Thursday, May 1, 2008

Set-Before-1930-Edition, with Enemy Ace and the Wizard of Oz

Here's how this works: I finish reading something, and I tell you about it, and I try not to bore you to death. Today: reviews of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (Image, 2006) and Showcase Presents Enemy Ace (DC, 2008).

This has actually been sitting on my nightstand for longer than anything else in that teetering stack, as it's a Christmas present I purchased quite some time ago and may finally get to deliver this month. Well, before it went, I wanted to actually have a look at it. It's a very charming adaptation of the L. Frank Baum novel, created by Enrique Fernandez and David Chauvel, made three years ago for a French publisher and released in this country by Image towards the end of '06.

I've actually never read the original novel, so I can't say whether it's that accurate an adaptation, but I was surprised by how very unlike the film it is, with the Wicked Witch of the West being a much smaller part of the narrative, and sorted before the book was two-thirds complete. It also takes place over the course of several weeks and, without spoiling anything, does not suffer from that awful cop-out ending the movie has. I do like the artwork, but with some reservations. Having finished it, I'm still not completely certain what the Tin Man actually looked like, since he's mostly seen from odd angles and in the shadows. He also sports a deeply bizarre, grisly origin not alluded to in the movie. Man, I'm going to have to track those books down if they're as creepy as this. Recommended, if for no other reason than it will spark your curiosity.

Ah, Robert Kanigher. We meet again.

Readers of "What I Just Read" may recall that I've been deeply disappointed with the comics work of Robert Kanigher, the prolific DC Comics scribe whose work from the 1960s and 1970s is seeing so much reprint in the Showcase Presents series. Fortunately, Enemy Ace is much, much better than some of the other books I've slogged through. It's a series set in World War One and featuring the taciturn Hans von Hammer, a German flying ace with no friends and a grim obsession with honor.

The series was only sporadically published, appearing from time to time in four separate anthology books from 1965-1979, and finally as a backup feature, drawn by John Severin, in some 1981-82 issues of The Unknown Soldier. Much of the other material is drawn by Joe Kubert, who makes up for some sometimes slapdash anatomy with a wonderful depiction of emotion in his characters and detailed reference for all the airplanes roaring over the skies of No Man's Land. Other artists contributing include Russ Heath and Howard Chaykin.

As for the stories, well, at least 400 of the 550 pages on display here are, despite some note of repetition (Von Hammer has a suck-up of an orderly, he takes his leaves in the woods in the company of a black wolf), really first-rate stuff. From time to time, it must be said, Kanigher slips, and his patented "three-beat" formula becomes evident (for example, trapped in France and trying to make it back to his lines, von Hammer meets three women, each of whom know a French airman whom von Hammer has shot down in the last week). There are even a handful of occasions where everything goes to hell and things get completely ridiculous - there's one completely braindead story about an English ace who, as a young boy, was obsessed with the tale of St. George and the Dragon, grew up convinced he was the reincarnation of St. George, and now takes to the air in full plate armor.

But when he wasn't being lazy and he wasn't giving von Hammer some retarded version of a rogues' gallery to fight, Kanigher really delivered on this title, making it by far the best of his work I've read, and streets superior to either Sgt. Rock or The War That Time Forgot. That's not to say that you won't find even better air combat in Johnny Red, or better WWI-set drama in Charley's War, but overall, this has turned out to be among the best of the Showcase books, and recommended for anyone curious in the material.

(Originally posted May 1, 2008 at hipsterdad's LJ.)

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