Written by Garth Ennis | Art by Keith Burns | Published by Titan Comics
Parting is such sweet sorrow. The final issue of which has been one of the best books of the last year, from any company bar none. Ennis and Burns have not only dusted down an old, semi-forgotten character and strip but have managed to both pay homage to its history and roots while simultaneously adding new perspectives and layers to that somewhat out of fashion staple, the war book. It has been a true partnership as well, with Ennis breathing new life into old ideas with fantastic scripts, and John Burns bringing a modern eye to the art, yet retaining the look and feel of those classic war strips. As much as I have enjoyed the previous 7 issues, they would however feel a little hollow without a suitable resolution so Ennis and Burns, you’re up.
For those that came in late, Johnny Red is a British pilot fighting in the Second World War, commanding a team of Russian pilots fighting the Germans on the Eastern Front. He was thrown out of the Royal Air Force on trumped up charges, and found himself fighting with a rag tag band of Russians, hated and feared by the Germans and mistrusted by the Russian authorities. Johnny and the Falcon Squadron have found themselves caught up in a political game of chess between Hitler and Stalin themselves, narrowly escaping being killed after being sacrificed by their own side to try and assassinate Hitler, their planes being booby trapped.
Johnny managed to escape with the ‘smoking gun’ document in which Stalin offered to surrender to Hitler, and which both have signed, (it was meant to be the lure that brought Hitler to an airfield where the assassination attempt occurred), essentially the only thing that can keep Johnny and the Falcons alive. Although Johnny had got NKVD officer Safonov onside last issue, to get him back alive in return for keeping all their names out of the reports, they have been ambushed and are held at gunpoint by NKVD officer Babak as the final issue starts.
Just as things are starting to look grim, Babak is taken out himself by Von Jurgen, a shot-down German pilot that Johnny has a bitter rivalry with. He allows them to escape, purely so he can allow his rivalry with Johnny to continue and, unspoken though hinted at, as a matter of honour. Once safe, Johnny makes sure Safonov ensures the Falcons are found, missing as they are. They are found, but not all of them have survived. Johnny is furious and wants to release that Soviet surrender document, but soon discovers that often doing the right thing has to be put aside in favour of doing the best thing.
Ennis writes some great dialogue in a several page scene where Johnny is persuaded that, bad as Stalin is, if he falls from power Russia will be easily beaten, and Hitler will almost certainly win the war. Not only Russia needs him in power, the Allies do as well. It’s a dirty world. The Falcons tell Johnny although he fights for them, they fight for their Motherland. The ideal of Russia, not the political reality, and they must fight on. Fight on they do, inflicting a heavy defeat on Hitler several weeks later at Stalingrad. Although the scripting in this final issue is solid, Ennis really shines with that dialogue, and Burns though short on action scenes still shines on every page with top notch art.
And that’s where Johnny’s story almost ends, as we end with a several page epilogue back in the present, with a very old Rodimitz talking to the couple involved in restoring Johnny’s old plane. We learn of the ultimate fates of most of the characters, and the fact that Johnny made it back to England with Nina. Ennis ends by making a thought provoking point about how war veterans were treated, how much we have to thank them for and how little we actually gave in return.
..’they should have had the keys to the kingdom’.
A perfect final issue