a Kubert Enemy Ace page(I’ve written notes on this series before – 500+ pages of reprints of old comics for around £11. First batch of volumes / Second batch. This volume came out today.)

I think this is my favourite continuing war series ever – the sustained intensity and quality of his early appearances seem to me to be unmatched. It was an original series in a way – making a German the ‘hero’ of a war story in 1965 was rather daring; but the stories are kind of formulaic. I could argue for the repetitions as motifs, and they are, but the stories are much the same. The details of his WWI air battles are superbly worked out and varied, but we tend to get the same scenes in each tale – saluting the valiant enemy as he crashes, showing his own fatalism (“The sky is friend to no man – friend or foe alike. Tomorrow – I will give it another chance at me.”), taking a break to hunt in the forest and meet his only friend, a lone black wolf, enduring the chatter of his orderly about his latest kill trophies, hearing fellow pilots muttering fearfully about him being “the hammer of hell” and “a human killing machine”. But these are strong repetitions, of course, a recipe for an utterly compelling character. On top of that, Kanigher does give us an idea, a theme, a story each time, not simply another battle, another victory.

Kanigher is perhaps the best writer of war stories I’ve read, but I’d love these far, far less without the art of the great Joe Kubert. His rough-edged, even harsh, dynamism was perfect for war stories (much of the rest of his finest work was on Sgt Rock, also available in a cheap Showcase collection), and an incidental bonus in the forest/wolf scenes is that no one has ever drawn better wild animals (see also his Tarzan comics). He was great on lone, lean, tough characters, and his portrait of the protagonist here is flawless. He handles action as well as anyone – varying angle, distance, shape and size of panels brilliantly, and using clouds and smoke and flame and the lines of the planes masterfully in his compositions. If you have access to a copy, or a friendly comic shop, look at the story occupying pages 97-119 of this volume – it’s a comic art masterpiece. Look at page 100, with its tight close-ups divided by one long, narrow, backgroundless diagonal panel, a page unlike any I’ve ever seen, and supremely effective. Look at the tension in Von Hammer’s fist in the hospital bed on page 107; and the next two pages, with an abortive fling with his nurse, with a stunning fireworks panel. This is comic art of the highest calibre. If you want a summary of the whole series, look at page 65, as good a representation of a rich character in one page, just three panels, as can be imagined.

Unless you have zero tolerance for war stories or comics in general, this is a collection not to be missed.