Courtesy of Titan Comics
Back in the 1970s, British comic writer Tom Tully and artists Joe Colquhoun and John Cooper created and worked on a comic about a rogue (and roguish) ace fighter pilot named Johnny “Red” Redburn for war comic magazine Battle Picture Weekly. Naturally, the events of World War II were still somewhat fresh in the collective memory of Europeans well into the 1970s, and the British were no exception. Battle Picture Weekly often told pulpy tales of war heroes battling dastardly nazis and other heroic battles from other wars. There have a few reboots since then, but in this latest story arc, Johnny returns to lead the Falcons, a Russian fighter squadron tasked with taking down Nazis, only to fall under the radar of the Soviet secret police.
Johnny Red #1 introduces us to Tony, a wealthy British vintage plane connoisseur. As he travels to Russia to learn the history of the Hawker Hurricane Mark One that he just paid close to $5 million for, he meets Rodimitz, an old veteran who used to repair the plane for Johnny Red after every run. Rodimitz starts off by regaling Tony and his Russian liaison Lyudmila with a tale about a supply drop Johnny and his squadron did, and the fierce dogfight that ensued. Johnny returns to the Russian base with the squadron with very few casualties in his ranks and brimming with bravado. Just as the story seems to find its legs, old Rodimitz says that’s just the beginning of the story and we’ve reached the end of the comic…
Okay, let me first premise this by saying that I’m more of a World War I nerd and I’m not into the inner workings of cars or planes, so the subject matter here, World War II and a ton of info and specs about the Hawker Hurricane that Johnny Red flies, wasn’t all that interesting to me. That is to say, you might be interested in that stuff, so these details might be a plus for you. The specs about the Hawker Hurricane were informative, however. So yay?
Johnny Red #1 is all about setting up the story, so as far as excitement goes, that came during the dogfight which only took up a page or two. The rest is all exposition in an effort to get readers acquainted with Red, Rodimitz, and Tony. For a comic that was supposed featuring a high-flying war hero, I expected to be dazzled more, but I just sort of felt ambivalent. I have a feeling things are going to get way more exciting as the issues progress, but you’ve got to be able to grab readers from the first issue so they can give your series a chance. So I must say I’m a bit disappointed because I had really high hopes for this mainly because Garth Ennis is the writer. Artist Keith Burns did bring a slightly retro aesthetic, which was perfect for a comic that has pulp origins. Jason Worde brought Burns’ art to life with really rich colors, especially on the Hawker Hurricane. All of this combined to give the comic a realistic feel that I feel was a bit wasted on the slow pace. Still, I’m not willing to not give up on Johnny Red… I just hope the next few issues live up to the character.