Who’s Who Presents – Who’s That? #6: Balloon Buster

For the sixth savage episode of WHO'S THAT?, Rob and Shag take a look at one of DC's most daring heroes, the World War I flying ace -- Balloon Buster! We cover his publication history, appearances & some classic stories! Plus YOUR listener feedback!

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32 responses to “Who’s Who Presents – Who’s That? #6: Balloon Buster

  1. Thank you for the perfect start to my Sunday, gentlemen. I spent this dreary, overcast morning listening to the new episode while enjoying a delicious scrapple, egg, and cheese on an everything bagel and a nice hot London Fog. Even better: the episode is a close examination of another gem of an entry from Who’s Who. The day is looking good so far.

    The first issue of Who’s Who I purchased was Who’s Who Vol. II. I was nine years old at the time, and it jumpstarted my full-on transformation into a comic book reader and collector. Obviously, I was initially drawn to the Bat characters featured in the issue as well as George Perez’s wonderful cover. And, the Black Canary entry sparked my longtime crush on the character.

    However, whenever I re-read the issue, I always stopped to examine the Balloon Buster entry. I suppose I was mostly responding to the Joe Kubert art because this entry is one of the more prominent ones in my memory of reading the series. And, like you guys, it’s a character that I had never heard of until encountering him in Who’s Who. His appearance in Crisis was the only other time I read a story with him in it.

    Looking back at the Who’s Who entry, I appreciate how it is the perfect marriage between the main image and the surprint. You guys nailed it when you said it looks as though Savage is slow-walking away from an explosion. Here, the surprint adds a measure of dynamism that otherwise wouldn’t be there if the main image was presented by itself.

    Also, I can see the same shades of Owen Wilson that Shagg mentions in this depiction of Balloon Buster, but, should Warner Bros. ever do a live-action version of the character, I hope they keep Owen Wilson far, far away from it. I don’t readily know who I would cast in the role, but I don’t see anything in Wilson’s body of work that would indicate he could do anything with the character but play him as a loud-mouthed buffoon, making unfunny quips in a whiney twang.

    With that said, I would love to see a limited series (live-action or animated) starring the character. Or perhaps an anthology series featuring a variety of DC’s war characters. There’s a lot of good material there to mine if only the suits at WB would do five minutes of research into their IPs and use some imagination. I won’t hold my breath for that to happen though.

    Thanks for another great episode, guys. Be well!

  2. Another great and fun episode. I listened to the ‘I’m The Gun’ podcast so had a decent knowledge of the character. But hearing the lineup of talent who touched this character is insane.

    I think I might just start yelling ‘I’m the Gun!’ as my motto … probably frowned upon in the hospital.

    As for upcoming episodes, while I will again say the 70s Starfire is a good pick (I love that series and have all the issues). I will again say Dr. Tzin-Tzin is worth a look. The Sienkiewicz page is soooo boss I naturally assumed he was a big deal. Nope.

    1. The following is from Frank Luke’s Wikipedia entry. I think DC borrowed heavily from his life story:

      Because of his arrogance and occasional tendencies to fly alone and disobey orders, Luke was disliked by some of his peers and superiors. But the 27th was under standing orders to destroy German observation balloons. Because of this, Luke, along with his close friend Lieutenant Joseph Frank Wehner, continually volunteered to attack these important targets although they were heavily defended by anti-aircraft guns on the ground. The two pilots began a string of victories together, with Luke attacking the balloons and Wehner flying protective cover. Wehner was killed in action on September 18, 1918, in a dogfight with Fokker D.VIIs, which were attacking Luke. Luke then shot down two of these D.VIIs and two balloons and a Halberstadt; the last “credit” enabled Luke to thereby achieve his 13th official kill—a Halberstadt Ctype observation plane of Flieger Abteilung 36.

