Sunday, August 12, 2012

RIP Joe Kubert

Joe Kubert died today. He was a comic book artist who is, according to his Wikipedia entry, best known for his work on Hawkman and Sgt. Rock. While I'm as big a fan of the Sarge as the next guy, to me Joe Kubert is first and foremost the co-creator and artist of Enemy Ace, a lesser-known comic about a German fighter pilot during the First World War. In the course of the series, Kubert would write a lot of exciting, melodramatic stories about Hans von Hammer, including what I consider to be the best classic comic book cover of all time, above.

To understand my love of Enemy Ace, you'd have to go back to my grade school years. My family had our first color computer, and one of the games for it was The Red Baron. We didn't have a joystick, but we didn't let that stop us: with a lot of patience (and practice on "no death" mode), we learned how to fly our WWI planes with a mouse.

At about this time, our father decided we were old enough to read his treasured comics collection (if our homework was done and our hands were clean). He kept his old issues in a box, all arranged sequentially by series. The pages were a little yellowed and brittle with age, but they were in excellent condition.

We were in the middle of the 90's "duck fad", where shows like Duck Tales and Darkwing Duck were all the rage on the Disney channel, so my brothers and I really enjoyed the Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge comics. But what really captured our attention were the war stories: Sergeant Rock, Unknown Soldier (another Kubert creation), and Haunted Tank were all set during World War II and told from the American perspective. There was one more series featured prominently in the box, which concerned the First World War and was about a German protagonist: Enemy Ace. Add our fascination with the aces of the great war to our love of comics, and you can see why Enemy Ace made such an impression.

The hero of Enemy Ace, Baron Hans von Hammer, was a fictionalized version of Manfred von Richtofen, the historical "Red Baron." Von Hammer, like his counterpart, flew a blood-red Fokker Dr. 1 triplane and led a squadron of German pilots in the skies above the trenches. Known as the "Hammer of Hell," he was a melancholy and tormented figure. There were three recurring supporting characters in the series who each shed light on von Hammer's personality. The first was his servant, who bought a trophy for each kill and praised von Hammer's skill each time. The ace would let the enthusiastic man prattle on, oblivious to the pain von Hammer felt at having killed so many brave enemy pilots. The second was a black wolf who sometimes met von Hammer on hunts through his lands. The wolf was the only creature who understood that you must kill or be killed. Von Hammer would reflect that the beast was the closest he had to a companion, as the two respected each other as hunters. Finally, there was his plane itself, whose cooling engine would whisper "Killer... Killer... Killer..." at him as he walked away after another successful mission.

Kubert's art was dynamic, his heroes were square-jawed and determined, and his portrayal of war was always devastating and tragic. Though his comics featured heroic soldiers standing up to evil and fighting for freedom, the message was clear: war was never glorious, and the price was always high. In his memory, I will end with the phrase that closed so many of his comics: "Make War No More."

1 comment:

Doomfinger said...

Excellent post. RIP, Kubert.