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Mike Dunham

Blockbuster First Issue!

From Nancy to Enemy Ace

I discovered Nancy in 1955. Of all the comics available at the time, Ernie Bushmiller’s adventuresome little girl and her weird, Gothic friend, Oona Goosepimple grabbed my attention. Oona could perform levitation and call up strange little characters called the Frightful Yoyos.Comic book panel of Oona Goosepimple and Nancy running from the Frightful Yoyos. Shaped like hairy hats or lampshades with little feet, they would mob Nancy and her pal, Sluggo, chasing them into creepy old cellars, up coal chutes, never actually hurting anyone, never making a sound, but relentless in their mischief, until Oona made them disappear. Here was my introduction to Weird Fantasy and as I grew older, I found Clark Ashton Smith, H.P. Lovecraft, and A.A. Merritt to feed my interest in the weird and macabre.

At the same time, I discovered Scrooge McDuck in the pages of Donald Duck comics. He loved exploring old ruins, weird artifacts with messages to decipher, and sometimes treasure! This, of course, was another part of my interest that flourished with Lovecraft and Smith; I was hooked!

I finally bought my own comic: Blackhawk! This was a group of guys who followed the leader, Blackhawk, into all sorts of “good guys flying to the rescue” scenarios. They flew the Grumman XF5F-1 Skyrocket fighter that had been rejected by the Navy as just not needed. It was a fascinating aircraft with twin engines in the wings, and a cockpit set back, bristling with machine guns. The best part was their uniforms: peaked hats, dark blue hussar-style jackets, and big, shiny boots. My nine year old self fell in love with “the look”, which had a direct influence on my decision to become a United States Marine, albeit thirteen years later.

Cover of issue 12 of Blackhawk showing Blackhawk and five airplanes.

Around that time, I became a great fan of military comics such as Star Spangled War Stories, Our Army at War, and Sgt. Rock and Easy Company. No realism here; same crummy artwork, good guys pulling off unbelievable stunts. One bright light in this genre was The Haunted Tank, a little M3 Stuart which was guided by the ghost of C.S.A. General J.E.B. Stuart, for whom the tank was named. The artwork was realistic and once I got past my disbelief of some of the stories, it was pretty good. The idea of German Tiger I tanks being demolished by the little 37mm cannon of the American M3 Stuart was sort of stretching things. The ghost of J.E.B. Stuart always appeared to save the crew at just the right time. Fifteen years later, I was commanding Marine tanks. Many times, I wished for a ghost to get me and my platoon out of jams… sigh.

My interest in comics burst into a real passion when I discovered Enemy Ace, Hans von Hammer, The Hammer of Hell.

Here was magnificent artwork, not just of his personal scarlet Fokker Dr.I triplane, but every aircraft—French, English, German, Belgian—was drawn with reference-book accuracy by Joe Kubert. From fighters to huge bombers, he got it all spot on. The storylines almost always featured a damsel in distress, a legendary pilot to face the Hammer of Hell, and Hans’ hunting companion, a huge black wolf.

Drawing of Enemy Ace's Fokker triplane in a steep climb. Bullets rain down on his plane.

Despite the WWI theme, there was a strong antiwar message in almost every issue. Hans would often ponder the pity of war as he walked with the Black Wolf, questioning the death and destruction of a war he was inextricably bound to. I never read a comic that handled an antiwar theme so well. To this day, I enjoy rereading this series with all the characters, the sensible dialog, and the incredible artwork. My growing collection of WWI aircraft in 1/48th scale, Kubert’s artwork, and the characters portrayed are a joy to me. The centerpiece of my collection is a DC Comics 1/6 scale figure of Hans von Hammer and the Black Wolf that I will always treasure.


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