      Luke’s final flight took place during the first phase of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. On September 28, 1918, after achieving his 14th and 15th victories, he landed his SPAD XIII at the French aerodrome at Cicognes where he spent the night, claiming engine trouble.[5] When he returned to the 1st Pursuit Group’s base at Rembercourt the next day, he was confronted by Captain Alfred A. Grant, his squadron’s commanding officer. Despite being under threat of arrest by Grant for absence without leave, Luke took off without authorization and flew to a forward airbase at Verdun, where his sympathetic group commander, Major Hartney, canceled the arrest order and gave Luke tacit approval to continue his balloon hunting.[5] That evening Luke flew to the front to attack three balloons in the vicinity of Dun-sur-Meuse, six miles behind the German lines. He first dropped a message to a nearby United States balloon company, alerting them to observe his imminent attacks. Luke shot down the enemy balloons but was then severely wounded by a single machine gun bullet fired from a hilltop above him, a mile east of the last balloon site he had attacked.[1] Luke landed in a field just west of the small village of Murvaux—after strafing a group of German soldiers on the ground—near the Ruisseau de Bradon, a stream leading to the Meuse River. Although weakened by his wound, he made his way toward the stream, intending to reach the cover of its adjacent underbrush, but finally collapsed some 200 meters from his airplane. Approached by German infantry, Luke drew his Colt Model 1911 pistol and fired a few rounds at his attackers before dying.

      Eddie Rickenbacker [1st aviator to earn the Medal of Honor; Luke was second] said of Luke: “He was the most daring aviator and greatest fighter pilot of the entire war. His life is one of the brightest glories of our Air Service. He went on a rampage and shot down fourteen enemy aircraft, including ten balloons, in eight days. No other ace, even the dreaded Richthofen, had ever come close to that.”

  3. Wow! Just…. WOW!!! Guys, you have made these stories a must find and read for me! This guy is the epitome of pulp adventure hero. A maverick, pistol packing roughneck ready for blazing battle action! He seems like the perfect character for film serials and an action figure line!
    Thanks for another great episode.

  4. Awesome episode guys! I was listening to the episode today sorting through some comics down in the basement, and when Shag said there was Balloon Buster in the Enemy Ace Showcase, I got up and walked over – and lo and behold I had it too! A common experience – we buy more than we can read all at once! I brought it up and will read the Balloon Buster issues this week!
    I have read some of the Russ Heath Sea Devils and the Kanigher War that time forgot, though – really fun stuff. Also available in Showcases.
    And I definitely add my vote for Starfire! I have all the issues ready for the re-read!!

  5. Great show, guys! I’m intrigued by these BB adventures!

    Rob Kelly went to the Kubert School? Why hasn’t this ever been discussed before?

    1. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of this Kubert School, but I think they should exploit the fact that Rob is an alumnus for marketing purposes.

  6. Great epis ode, guys! I have a fondness for this oddball character, so this was a real treat. Still waiting for a ‘Who’s That?’ on Brother Power, the Geek—a character just as wonderful as Lady Cop, or Ultra, the Multi-Alien.

  7. Impressive pod cast. Most impressive. I don’t remember this guy well. Though I did have that issue of Crissis with him in it. Wondering if he was gonna be a part of it… but, I think that was all for him. The Joe Kubert Art looks great as always. Er for the who’s who bit. The other art is cool too. Though that’s not a great outfit to go into war in. Their gonna spot him a mile away.

    Lt. Savage would have been a better title. As cool as Balloon busters were. To the command person in current day. The name doesn’t work. I know Lt. Savage is on the cover, but the Typography has Balloon Buster in a much bigger font so it doesn’t work. Still cool enough character. As for Frank Thorn. His art work is good and I collect his Red Sonja stuff as a kid.

    But, from what I heard Windy Pini say about him on U-tube vids and the few pod casts she’s done…. he may fit the Toxic type character type. She says during the days when she would dress as Sonja and Frank was dressed as a Wizard. And they’d do a bit on a Sonja panel. He was a bit oy. May have been just words. And he wasn’t taking the hint it wasn’t happening. This was way before she Married Richard Pinni and they created Elf Quest.

    Any way his art work was good. And the Bits Thorn and Pini did on the conventions looked fun on U-Tube.

  8. Great spotlight guys. I have honestly never read any solo Balloon Buster stories, or even the Enemy Ace confrontations, but now I really want to! As much as I love Kubert (and Thorne was definitely upping the Kubert factor in his stories as well), I just can’t get enough of vintage Russ Heath. Just beautiful draftsmanship. Have I ever mentioned how I got into an argument with my college Art History Professor about how I thought Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol were hacks and thieves, because they swiped so much comic work with no compensation? Well, I did. And my professor actually agreed with me, he just enjoyed getting a student passionate enough to argue with him. I got the whole classroom going. It was quite a moment.

