Titan Books has released a beautiful hardcover edition of the classic British war comic strip Johnny Red in a pristine version, with crystal clear graphics that tell the death-defying tale on glossy paper for the eye’s enjoyment. Volume 2, “Red Devil Rising,” continues the tale of Johnny Red, who for the un-anointed, is a fighter pilot who is dismissed from the Royal Air Force after accidentally killing an officer in a fist fight. Johnny had fled to Russia to fight with the Russian fighter squadron, the Falcons, and continues his battle for what’s right against the Nazi empire at the start of World War II, which is quickly spreading across Europe.
Volume 2 pushes us further into the gritty world of war that Johnny endures, as not only does he have several intense battles with the Germans, but also faces much strife in his own fighter unit, dueling a fellow pilot who had tried to cross him, losing their leader in combat, and the growing pains of a new leader being assigned to them who is supposed to be a war hero but really has lost his nerve. Among the numerous missions, the book includes a true nail biter in which the Falcons must stop a German train transporting weapons to the front, which the Germans have covered with living Russian peasants as protection, leading to a moral crossroads of stopping a train that will kill thousands of Russians, but possibly saving many, many more.
Tom Tully, whom I have loved for a number of years now since I’m a Roy of the Rovers fan, does stellar writing here. With each 3-page tale, he spins missions for Johnny Red that are not the typical war-gratifying stories you’d see in some publications. Like Kubert’s Sgt. Rock tales, there is plenty of weight, sadness, and regret painted across the European fields of war in this book. On the same and equally as important note, Joe Colquhoun does an amazing job with the artwork on this title. His drawings of war look like war. The pilots are dirty looking. When things explode we see massacred bodies flying amongst the metal shards, and ruins being slaughtered by the aerial assaults. Also both sides hurt; no matter if it’s the German enemies or the Russians, when people die in war they die hard horrible deaths no matter what side, and Colquhoun illustrates that to a degree of grim yet precise articulation on the page.
Titan Books has done a fantastic job with this collection. The hardcover is sturdy, the hundred or so pages are printed on glossy stock with the art in highest quality, and there is a cool introduction by comic writer Garth Ennis, which folks will enjoy. For folks in the States who didn’t grow up reading Johnny Red (which was originally printed in comic magazine Battle Action in the U.K.), it’s everything fans of DC’s Aerial Ace wanted it to be like, but never truly crossed the line into the gritty real-life feeling war stories that it could’ve been (not that Aerial Ace didn’t have plenty of great drama and stories, just nothing like the world Tully and Colquhoun create here). Johnny Red Volume 2: Red Devil Rising is out now from Titan Books, highly recommended.