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Duel in the Somme: a one-off collab

Fans of Peanuts are certainly familiar with the Red Baron and while those that have first have knowledge of the original Ace have all but gone, he still elicits the same respect and fascination he did in the 20’s, I’m sure.

The dastardly devil of the skies has once again become a topic of interest in a collaboration effort by Ben Bova, Rob Balder, Bill Holbrook, and Terrance and Isabel Marks. Apparently the whole thing came about through a conversation at a convention and it reeks of the kind of awesomeness that gave us the super groups of rock legend such as Cream, Bad Company, and more recently, Velvet Revolver and Them Crooked Vultures.

Snoopy as "the World War I flying ace&quo...

Snoopy takes to the skies

The storyline is simple enough. A Dilbertesque engineer and his oppressive frat-boy boss butt heads in an attempt to woo a lady. Bova’s dabblings in virtual reality an impressive machine that allows the two men to settle their differences on the battlefield through a very sophisticated super computer. Now, much of this seems rather plausible, except when we get to the funding issue. Balder worked on the adaptation of Bova’s short story, so it’s impossible to say whose idea this was, but somehow they decided that the government would want a complex battle simulator that would allow them to command everything from the entire theater down to a single soldier crawling through the dirt. Now, I don’t know, maybe there would be some benefit to this. We all know the DoD likes to spend money, God bless ’em. My problem is the time period.

World War I was a rather unusual war. By 1914 humanity had reached a point where they were no longer willing to stand in nice neat lines and shoot at each other casually. Much of this had to do with more accurate weapons that could shoot much faster. Long story short, our limited knowledge of these new-fangled death machines led to trench warfare. And let’s be honest here, somebody starts blasting away willy-nilly at me with a machine gun I think I’d want to dig myself a hole to hind in too. But, but World War II we found more effective methods to use machine guns and avoided the stalemates that plagued World War I and drove casualty numbers up.

So, Enosh, that’s a nice bit of history, but what does that have to do with the military wanting a battle simulation computer? Well, if you want a battle situation designed to allow you to strategize without killing people or putting your boys in harm’s way the Great War isn’t a particularly useful choice. The only time since WWI trench warfare tactics were applied over a large part of the theater was in the Korean War and it had just about as many flaws as WWI. So, why strategize trench warfare when you will not be implementing trench warfare tactics? And really in the modern age of urban combat you won’t really be employing the global strategies used in WWII either.

Oh snap.

Of course, none of this really matters because the comic is about dogfighting in rickety wooden planes over a little river in France. and really, who wouldn’t want to try that. But Enosh, we can already do that with any number of flight simulators that have been getting increasingly accurate since the mid-90’s. Ah, but this little bugger is not a simulator it’s virtual reality. The problem at the beginning of the story is the darn thing’s not finished. So, not only does “Zorro” need to defeat his boss in an airplane battle, but he also has to build the machines the duel will take place in. Typical Revenge of the Nerds stuff.

Ah, but wait. These two guys are fighting over a woman? Good thing this isn’t the 90’s. The PC police would be all over this comic  like dust on the moon. The woman goes along with the whole scenario so it must not be that big of a deal. So despite a few hackneyed premises, the story is good enough to hold my attention. Of course it gets a lot of assistance from the artwork.

Holbrook is the artist for the 24 page ditty. His action scenes are very pleasing and clever changes in the point of view keep the dialogue moving. The only major drawback is the main character. Zoro’s goofing looking head makes me want to hate the nerdy little fellow, and then again, that could be intentional. After all, he is the weaselly little nerd just trying to get the girl from the handsome yet obnoxious boss.

The simple, bold colors keep the focus right where it should be while drawing attention to some of the subtle details of the pages. The Marks played their part well.

The comic is being presented completely free as a web comic, or for a measly $10 you can get your hands on a hard copy. The best part about the web comic is you don’t have to wait for updates because the final page posted today.


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