Best of British Battle Comics – Johnny Red: Falcon’s First Flight
Posted by Dave W on September 7, 2011
To celebrate Comica’s Comics & Conflict conference at the Imperial War Museum Titan Books committed to faithfully reproduce key works from British Battle comics. Over the next couple of weeks Geek Syndicate will bring you our thoughts on some of these retro classics!
We open up our season with Johnny Red: Falcon’s First Flight. Written by Tom Tully with stunning art from Joe Colquhoun this annual-sized hardcover collects dozens of 3-4 page instalments of the series taken from the pages of Battle. Johnny “Red” Redburn is a down-on-his-luck ex-RAF pilot, unjustly drummed out of service and serving as a cook aboard a Russian freighter. A fateful attack puts Johnny in the cockpit of a ship-launched RAF Hurricane and straight into battle against the Luftwaffe, his natural airmanship enabling him to win the day.
As accurately depicted in this strip, the “Hurricats” were catapult-launched Hurricanes carried by vessels other than aircraft carriers, so once they launched they needed to find land or ditch into the ocean. Johnny chooses the former and heads into the Kola peninsula looking for a place to land. When he does, he finds the men of Russia’s 5th Air Brigade “The Falcons” and with no option to return to Britain he joins them in their fight against the Nazi menace and through doing so inspires pilots who had been abandoned by their command and had given up hope. With Johnny as their wingman they fight on!
I read a lot of war comics as a child, they were the sort of thing my Nan had at her house and once I’d graduated from the Beano and Dandy they were the next step in comics evolution. I don’t think I started reading American comics until a little bit later, or if I read them I wasn’t as interested in them.
I was taken back by how good this series is. I have to say that I don’t recall Johnny Red from the era, so this isn’t nostalgia talking. The artwork is unbelievably detailed, particularly in its rendition of all of the aircraft and really dynamic in how it portrays the dogfights but also manages to get across how dilapidated the Russian lines were. Buildings are empty husks, camps are dirty, muddy and look like somewhere you wouldn’t want to spend any time. Johnny himself is the most grizzled 19 year old you’ll ever see and the rest of the Falcons have obviously lived tough lives.
The plot obviously relies on a few well-trodden paths. Johnny is a supernaturally talented and unbelievably lucky pilot, his Hurricane can bounce off a cliff face and only need minor repairs and his wingmen have a considerably shorter life expectancy than he does. It’s not all cookie-cutter storytelling though, there’s a maniacal Russian officer who has it in for Johnny and an honourable Luftwaffe pilot with whom Johnny manages an almost friendly rivalry.
This gets a very comfortable 4/5 and no dry slaps from me.
GS Reviewer: Dave W