First thing you can't help doing when confronted with the title of AiT's new graphic novel, Aces: Curse of the Red Baron, is mentally visualize Snoopy on top of his doghouse, the Royal Guardsmen singing in the background, the inevitable "Curse you, Red Baron!" thought balloon hovering over our hero's head.
But Shannon Eric Denton, G. Willow Wilson & Curtis Square-Briggs' (lotta complex names there!) GN turns to be something else again: a sci-fi buddy actioner featuring a mismatched pair of Yank and Britisher pilots who both claim to have felled the Bloody Red Baron. One of the twosome, dapper Englishman Heath Bennett, is in possession of a map he believes leads to the German ace's hidden treasure, and he convinces skeptical American Frank Grayson to help commander a plane in search of the uncharted island where it's supposedly hidden. What our scoundrel heroes don't know, of course, is that the Red Baron is still around and pissed that someone else has his map. He's soon pursuing our wisecracking flyboys in a ghostly plane that appears and vanishes mysteriously, as our heroes search for a seemingly unfindable Isle of Isdrinn. A series of hairbreadth escapes, naturally, ensues.
It's all connected to the Black Hand, the organization responsible for the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, and a dark haired German beauty named Wolf 1. It's not giving away too much to note that the explanations behind all this prove more science-fictional than supernatural – or that the Red Baron's "treasure" proves to mainly be a Macguffin. All this happy foolishness'd would play well on the big screen, where, hopefully, the right pair of actors could breathe more life into our somewhat monochromatic leads.
Artist Square-Briggs, utilizing brush and wash, bathes his panels in blacks and shades of gray. Even his dogfights take place in cloud and smoke, while a simple panel of our heroes standing casually in an airfield is also spattered with what looks like black ash. It adds to the period feel and what turns out to be the story's central clash between the smoky reality of early twentieth century Europe and a more mysterious future. If at times the artist's propensity for dark shadow comes at the expense of his characters' expressiveness, Aces moves with sufficient zip to keep you from worrying about it.
As a comics company, AiT has carved a niche for itself as a sharp purveyor of high-concept genre work. While Aces isn't up to the line's best material (see publisher Larry Young's densely satisfying Black Diamond, for example, which has recently been issued in a trade paperback collection), it still remains an entertaining lark. Snoopy, that imaginative WWI fighter pilot, could've gone far mentally playing with the material in this entertaining graphic novel.