Written by Garth Ennis | Art by Keith Burns | Published by Titan Comics | Format: Paperback, 32pp
Johnny Red has been, without doubt, one of my favourite non-superhero books of the last year, and possibly my favourite non-DC/Marvel book. Although I’m a Garth Ennis fan of many years, I’m not a big war book aficionado and expected to enjoy this a little but no more. What has made this a great read is by framing the story with a modern twist, by using war as the backdrop but focusing on the personalities and individuals, Ennis shows that good writing wins out. Although Johnny is the lead character, the book is very much an ensemble, and an ensemble of not just character, but theme too.
Last issue was something of a build up issue, groundwork being laid and hints being pushed as to what to expect this issue. Johnny Red #5 starts with a nice observation by Ennis as Johnny helps a German adversary, Erich von Jurgen, to safely land, a very dangerous man with over a hundred kills, because Johnny and Erich wanted to fight an ‘honourable’ war. This was the tone we used to find in many of those 70′s and 80′s war comics Johnny comes from, good guys doing bad things reluctantly. Ennis makes the point the Russians in reality did not have the luxury of such thought, as they ‘..were not German aristocrats, nor plucky English lads raised on illusions of fair play’. They had been ‘..invaded, bombed, dehoused, occupied’ and subject to nasty atrocities. War is no longer honourable, nor should the modern reader ever think it was.
Picking up from the start of their quest last issue, Rodimitz and Nina make their way to Tuskarenga on foot after landing, continuing the search for the Falcons squadron, while Johnny continues by plane. Johnny is stunned to find a secret German airfield there and, while the base is under attack, manages to find the Falcon pilots who have been seemingly set up, imprisoned in a storeroom. They tell Johnny they knew they were escorting someone of importance, as they had many SS guards and the Russian NKVD officers with them. Johnny is then ambushed by several SS soldiers, and we are reminded by just how savage Johnny can be when he takes out all of them, and he is left facing that very important person who had been secretly transported there. I won’t name names, but next issue is called ‘Fuhrer Road’, make of that what you will.
I hate to say it, but I didn’t enjoy this issue as much as the others. There was nothing particularly bad, but it didn’t live up to the set-up for me, except for that last panel reveal of course, and was just too frenetic and slightly confusing. Knowing Ennis he laid some seeds here that will bear fruit later, but taken as an issue on its own I was a little underwhelmed. On the good side, the art was as good as always, with Keith Burns given plenty to do. We were treated to plenty of explosions, intact and smashed up planes, Johnny in a firefight on the ground and aerial action too. Some nice large panel splashes and a colour palette that kept things grim and gritty on the ground, pale and light in the sky. This was an artist’s issue if ever I saw one, a great showcase for Keith Burns, and why not.
In the greater scheme of things, when the whole story is collected, this issue will probably feel perfectly fine, a natural progression of the story, but as a stand- alone issue it disappointed slightly. It is a measure of just how good a book this is that even a decent issue like this feels disappointing. Has it a ruined my enjoyment at all? Not a bit.
That last panel, in typical Ennis fashion, has me as excited for the next issue as with any of the others and, ultimately, that’s what it’s all about isn’t it.
Johnny Red #5 is out now from Titan Comics