The Iron Ace seems to come to life. Artist: Fred Kida.


Medium: Comic books
Published by: Hillman Periodicals
First Appeared: 1942
Creators: unknown writer and Fred Kida (artist)
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Air Fighters Comics started in November, 1941, as an attempt by Hillman Periodicals to exploit the pilot-adventurer genre that had long been exploited in newspaper comics by Smilin' Jack,

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Barney Baxter etc. But that title and its air-fighting heroes, such as Crash Davis, Mach Duff and The Black Sheep Squadron, promptly went down in flames. A year later, the publisher tried again, with a whole new crew, including The Flying Dutchman, The Black Angel and The Bald Eagle. This time it took off and lasted beyond the duration of World War II.

The characters introduced in Air Fighters Comics #2 (November, 1942) were a diverse bunch, flying a diverse set of idiosyncratic aircraft. Airboy's was an ornithopter, propelling itself by flapping its wings like a bird. Sky Wolf and his crew flew bizarre and impractical-looking planes that looked like Siamese twins joined at the wing, but able to separate and fly solo at will. The Iron Ace's plane could, at the touch of a button, cover itself with impregnable metal, just like the man himself, who wore a centuries-old suit of armor when flying into battle.

The original Iron Ace had been a warrior in the service of Charlemagne, who, when the old soldier finally died, promised he'd return when his last descendant was killed by forces occupying the land. That last descendant was Dr. La Farge, who lived in a castle in France, where The Iron Ace's armor was displayed in a glass case. Dr. La Farge courted such a death by working to resist the Nazi invaders.

He wound up getting it. But before he did, he extended hospitality to RAF Captain Britain (no relation — this one actually had a first name, Ronald, tho it wasn't very easy to find), who had been shot down nearby, and told him the Iron Ace story. Nazi soldiers came, seeking the wounded pilot, whose hiding place La Farge refused to divulge, and that was the end of La Farge. Witnessing the cowardly act, Britain crawled under the floorboards, emerging inside the armor's display case, and somehow put on the armor, which fit him perfectly and functioned as if it had just been oiled, without attracting attention.

He crashed out of the display case and, playing the "ghost knight" schtick to the hilt, rid the castle of living Nazis, then rushed to La Farge's side. With his dying breath, the old man told the resurrected Iron Ace he could escape in the plane hidden in the wine cellar, and to push a certain button if he got into an impossible jam. The button triggered a mechanism that covered the plane in "fabrikoic micro iron", and from then on Ronald Britain was the scourge of the sky — an armored man flying an armored aircraft, The Iron Ace.

The Iron Ace's writer isn't known, but the artist was Fred Kida, who also worked on a number of newspaper comics, including Flash Gordon and Spider-Man. Other artists who did The Iron Ace include Bill Fraccio (Captain Marvel, Son of Vulcan), Bob Fujitani (The Hangman, Dr. Solar) and, briefly, Gil Kane (Blackmark, Star Hawks).

After the war, Air Fighters Comics continued under the name of Airboy, who had been the most prominent feature all along. Gradually, the war-oriented characters in the back pages were phased out. The Iron Ace lasted until the February, 1947 issue. After that, he was replaced by a less flamboyant hero named Rackman. Airboy continued until 1953, but The Iron Ace wasn't seen again.


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Text ©2008 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Hillman Periodicals.