A Tribute to the of

We've discussed before the favored methods of introducing new characters during DC's Silver Age, i.e. between the covers of Showcase and less often in The Brave and the Bold, but one character had a very different and circuitous route that bears some analysis. The whole concept of Enemy Ace was something very different. Behold the storyline devoted to a war hero from the enemy side, based loosely on the Red Baron himself. Enemy Ace, from that crack creative team of Robert Kanigher and Joe Kubert, first arrived in neither of the above titles, but as a backup story in Our Army At War #151 in February of 1965. He then showed up again in issue #153 and yet a third time in #155. At that point, Kanigher, presumably, felt he had a winner and went the more "formal" route of trying out Baron Hans Von Hammer, aka "The Hammer of Hell" in Showcase, specifically issue #57 from July/August of 1965. That is the issue we'll explore for this edition of the Silver Age Sage. It is the Baron's 4th appearance in a DC title, but is the first to begin to explore the background of this intriguing character. Take special note of that superb Joe Kubert rendered cover with a negative effect of the Baron as a backdrop to the fierce dogfight in the foreground. Let's check out "Killer of the Skies!"

The Hammer of Hell is on patrol with other members of the World War I German squadron and is piloting his Fokker Dr. 1 tri-plane. They've found no one to engage and he waves off the other members as their fuel supply is running quite low, but he continues his patrol, grimly thinking to himself that he's been trained to kill. He follows the train tracks when tracers blaze around him from a Hanriot HD-1 and a French pilot seeks to end the career of Rittmeister Hans Von Hammer. Just then a train appears and it has been bombed by a British G.102 Elephant, causing great sheets of fire that Von Hammer flies deliberately into as a way of escaping his pursuer. When he emerges he is now in the role of hunter and soon begins firing his twin spandaus, disabling the Hanriot. As the dying plane plummets earthward he thinks to himself: "Now—he has learned too late—that it is when the sky is fairest—that it is most deadly!" The Fokker then ascends to take out the Elephant when another plane closes in and attacks the German Ace.

Through skillful piloting, Von Hammer works his way into the kill position and takes out this new attacker and salutes the English pilot, acknowledging that he fought to the last.

As Von Hammer returns to his airfield his fellow pilots marvel that he alone never returns without a victory, but the victory seems hollow to the loner pilot and he imagines he can hear the refrain of "Killer…killer…killer…" from his Fokker. Returning to his house he takes no solace in the day's kills and it is his orderly who notices he's been wounded.

The Baron is grounded while waiting for his shoulder wound to heal and spends the hours hunting in the Black Forest where he encounters again the creature he considers his "friend," a wolf. "We're alike, we two! Hunting alone! Giving no quarter—nor asking for mercy for ourselves!" As if the beast understands their strange kinship he soon illustrates the point by finding himself in combat with an attacking bear. The wolf is victorious in the brief but vicious melee and Von Hammer notes that, "He was wounded the moment he was attacked! But he ignored his wounds to make his kill! He is a first-class fighting animal!"

When Rittmeister Von Hammer is ready again to take to the skies he encounters his worthy foe, a Canadian pilot who flies a Nieuport 17 aircraft with a bright red spinner. To further set himself apart, the Ace pilot known as "The Hunter" flies with neither helmet or goggles and he drops a note to the Baron following his grounding of two German Rolland D-II's: "I will wait over the field and give the two cowards in the Roland D II's who ran from combat—a chance to redeem the honor or air combat!" At that the Hammer of Hell confronts his two fellow pilots, asking if they were out of fuel and ammunition as that was the only reason he could fathom their flight from a single enemy pilot. They stammer that they were surprised and he insists on leading them into battle with The Hunter.

As Part III opens, Von Hammer and the Hunter exchange respectful salutes and the Enemy Ace stands by as an observer, noting that the Canadian is a true sportsman, refusing to fire until the two Rolands are at his same altitude. The deadly dance takes place over the next two pages and the Hunter, exhibiting nerves of pure steel, takes down the two enemy craft. He and Von Hammer depart the scene, each understanding that the next time they meet it will be a fight to the death. Again, Von Hammer's thoughts show his introspection: "In the end it is the sky who will finish him…for it is the sky…who is the killer of us all!"

