Three Aces is another of the series that improved hugely after the start of World War 2. Up until then, it was merely the adventures of three friends, all of whom owned their own planes. Once the war broke out, the strip changed gears and became a war series, which really suited the idea better.
Of the three men, Gunner Bill and Whistler Will usually play the hero roles, while Fog Fortune is there for comic relief. Perhaps because of this, though we get some background on Gunner and Whistler, we never learn anything about Fog’s past.
Gunner was an orphan boy, apparently named only Bill. The orphanage being so poor they couldn’t give kids last names? At any rate, he joins the army and fights in World War 1, gaining the nickname Gunner. Whistler is another orphan, from Arizona, found as a babe in the desert and taken in by a wealthy family, the Saunders. He is raised with their daughter, Sally, and though she views him as a brother, it’s fairly clear that he sees her as something more. Still, he does save the life of Perry Laverne, the man she marries.
For the first part of the run there are occasional mentions of their fighter pilot days in World War 1. There is never any explanation of how they got the planes that they fly, though as they spend the first couple of years of the series seeking out buried treasure and gold mines, presumably they have a small horde of cash already. Once the World War 2 stories begin, there is never any mention of them fighting in the previous war, probably to keep them from seeming too old.
The art on the series is pretty good for most of the run. The stories in the early period are not bad, but typical of the adventure format. They jump around a fair bit, now in Alaska, now in California, now in Africa, but that may not have been the fault of the writer so much as the publisher. I noticed that in issue 30 they had just finished the adventure on Easter Island, but that took place in issue 28, with an African tale in 29, so clearly the stories were not all published in the order they were written.
The Easter Island story is one of the more entertaining, as they discover an ancient city under the island, and discover that the original islanders were giants who became fossilized after a comet passed close to the earth thousands of years ago, and the mysterious heads on the island are the actual heads of the giants who lived there.
They are in Tibet in issue 32, preventing a kidnapping of the new Dalai Lama, in a story that must have been very timely, as the current Dalai Lama would have been “found” at around the time the story was written. In issues 38 and 39 they discover Atlantis, accessible through a cave on an island in the Azores. They also find the survivors of the sunken city of Lemuria, living in a golden city on a mounaintop in California, in issue 45, and prevent them from destroying the world.
Issue 47 sees the big change. Now they are part of the US airforce, operating off of the carrier USS Roosevelt. The magic carpets, lost civilizations and Mongol treasures are shoved to the side as they face the Japanese fleet and airforce. The heroes get shot down a fair bit, being taken prisoner by the Japanese a few times, though they always manage to escape.
Issue 54, “Fire Over Yumanafu Road,” makes a point of teaching the reader about the Japanese Nakajima plane, and the Allied Wildcat fighter, as well as explaining a fair bit of the lingo pilots used. “The Lieutenant from Corregidor,” in issue 60, does a similar thing, but with the “pidgin english” dialect of the Philippines. Interestingly, the lieutenant they come to aid is a woman, Betty Allardyce, and though they are surprised by her gender, at no point is she made out to be any less of a competent officer because of it.
This part of the run does suffer a bit of the same jumping around. They start in the Pacific, fighting the Japanese, but then jump to California, Algeria, Norway and Malta before heading back. In the two stories set in north Africa, the arabs are shown as treacherous liars, eager to help the Germans. There is never any acknowledgement that from the arab view the Germans were helping them overthrow their occupiers. On the other hand, Pacific islanders are always shown eager to help the Allies against the Japanese invaders.
The series ends during the summer of 1943, and there is no other ending I can possibly put on this other than to have them shot down and killed. They came close to it too many times.
Three Aces: Action Comics 20 – 63 (Jan 40 – Aug 43)