Johnny Red: Falcon's First Flight


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Johnny Red: Falcon's First Flight


  • Words: Tom Tully
  • Art: Joe Colquhoun
  • Inks: Joe Colquhoun
  • Publisher: Titan Books
  • Price: £14.99
  • Release Date: Sep 11, 2011

The savagery of the Russian Front is brought to gritty life in Titan’s re-presentation of the fondly-remembered World War II fighter pilot classic.

For some years now Titan Books have been handsomely repackaging Charley’s War, that most seminal comic strip from the pages of the 1970s-80s British weekly paper Battle. While Pat Mills’s unforgettable indictment of the Great War has rightly become regarded as one of the all-time classics of British comics, it would be wholly inappropriate to forget that Battle was home to a number of other memorable characters and series also deserving of reprinting.

One such series is the tale of World War II air ace Johnny Red. A wannabe fighter pilot, Johnny Redburn is booted out of the RAF when he strikes a senior officer. Moving to the navy, Johnny’s ship is attacked by German fighters in the Barents Sea on its way to the Russian port of Murmansk. Escaping from the doomed ship by appropriating a Hurricane plane, he eventually finds himself on the Russian mainland. There he becomes involved with the rag-tag remains of a squad of Russian pilots, left by their superiors to hold the line and fight to the death. Unable to return to his own side in his “borrowed” plane, and wishing to contribute to the war in the air, Johnny becomes an integral part of this Falcon Squadron. In this volume, amongst other adventures, he encounters corrupt senior officers, an honourable German Luftwaffe pilot, and witnesses firsthand the Siege of Leningrad.

In its original incarnation, Johnny Red ran in three- to four-page weekly strips and is presented in that unedited format here. The serial was written by the solid and underrated Tom Tully; one of the stable of IPC storytellers who, in contrast to some of his contemporaries, has perhaps gone somewhat under-appreciated by history. Tully’s research into the brutality of life on the Russian Front is both self-evident and impressive from the outset. Joe Colquhoun is the perfect partner for Tully on the art chores; his black and white scenes of a devastated Russia, particularly in the Leningrad sequences, turn war-torn Eastern Europe into an almost alien landscape at times.

Unfortunately, where this first collection does fall down slightly - and this is obviously no fault of Titan’s - is that some weeks into the strip’s publication somebody made the decision to retcon the events of the first instalment. While originally Johnny was drummed out of the air force for striking a senior officer, suddenly, with no explanation, he’s responsible for also killing said officer in that incident. It’s a contradiction presumably introduced to give Johnny a more dramatic backstory but, in the context of the strip, it’s rather jarring. It’s also somewhat difficult to believe that a working class lad from Liverpool wouldn’t have been locked away for manslaughter in the circumstances, whatever the provocation…

Still, if one can overlook that small aberration, Johnny Red: Falcon’s First Flight is a ripping good adventure serial with a surprisingly original premise. It relies on a certain degree of suspension of disbelief but one needs to remember that Johnny Red was originally a strip aimed primarily at younger boys. As such, it has its fair share of unlikely aeronautical acrobatics and a Hurricane plane that, as Garth Ennis points out in his foreword, seems almost supernaturally impervious to the damage that befalls it. However, this is all part of the feature’s appeal.

As the original material falls under that category of "hard to source," it's an unfortunate reality that some of the scanned pages are, occasionally, not of as high quality as one might hope for. However, this being a Titan publication, the material is still presented in a handsome hardcover package that includes the usual welcome supplemental articles. Johnny Red is a riveting, action-packed page-turner and one can only hope that more of IPC’s war characters will be resurrected for a new generation of readers in the not so distant future.

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