Anghus Houvouras reviews Johnny Red #1…
Legendary British fighter ace, Johnny ‘Red’ Redburn, returns once more as the commander of the Falcons – a Russian fighter squadron battling the Nazis in the skies over Stalingrad. But dogfighting Messerschmitts is about to become the least of his troubles when the NVKD – the notorious Soviet secret police – come calling!
Back in the day, I was all about combat comics. ‘The day’ was the 1970’s when there seemed to be an endless supply of war themed four-color heroics at your local comic book shop. Comics like Weird War Tales, GI Combat, Unknown Soldier, and Enemy Ace were always in my buy pile. Epic stories, most of which took place during the first or second world war with a very defined line between good and evil. I can recall with great clarity those eye-popping panels from Joe Kubert, who truly excelled in the combat comic genre.
SEE ALSO: Preview of Johnny Red #1
War comics seemed to vanish in the 1980’s as the superhero comics continued to take up space on the rack. By the time Valiant and Image launched in the 1990’s, you could barely find a combat comic on the shelf. Our modern wars aren’t exactly cut and dry, good versus evil, affairs. World War Two was such a grand playground for combat comics. There was no better villain than the Nazi hordes, who seemed engineered to be punched in the face by a cigar chomping Sgt. Rock.
There was a fair bit of nostalgia in the air when I turned to the first page of Johnny Red, the new series from writer Garth Ennis & Artist Keith Burns. That sense of history is shared by Tony Iverson, a dot-com millionaire who is obsessed with getting his hands on a classic World War Two era combat plane. He travels to Russia where a company works on restoring a recently discovered relic. Like every downed fighter, there’s a story behind the fuselage. Iverson tries to track down the story behind his latest acquisition which leads him to a Russian named Rodimitz who is willing to share some of his old war stories.
Johnny Red is an exceptionally good read. A comic that helps guide you into the world of combat comics. Even as a fan of the genre, I couldn’t tell you the difference between a Spitfire a Hurricane and a Sopwith Camel. I appreciate Ennis taking his time as he introduces us to this world. He provides a cinematic opening giving us a history lesson in aerial combat before taking us back in time to meet the eclectic pilots who helped win the war. The first issue is a nice, well paced saunter of a set up. Keith Burns’ art is kinetic and full of character. The high-octane, aerial combat panels pop from the page.
There’s a lot to like about Johnny Red. This is a fantastic first issue which lays the foundation for some fun storytelling. It echoes the best elements of classic combat comics which was always about telling a good story while remaining reverent to the history that inspired it.
Strongly recommended for fans of the genre and anyone looking for an introduction to the world of combat comics.
Anghus Houvouras is a North Carolina based writer and filmmaker and the co-host of Across the Pondcast. Follow him on Twitter.