Written by Garth Ennis | Art by Keith Burns | Published by Titan Comics | Format: Paperback, 32pp
Johnny Red has been one of the stand out series for me this year, and one I genuinely look forward to reading every month. Ennis has taken the war comic format, and all the nostalgia that goes with those old 70′s and 80′s newsstand comics, and if not entirely rebooted it, most certainly repurposed it. Johnny Red and Falcon Squadron are not ‘heroes’ because war has no ‘heroes’ Ennis is telling us. They are soldiers doing a job, no better or worse than the Germans on the other side. Patriotism is something pushed by the higher-ups to ensure loyalty and obedience to orders, on both sides. True to a point I would argue, but Johnny is clearly a hero in the sense he does what is right, often in defiance of authority. Then again, that is probably Ennis’s point too.
Last issue, although a little disappointing overall, left us with one pretty spectacular cliffhanger. Johnny was face to face with Adolf Hitler himself, injured and unguarded. Would he kill him? Could he? Fortunately for him, he never has to make that moral choice, as two German guards arrive to spirit the Fuhrer away to safety. As Falcon Squadron escape their imprisonment and reunite with Johnny, they realise there are positives and negatives. On the good side, the Germans are in huge disarray, with the airfield pretty much destroyed, and in retreat. The Falcons, however, are trapped, with all their planes destroyed in the conflict and are going nowhere fast. Not good when you are deep behind enemy lines.
Things get even worse when they spot the NKVD officer, Safonov, who was involved in bringing the Falcon Squadron and he reveals what this was all about. The mission was to bring a document to German territory where it would be signed by Hitler himself; the document was an armistice, a surrender in all but name by Stalin and the Russian government. Scared at how the war was going they agreed to a pact with Hitler if he called off the invasion, but it was all top secret. However, there was a second protocol which could be activated, in which the signing would be aborted at the last minute if the Russians decided to fight on after all. Part of this protocol was that the Falcon Squadron planes had been secretly planted with bombs, which would be detonated to provide a distraction. They were all expendable.
Sometimes exposition in a story can be distracting, or such a filler tactic, but here it works perfectly, as a broken Safonov reveals what has been going on all this time. If Johnny’s not a hero, he’s certainly a leader as he swings into action organising everyone to fight back; they find a nearly intact plane to repair, trucks are filled with bombs to buy them time from the returning German forces, and Johnny has his hands on the document with both the signatures of Hitler and Stalin on. This issue had a nice mix of action and dialogue, blending together back story and present struggles into a nice narrative. Ennis again emphasises the blurred lines of hero and villain in war. Is Safonov a villain for doing what he did, or a hero for trying to ultimately save lives? Perhaps both, maybe neither.
Keith Burns continues to channel the classic war comics style of art, but with some nice modern flourishes thrown in, and his gritty, dirty style suits the story perfectly. Nice long shot panels to show us the scale of the death and destruction, and smaller, close up panels for the dialogue heavy sequences. A pleasure to read as always.
This was a strong all-round issue, with plenty of action, some thought provoking dialogue and interesting ideas, and a lot of filling in the gaps. Even a cameo by Adolf Hitler himself. All in all, not bad for your money.
Johnny Red #6 is out now from Titan Comics