An Ace Enemy Or A Number Two?

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Enemy Ace: War In Heaven #1

Writer: Garth Ennis
Artists: Christian Alamy (breakdowns), Chris Weston (finished art)

Publisher: DC

As I write this review I’ve only spoken to Craig about my feelings concerning this title, i.e. he hadn’t read it at that time, and I’ve got no idea what his review will say. [Not a lot, as it turns out, I’ll interject in this article (with Alan’s permission of course)]

Personally I thought this was an absolutely blinding read. Visually, it’s stunning. Visual cues have been taken from classic war films and such tributes to them as Star Wars. Alamy and Weston use a wonderful selection of camera angles, zooms, panel shapes and sizes, to not only tell a story, but to truly drag us into the tale emotionally. We can identify everyone without effort and every bit of action (even when the page is packed full) is clear enough to make everything out. This is how comic art should be, energetic, clear, emotive and lovingly (but subtlely) coloured. This is no “all-Image” piece, but a glorious synergy of art and story that doesn’t scream “LOOK AT THIS ART”. It doesn’t have to, that’s not its function.

[The way I look at this is that when you buy a Garth Ennis comic you’re invariably buying it for the story, you expect that to carry the comic through to the end, through comedy and tragedy, ultimately regardless of who is on the artistic duties. However, almost insidiously, you take in the glorious art that is page 1, the fly by on page 10, the dogfight on page 13, and you almost swear you’re watching a movie. You stop, you look at the art, you look again, you almost forget the script, you wallow in the detailed research – here is an art team to match Ennis’s scripts, it just works oh-so-well.]

Garth Ennis’s script directs the art as skilfully as Moore would, yet this is most definitely Ennis fare. Why do I say that? Well, simply put there are one or two scenes that, frankly, no other writer would feel the need for. Gratuitous and overly graphic violence…bailed out pilots chopped up by propellers, a wolf goring Russians, and a family settling down to a eat a human hand, are just some examples.

[It disappoints me that Garth seemingly can’t get through a story without such excess. Oh, there’s a time and a place for such things, for sure, but when you have such a well-crafted book like this that, sans gore, you could revel it and show to anyone – your granny, your kids, schools, libraries – and hold this up as an example of the industry at its best, and then find you can do no such thing as the violence will be an immediate turn off, you get so disheartened. This isn’t even a Vertigo book, since that imprint started I don’t think there has been such extreme violence as in this comic.]

War is hell, we know this, we’ve seen it. Violence and particularly showing the consequences of violence are an extremely powerful way of getting a message across. However, Ennis’s sheer overuse of these types of scenes has dulled their impact. Where once we were shocked and reflected on the futility and horror of the violence, now we feel like voyeurs, and I fear that some Ennis fans are just violence-junkies, out to seek the next bit of ugly horror dished up as entertainment, whilst side-stepping what it would mean in the real world. “Ugh”s have been replaced by “wow”s. That’s my rant out of the way.

So, what’s it all about (Alfie)? As many of you know, Enemy Ace was a DC title of old. It has classic war comics stuff with a twist – the star was a WWI German pilot. Von Hammer (a thinly veiled tribute to Von Richthoven, complete with red-painted tri-plane) was a honourable enemy, a warrior true, worth telling stories about because of his skill and honour. Sound familiar? It should so, the Red Baron and Field Marshall Rommel come very much to mind. Why is it we feel the need to find “honourable” foes to talk about? Perhaps our sheer distaste for the horrors of war have led us to believe the idea of an honourable enemy, a battle of equals matching skill and tactical abilities is far more palatable than goodie-goodies smashing an enemy of darkest evil. I dunno.

[I think you need look no further than British war comics (Victor, Warlord, Battle, et al) of the 70s, and the still published Commando books to get your fill of good vs. evil. They say history is written by the victors, but there appears little “decent” or “honourable” about the losing sides in World Wars One and Two. You could say that introducing the notion of an honourable enemy to legitimise war, to make the stories more interesting, actually cheapens it. However, the stories featuring “our” troops overcoming the odds and winning out against “their” troops have maybe all been played out – indicating that redemption is possible for the enemy, that there were some “bad” nazis and some “nice” nazis, gives you a story hook, but isn’t necessarily morally correct.]

Enemy Ace is a title that should be dead, the stuff of the Victor and other comics, but it isn’t. Ennis’s skill and the present climate of reflective, tongue-in-cheek, introspective and very “knowing” titles help to produce an incredibly well-crafted, through-provoking and, at times, funny title. This tale is set in WWII with the eponymous hero an older, wiser man, dragged into a war he has no desire to fight, for a fatherland he has no respect for. What is good (and particularly of our current time (though originally seen (I believe) in Watchmen)) is that the characters reflect sarcastically on previous runs of the title. [Of course, sometimes the dialogue just doesn’t ring true (German characters circa WWII using “mate” and “bugger” is just taking artistic license too far)].

This current, darker take on the title comes from the change in the characters’ hearts – they are older, wiser, and tireder. The darkness was there before, but the characters kept it to themselves.

This is an exceptional read…but it’s controversy time. I’ve previously likened Ennis’s Punisher work to the 60s Batman TV series, now I’ve a new comparison to make…Von Hammer = Von Trapp? The similarities are there – an honourable aristocrat, a patriot opposing the Nazis bullied by a snivelling petty nazi…ok, maybe it’s just me.

There’s a lot more depth here I’d like to go into, I’d like to talk about how we’d all love to see Von Hammer defect to the Allies, but know it’ll never happen and why. I’d like to discuss the awesome Star Wars X-Wing books I’ve been reading lately, and of how the pilot-to-pilot dialogue is so similar to this title, and how Wedge Antilles and Von Hammer are one minute portrayed as lovely people, then as soon as they get into a plane they turn into vicious killers – yet both sides are equally part of the same person. You’d never expect Antilles or Von Hammer to walk up to an unarmed boy and shoot them dead, yet we cheer when they slice a squadron of barely trained recruits to shreds.

[Of course the difference between an unarmed boy and a squadron of barely trained recruits is that the former cannot harm you, the latter have a fuck-off huge arsenal to blow you to crap with!]

There’s so much I want to talk about, but there’s still the concluding issue #2 to come…I’ll cover it then.

[My final word: a good book, an excellent read, couple of caveats stop this from reaching the pinnacle of greatness – the glorification of violence, the misplaced dialogue, the implicit racism (Von Hammer and chums happily blow the Russian planes to pieces, as soon as the English Hurricanes and Spitfires turn up the situation takes a radical turn for the worse for the Germans – hoorah the English and yah-boo-sucks to the Russians then).]

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