an honorable, noble protagonist. His fellow Germans refer to him as an inhuman killing machine, however.

      I had not even considered the whole Viet Nam/ patriotic sea change aspect of the late '60s. I doubt that it informed the earlier issues from 1965.

    2. Hmm, that's interesting. Now I'm even more curious to read it!

    3. And no, I have not read any Sgt. Rock Archives. I will begin Vol. 2 of this series within a week or so, so in maybe 2 weeks (give or take) my review of Vol. 2 should be up.

  2. I couldn't finish vol. 1 of Sgt. Rock. The writing is terrible.

    1. Really? Sure, there are a few run-of-the-mill war stories in those early issues, but there are also a few that I think are really powerful. "Ice Cream Soldier" is one of my favorites.