Fresh from Titan Books is the second (and brand new) compilation from writer Tom Tully and artist Joe Colquhoun of the loose cannon pilot from the British Royal Navy, Johnny “Red” Redburn. Johnny Red: Red Devil Rising Vol. 2 follows Johnny after he’s unjustly discharged from the R.A.F., and hooks up to fight with the Falcons, a Russian squadron protecting their homeland from Nazi invasion.
Johnny Red is the quintessential military man hardened by war and the epitome of a one-man wrecking crew. He clashes with his fellow pilots, protects the besieged Leningrad, flies like a bat out of hell, spews lines from scripts that could fit Eastwood, and kicks a whole lot of ass in the process. Take for example, this exchange between Red and his doctor after finding out he has a piece of shrapnel stuck in his eye.
Red: My peepers are almost back to normal now.
Doc: But for how long? I beg you comrade, be careful! Avoid sudden strenuous activity as much as possible!
Red: Dead easy, doc. I mean, I’ve got a sitting-down job, haven’t I?
Like any great drama, his vision acts up at the worst moments and puts him in mortal danger within a seconds notice. His “comrades” aren’t too thrilled to have an “English” fighting on their side, so they put him in additional peril whenever possible. His efforts in the war earned him the title “djavol,’ the Russian word for “devil,” and so the Red Devil was born. The length of the war has led to an erosion of the Soviet hierarchy because of the sheer lost of lives, making Johnny the de facto “leader” of the Falcons. Eventually, he earns their respect and leads them in battle. I don’t think I have to tell you what happens from here, do I?
I’ve been unable to read part 1, but the continuity seems to drift from time to time in this volume. There are times when Johnny Red is said to have been discharged from the R.A.F. after punching a superior officer, and then at other times it says he killed the superior officer. This is a curious fact, considering Tom Tully wrote the entire stretch run, but these are minor quips. The writing overall is great fictionalized battle. It’s the equivalent of a big budget action film, where the main character is always in danger, but never in danger of actually losing his own life. Your enjoyment of this series will hinge on the acceptance of that fact. Of course, the story doesn’t work without the beautiful artwork of Joe Colquhoun. The art is scratchy black and white, but after a few minutes of staring you begin to appreciate the incredible little details of his work. It’s always a joy to see the way an artist goes about placing the intricacies of his art within complicated panels with no color.
The book features an opening essay from Garth Ennis (psst check out his Punisher run) where he explores the various incarnations of aerial combat in comic book history, and the fine line they dance between realism and pure fiction. Ennis fancies himself a WWII buff, so he’s the perfect companion piece to explore Johnny Red’s place in military history.
Outside of WWII history fanatics and tough guy junkies, I don’t see this finding a place on the shelf of a mainstream comic book fan. The implausibility of most of the action will turn off readers searching for a realistic and knowledgeable account of aerial combat, and war has been done much better in various other books (like Charley’s War). Still, Titan never skimps on the details and Johnny Red: Red Devil Rising’s black and white panels are beautifully presented in this hardcover. This is a great piece of nostalgic reading for those who grew up with the comic strip, and if that was the mission, I’d say it was a success.