Enemy Ace begins his series in Star Spangled War Stories. Artist: Joe Kubert.

ENEMY ACE

Medium: Comic books
Published by: DC Comics
First Appeared: 1965
Creators: Robert Kanigher (writer/editor) and Joe Kubert (artist)
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War stories differ from those of other adventure genres, in that the heroes and villains aren't always morally distinguishable. As a general rule, who wears the white hat and who wears the black one in …

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… a war story is determined by which point of view the writer takes. That would generally be his own nationality's or that of the intended readers, but there are exceptions.

The star of this series was brave, honorable, duty-bound, and all the other things we expect a hero to be. He was also noble in the classic meaning of the word, i.e., an aristocrat — baron, no less. The fact that he applied those sterling attributes to the cause of German victory in World War I didn't diminish his heroic bearing. The name of his series, Enemy Ace, indicated his stories' point of view, plus the fact that he was a fighter pilot who had personally shot down at least five aircraft (70+ in his case, but five is what it took to qualify as an ace) belonging to America or its allies.

Hans von Hammer, the enemy ace in question, was a DC Comics character who first appeared in Our Army at War #151 (February, 1965). He didn't make a very prominant appearance there — tho at least mentioned on the cover, he took a back seat to Sgt. Rock, who had been the title's main star for several years. To make him a bit more acceptable to an American audience, writer Robert Kanigher (Metal Men, Johnny Thunder) emphasized his devotion to duty and the fact that on a personal level, he very much disliked sending honorable men to their graves; while artist Joe Kubert (Hawkman, Tor) portrayed him as a melancholy man, seldom smiling. Enemy Ace made only two more appearances in Our Army at War, #s 153 and 155.

Apparently, tho, he got a reasonably favorable response from readers, as they tried him out for his own series later that year. He was in the 57th and 58th issues (August and October, 1965) of Showcase, the DC title that launched Rip Hunter, Challengers of the Unknown and quite a few others. There, his background was explored in more detail, including the occasional rendezvous with a Black Forest wolf he liked to hunt with. Other than that, his life and character were loosely based on that of the so-called Red Baron — not the one Snoopy clashed with, but the historical one, Rittmeister Manfred von Richthofen.

But response to those Showcase issues wasn't strong enough to put von Hammer in his own comic. A couple of years later, they did give him a series in Star Spangled War Stories. Starting with #138 (May, 1968), he displaced The War that Time Forgot from both the cover and the lead position in the magazine. It didn't last, tho, and as of #151 (July, 1970), he lost both to a new character, a master of disguise billed as The Unknown Soldier.

Over the next couple of years, a few Enemy Ace reprints appeared in the Star Spangled back pages. In 1973, he was featured in a multi-part crossover with Steve Savage, Balloon Buster, a more conventional (i.e., American) DC hero set in World War I. Then he was back to occasional appearances in the back pages.

Enemy Ace still turns up from time to time. A 1990 graphic novel showed him in old age, including his death in 1969. He was a featured player (along with Bat Lash, Blackhawk's Chop Chop and other DC characters who were alive in the 1920s) in Guns of the Dragon, a 1998 mini-series by cartoonist Tim Truman (Scout, Airboy). A 2001 mini-series showed him in his late 40s during World War II, sitting out the war while surreptitiously helping Jews escape the Nazis.

As for his World War I adventures, DC doesn't do very many war comics these days.

— DDM

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Text ©2003-09 Donald D. Markstein. Art © DC Comics.