As a critic of comics and movies, I am constantly chasing the dragon. It’s a daily battle to try and find that spark in a film or a novel that made someone like me crazy enough to spend countless hours writing review after review. Generally speaking, most things, even things I really really like, fall short. There is generally always a reason to find fault, no matter how much you want to find perfection. It’s an unfortunate side effect of taking criticism seriously. You become a keeper, a curator in a sense, and therefore, your excitement is dulled through years of sifting through piles of crap to find the diamonds, but at the end of the day, those diamonds make it worth it.
Today, I’m not just talking about a diamond, I’m talking about a rare jewel found only in the most dangerous territories on earth. I’m talking about the revival of Johnny Red, originally from Battle Picture Weekly, by master craftsman Garth Ennis (Preacher) with stunning artwork by Keith Burns (The Boys), and beautiful colors by Jason Wordie, along with perfect lettering from Rob Steen. If you’re not familiar with the character, don’t worry, this masterpiece will serve well enough as a singular work.
Johnny Red: The Hurricane is a mini-series that serves to revitalize what seems to be a long forgotten comic book hero. Check for yourself. There’s no Wikipedia entry, no fan site, and absolutely no talk about a big screen adaptation. Although, this is the type of work that not only deserves an adaptation, but one that would ultimately be considered a modern classic. And while the series was originally broken up in to parts, this is the type of story not only meant to be read in one continuous sitting, but also a book that deserves the respect of the collection it has received. With plenty of sketch art, a beautiful introduction from Dave Hunt, the Editor of Battle Picture Weekly from 1975 to 1979, and a conversation between Dave Hunt and Garth Ennis, this is the type of treatment that most comic fans salivate over.
Johnny Red: The Hurricane follows the story of a British pilot who, after being rejected by his own military during WW2, finds himself flying with a small Russian squadron on protection missions for supply drops. Mostly told in flashback, the Johnny Red presented in this book serves as a reminder of true heroism. There are no borders, there is no patriotism, there is only the mission. And often times, Johnny Red’s mission is to protect his brothers, the Russian group who took him in as their own, and the same cynical group that eventually found a much needed leader when all signs were pointing to failure. This is a story about the brotherhood, and sisterhood, of war. Garth Ennis cleverly uses the framework of the story to explore the idealism of war from the stand point of often clueless leaders versus the tragedy of the front lines. And what he finds is a sense of extremely unique heroism.
In today’s world, we often look for heroes to wear capes. After all, for the last eight years we’ve been inundated with comic book movies showing us that to truly take a stand you need to be either a humanoid alien with extraordinary powers, or be rich enough to build a suit that lets you fly. What we often forget about is the heroes of reality. The ones in our past. People who dared themselves, and us, to do something crazy because they felt it was the right thing. That is the story that Johnny Red: The Hurricane encapsulates.
The book serves to show that Garth Ennis is in the same category of Warren Ellis and Alan Moore. Someone with enough forethought to understand that comics are simply another medium for storytelling, and do not have to relegate themselves primarily to the cape. In fact, I bet if you got out and explored your local comic shop, digging through the hundreds of trades and novels available to you, that among your favorites would be stories that get nowhere near Gotham or Krypton. The human drama that unfolds within Johnny Red: The Hurricane is among some of the most fascinating and wonderful stories I’ve ever seen put to print. Now, I know that is saying a lot, but this is one that will stick with me as long as I have breath. It is no wonder either that per Amazon, Garth Ennis “is a self-proclaimed WW2 aficionado and has edited several Johnny Red Classic collections, along with Battle Classics.” The time and dedication to the character, and to the humanity of war is apparent.
The full story is only perfected further with the breathtaking art style of Keith Burns. There is very little information to be found on Keith, but what I did find within the pages of Johnny Red: The Hurricane was mention of the fact that Keith is an award winning aviation painter. If there ever was a case of perfection founded through coupling, it was the case of Garth Ennis and Keith Burns collaborating to tell the story of Johnny Red. There is honestly nothing more I could have wished for in this book.
Overall: This is a perfect read. Johnny Red: The Hurricane will leave you breathless with its expertly crafted war-time drama, and once you get to the end, you will wish to start all over again.