As the concluding chapter opens, Von Hammer is engaged in another struggle to try and avert an attack on German observation balloons. He flies skillfully through his own anti-aircraft fire and flies to meet the French pilot in the Spad. Exhibiting tremendous skill and daring, the French pilot takes out a balloon and expects his trajectory to take him right into the Fokker in the bargain. The Hammer of Hell admires his foe's work, but beats the other pilot to the punch, sending the Spad down while he readily acknowledges that his enemy died with honor. Rittmeister Von Hammer returns again to his field and as he walks away the whispered remarks of his fellows again display respectful awe: "Only a human killing machine could watch two of his pilots die! Then—attack with a bandaged arm—and down a Spad!" Again, he can almost hear his Fokker emit "Killer…killer…killer…"

The Enemy Ace cannot sleep and he ponders the line of victory cups that signify multiple kills, thinking yet again of the skies, "…the killer of us all!" Dawn brings the two Ace's together again as the distinctive Nieuport 17 enters the skies above Hans Von Hammer and drops a note: "To: Rittmeister Hans Von Hammer: If you are fully recovered from your wound I and my squadron will be waiting for you and your circus over No-Man's Land! If you are not I can wait until you are! I will circle the field until you answer! The Hunter" With the help of his mechanics Von Hammer crafts his reply with strips of torn sheets to create the message on the ground. He marvels as The Hunter calmly flies about, ignoring the anti-aircraft fire. Soon the message is assembled: "To The Hunter…Will be happy to oblige! Von Hammer"

Now the savage battle ignites the sky with ammunition blazing from both aircraft. It ultimately looks as though the Fokker has met its fate as the propeller is sheared off from the machine gunfire of the Hunter's weapon, but the Nieuport is losing altitude as well and soon both aircraft crash into the ground. The Hammer of Hell staggers toward his foe, determined to take him prisoner, but The Hunter, badly hurt but unbending, opens fire with a sidearm. Von Hammer dodges and closes in with his Luger as the Hunter fires his last round. He tells the Ace that he will now take him prisoner, remarking that he fought with great honor. The Canadian expresses his regrets and passes away.

The lone Ace then says to himself that his defiant foe has escaped him, but not the sky. We're told to watch for the next issue of Enemy Ace in Showcase as this adventure ends. The Hammer of Hell did indeed show up next issue, but apparently sales were not strong enough for him to continue and the Enemy Ace feature disappeared for a time, returning in yet another title, Star Spangled War Stories, in issue #138 with a publication date of May 1968. There he found a home for a time, but within about two years he was gone again.

The Enemy Ace was a very unique concept, looking at war through the eyes of an efficient, ruthless and introspective enemy who apparently took no particular joy in his victories. He is inevitably depicted with a grim visage, going about his work with single-mindedness, but seeming to struggle with the madness of war and killing. The concept was obviously strong enough to make Hans Von Hammer a recurring character in the DC universe to the point that this story in particular was reprinted a few times and judging from the title was almost certainly the inspiration for the Neal Adams drawn tribute story that was reviewed here awhile back, "Ghost of the Killer Skies!"

Joe Kubert's artwork was brilliant, as usual, and I enjoyed seeing the classic World War I dogfights and learning about the aircraft and gear in the bargain. Standout stuff that I can readily recommend and I'll grade this tale with a 9 on the 10-point scale. For what it's worth, I noted that on Wikipedia there is mention of an upcoming Batman Brave and the Bold episode that will feature an appearance of the Enemy Ace.

We appreciate your patronage as always and hope you've enjoyed your time here at the Silver Lantern. Feedback and commentary of all sorts can be directed here: professor_the@hotmail.com.

We shall return, as always, in about two weeks with another review and while I wasn't able to deliver this time, perhaps my latest interview will be ready to see the light of day as well. Only one way to find out for certain and that's to join us then! Until next time…

Long live the Silver Age!

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