Category Archives: Comics

Review: Enemy Ace Archives Volume 2

Enemy Ace Archives volume 2 is another excellent installment of the death and angst in the skies of World War I.

“The Enemy Ace Archives: Volume 2” is another top-notch comics take on death in the skies–and angst on the ground–during World War I. Writer Robert Kanigher has a memorable character in his titular “enemy ace,” a noble German pilot named, Hans von Hammer, aka “the Hammer of Hell.” He’s one of the top aces on any airfield, but his skill in the skies only wreathes him in death, both of the men he’s shot down and the green pilots who fail to come back from the missions he leads.

Von Hammer sees his dogfights through a gentlemanly lens, allowing duels to proceed without intervention and letting his foes escape when their guns run out of ammo. At the same ties, he knows the skies are fickle and is sure that it’s only a matter of time before death claims him as well.

Artist Joe Kubert (along with some fill ins) does an excellent job of capturing the planes in flight as well as in their final, flaming moments. The action is clear and exciting, and von Hammer’s anguished facial expressions are captured well without veering into parody.

In many ways, “Enemy Ace” is one heck of a anti-war comic, portraying both the futility of all these deaths and von Hammer’s pretensions about honor in combat. The stories here are ambitious, capturing everything from a wounded escape across enemy lines to an amoral commanding officer who could have come straight from “Paths of Glory.”

To be clear, this is still the Silver Age, so we have enemy pilots dressed as hangmen and skeletons and even, improbably, St. George. But even puppies aren’t safe in this installment, as one famous cover shows, and the creators have much more to share than just the thrills of weird combat.

Fair warning: Don't go into this issue expecting a miracle.
Fair warning: Don’t go into this issue expecting a miracle.

Review: Paul Pope, Battling Boy


Paul Pope is my favorite comics artist, so take this rating through that lens. I love the thick lines and expressive detail of his art as well as the “rawk and roll” energy that permeates everything he does. This volume doesn’t disappoint on the drawing board, conjuring up weird monsters, beautiful people, a sprawling city and weird Kirby-inspired future tech.

The story is a success too. We have the “Battling Boy” descending from a magical city in the sky to an earth in peril , taking on the coming of age quest that’s mandated in his warrior society. He throws himself into fighting the monsters menacing his new home, showing a mixture of bravado, inexperience and uncertainty that stretches all the way back to Peter Parker and beyond.

In a parallel story, the adolescent daughter of a murdered pulp hero takes up her dad’s mantle, resenting, in the process, this upstart newcomer. She’s rendered skillfully and sympathetically, and it’s exciting to see how they’ll interact–and how a city desperate for rescue will use them both.

This volume is definitely an introduction–it ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, without much resolution. There’s a lot that’s familiar here for anyone who’s read many superhero comics. But its possessed with a unique energy and a first-class artistic talent, and I look forward to seeing what happens next.

Review: Templar by Jordan Mechner


This historical fiction graphic novel is Holy Blood, Holy Grail meets the Italian Job as author Jordan Mechner follows up the arrest and dissolution of the Knights Templar with a heist plot to steal back their stores of gold. His characters are mostly scoundrels on the fringes of the order, with one true knight among them. The story takes them through the order’s collapse, with arrests, torture and false confessions staining the reputation of this wealthy, stateless army.

Mechner does a good job capturing the politics around the targeting of the Templars. An influential French minister senses weakness and aims to build himself up with their treasure. The torturers’ work feels grim and realistic, as do the coerced confessions. There’s even a late pushback as a legalistic priest uses the law to try to defend his brothers, only to finally realize the state’s patience for legal manuevering has run out.

We spend most of our time with the core cast, though. Our principal knight, Martin, escapes capture only because he’s out carousing with friends in the order, chasing an old love who got away. She returns to the plot as he and his mates aim to find the Templars’ hidden gold. Most of the party is just looking to enrich itself, although Martin has nobler objectives.

From there we get the usual complications and detective work as the oddball team closes in on their big target. Mechner and his illustrators, LeUyen Pham and Alex Puvilland, do excellent work capturing a lived-in feel for Medieval Paris. The characters are well distinguished, and the art team does a good portraying the ample action.

If you’ve watched any heist movies, the story will be familiar. The villains don’t have much depth, and several team members lend just the right skills to keep the plot going. (One, a Muslim convert who joins the crew, is a particularly egregious deus ex machina. His character may be well intended, but he’s certainly not believable.)

The volume is impressive and enjoyable, though, even if many of the elements are familiar. Especially recommended if you’re a fan of the Templar mythos.

Review: Tales Designed to Thrizzle Volume 2 by Michael Kupperman


Tales Designed to Thrizzle Volume 2 is wide ranging, bizarre and very funny. Michael Kupperman again turns a volume over to his comic imagination, riffing in stories ranging from single-page gags to an epic spoof of Quincy, M.E. that sees the 70s television coroner meet St. Peter (who has his own comic book) and get lost in an Inception-esque series of parodies.

The highlight is the recurring pairing of Mark Twain and Albert Einstein, who have a range of oddball schemes and adventures. (“I’ll tell you Al,” one opens, “I never thought we would end up on a game show hosted by Count Dracula.)

Kupperman has Twain adopt a “try anything” tough-guy patter that’s hilarious, whether the great author is serving as a Hollywood detective, blowing up asteroids or taking “sexy reporter” pills smuggled in from Japan.

The different stories adopt varying styles, but most of the volume parrots the rough, vibrant outlines and “waste no time” plotting of early superhero comics. Characters are given to wacko lines and bold pronounements: “Get offa me, you ghostly clown!” or “Gimme some pants, then I gotta investigate you two.”

But you don’t have to be subtle when you’re sharing the adventures of Jungle Princess or revealing that the moon landing actually employed death-row convicts, a la The Dirty Dozen, who later find gold. You just have to funny, and Kupperman is

Comics Review: The Grand Duke


The Grand Duke is an adventurous graphic novel combining World War II action in the skies with quite a bit of “we might die tomorrow” coupling on the ground. It’s skillfully done, but I don’t think it quite transcends the pulp storytelling that inspired it.

Writer Yann’s plot does a good job laying clear its “tyrants decide, the people die” theme, especially with the vile Communist boss on the Russian side. But character development on the ground is frequently interrupted to get back into the air (or out of some clothes). Beyond that, the hero is a bit too noble–a Hitler-hating German who removes the swastika from his plane–and the villains too vile.

There are some nice curveballs on the margins of the plot, and all of the art is exquisite. Romain Hugault is just as comfortable drawing historic planes as gratuitous, voluptuous female nudes. His panels are rich and detailed. A lot of care went into the drawing, and the dogfight scenes really draw you into the action in the sky. Check it out, with classic Enemy Ace as a required complement.