    Oh, and just FYI, Russ Heath also was one of the designers and board artists on G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, although I don’t think Balloon Buster’s victims parachuted to safety every time like Cobra pilots!

    One more thing, the Starman retcon really works for the Starman series, but not sure how much it does for Balloon Buster. It’s maybe a bit too deep into making the DCU too small. In some ways Robinson really was the 90s version of Roy Thomas with his retcons. Everyone named Grayson has to be related, and so do the Savages!


  9. This was a fascinating episode. I’d never heard of Balloon Buster before, and while I don’t think I’ll be rushing out to track down the stories, you’ve at least got me interested – he did indeed have a top-notch stable of creators working on his stories (the samples on the gallery page look fantastic).
    By the way, I’m not sure what to make of the fact that the panels with the bandaged-up Balloon Buster reminded Shag of Daredevil movie – rather than the actual issue of Daredevil that scene is based on, i.e., #191,

    Otherwise, yeah, my comment about the electoral college back in June didn’t age well. I feel like I should apologize…

  10. It’s always a treat when this occasional series drops, thanks boys.

    Still, I’m not too impressed by Balloon Buster – how hard could it have been to shoot down blooming huge balloons (a bit of a speciality for Frank Thorne).

    Shag, I see what you mean about him possibly being played by Owen Wilson, based on the Who’s Who art until I look at the profile – he doesn’t have Wilson’s… er, distinctive nose.

    There’s no doubt these stories had great art but the dialogue! I tried reading the pages on the gallery but between Balloon Buster’s yee-haw twang, the German guys ‘Gott in Himmel‘ accent and ze French girl’s business… It was too much. I can’t bear phonetic dialogue. Mind, Chris Claremont would kill to write these strips.

    I wonder if Balloon Buster ever met Captain X of the RAF – that would almost count as a Firestorm team-up.

    1. Martin,

      I understand your issues with the phonetic spelling. Ah reckon ah don’ need ta see that twang, because I talk with it anyway, dagnab it!

      As for the German “accents”, I have to say I grew up around several German dialects, Low Germa, High German, Mennonite, Hutterite, and my own family’s Volgadeustch (Russian Germans) not to mention the actual German POWs transferred to Canada, and preferred to stay after the war to rebuild their lives. None of them talked like that! I also work with many French Immersion classes and Quebecois — none ever say “ze” in their conversational English. But then, I don’t work in comics!

      Good to hear from you, Martin. Oh, should I say “Marr’tin, laddie!” (kidding!)

      1. Comics usually screw up French-Canadian accents because they think it’s just like the French. It’s not. It all comes down to the “th” sounds, which we don’t have in French.

        The French put the tips of their tongue forward and try to pronounce “th” so it comes out as z- or s- (ze Sinkeur for the Thinker).

        Quebecois don’t try, they just approximate with a harder consonant, so d- and t- (de Tinkeu). Note also how -er is transformed in both cases.

        It’s the same reason Aurora and Northstar use patois like “sapristi!” or “zut alors!” which you would never hear on this side of the pond.

        1. I didn’t realize that was the case, Siskoid. Thanks for the info! I didn’t get why Pepe LePew never talked like the French Canadian hockey players I grew up watching. Not a hint of “ze puck” or “ze stick”. I was a dumb kid who didn’t think there would be a difference between French and French-Canadian.

  11. What a fantastic episode, gentlemen! I love to hear your take on these obscure characters. And, oh boy, Balloon Buster was quite the obscure character for me. I really shied away from war comics as a kid so, aside from the occasional Sgt.Rock ad, I really don’t know any of these war characters. But after hearing your joy in discovering these Balloon Buster adventures (and the sheer magnitude of talent involved!), it makes me want to go read these stories. Well done!

    I can’t wait to hear……. who’s next! Keep up the great work!

  12. As I listened to this podcast, I was headed out of state to antique store that has a much deeper collection of back issues compared to the local comic book stores. I was able to pick up Unknown Solider 263, to get a closer look at this maverick named Balloon Buster.

    I am probably in the minority, but I liked the vibrant, comic book-y way Balloon Buster and the other characters in the first few issues of Who’s Who looked, with the Flexographic printing process. It really worked well with the yellow dot borders.

  13. I never listened to the Who’s That? shows before, and I honestly don’t know why. The joy you two have going over Balloon Buster makes me ready to listen to the older ones. Thanks for reminding me to find my joy in unexpected comics.

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