05) War Comics set in WW I


The most famous World War I comic book hero is Enemy Ace (DC). Enemy Ace, aka Hans von Hammer, first appeared in Our Army at War # 151 and as a Prussian aristocrat believes in a warrior code i.e. chivalry even in the modern battlefield. In Enemy Ace Special #1, a French pilot salutes the Enemy Ace even as his plane goes down in flames.

This sense of honor is tested when Hans von Hammer is recruited for WW II and must fight for the very dishonorable Nazi in Enemy Ace-War in Heaven #1.

In the Vertigo version, the Enemy Ace is old and dying and has an extended conversation with a Vietnam vet that had been a tunnel rat. The story suggests there is a brotherhood of soldiers that transcends history. The death of Hans von Hammer is one of the better death scenes in comic book history.

The Enemy Ace shows up Swamp Thing V2 #83 in a plot that is pure speculative fiction and this story is expanded on in the 11) War Comics plus Speculative Fiction section of this series.

DC’s counterpoint to Enemy Ace is the Balloon Buster! Enemy Ace is German. The Balloon Buster is American. The Enemy Ace is an aristocrat. The Balloon Buster is White trash. The Enemy Ace is motivated by honor. The Balloon Buster is motivated by an inferiority complex. The Enemy Ace goes after planes. The Balloon Buster goes after observation balloons. Enemy Ace was a successful character. The Balloon Buster was so unsuccessful that he does not have his own entry in Wikipedia but is only listed as a recurring character of the anthology Men of War. Balloon Buster is not even in Don Markstein’s Toonopedia.  Balloon Buster first appeared in All-American Men of War #114.

Balloon Buster did get an entry in DC Who’s Who #2 or at least the 1985 version.

The last Balloon Buster story is a stroll down memory lane with Batman in Annual Batman-Legends of the Dark Knight #7. Apparently, Ballo0n Buster’s girlfriend was killed by a German soldier and the Balloon Buster got his revenge three days before WW I ended and therefore his career as a balloon buster.

The Marvel version of DC’s Enemy Ace is the far inferior Phantom Eagle (Marvel) in Marvel Super-Heroes V1 #16. The Phantom Eagle has a secret identity and a spiffy mask which makes the comic silly rather than gritty. The Phantom Eagle is not a war comic or much of a superhero comic book. Neither fish nor fowl and thus did not have much success.

Later there was an attempt to make the Phantom Eagle relevant, the silly mask and secret identity were done away with, in War Is Hell – The First Flight of the Phantom Eagle #1. The message is that war is hell, big surprise but the internal dialogue that was an important part of the Enemy Ace series is not present and thus the comic fails to entertain.

 

World War Stories #1 (Dell) had a beautiful hand painted cover.

World War Stories #2 dealt with the Gallipoli Campaign.

World War Stories #3, the final issue, dealt with poison gas so the comic book was topical.

 

Charley’s War (Fleetway) is a British comic book that is considered one of the best British comic books ever. Details of trench life like contracting lice were researched by the writer Pat Mills. The series got a new writer and was moved to WW II but this is still mostly a WW I comic strip.

The most gruesome comic book versions of WW I are provided by Jacques Tardi in It was the War of the Trenches and the follow up work the Goddam this War.

Joe Sacco wrote the WW I documentary graphic novel The Great War: July 1, 1916: The First Day of the Battle of the Somme.

Wayne Vansant wrote the graphic novel The Red Baron obviously set in WW I.