“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.