By Darryl Ayo
“Ace,” 1952 written by Harvey Kurtzman, drawn by John Severin for FRONTLINE COMBAT #6
Every now and every then, I remember that the perfect North American comic books are the 1950s EC Comics. MAD was the best, but EC’s line included a lot of wonderful specimens of comic bookery.
Historically, EC Comics are known for pushing cultural boundaries for content, as well as putting together extremely tightly-written pulp short stories. It is often lamented that the style of writing in these comics hasn’t aged well, but I am going to ask you to bear with me. By this point we have all seen these twists and hooks and tricks before. Pulp fiction in general seems to exist in a language that is almost entirely cliche at this point. But let’s just try to look at a few of these right here:
I really enjoy how this story keeps returning to the dinner scene. It isn’t “like,” it precisely IS a traditional “chorus.” The story keeps returning to this refrain and there is a progression to the scene with each return. We can see the men’s hand gestures as they retell the day’s events in aerial combat. In the first two refrains, the men are impressed by Lt. Harry Chesterfield’s exploits, but in the final refrain, that man no longer lives, but the ritual of hand gestures and reenactment persists. Note the face of the the blond man who always sits next to Chesterfield. There’s something very affecting about how he who sits in closest proximity to Chesterfield inherits his responsibility in telling the story in this final scene. It’s as though the energy from the late pilot still lives and flowed to the next available vessel.