I love Warren Ellis. He's my patron saint of comics right now, and one of the most interesting explorers in the medium today. I love Grant Morrison. He's daft, experimental, and occasionally incredibly inspiring. And while I talk about this other writer less, if I had to pick one as the most consistent creator working in comics, it would easily be Garth Ennis. He's a fascinating case. British, but seems to understand Americans better than most Americans do. He writes filth and has dedicated some of the most repulsive imagery to the page of any writer in the history of comics, but also has a deep sentimental vein and is capable of writing genuine humanity. At the core of his writing however, he can just write a strong damn story. His characters are instantly memorable, the pacing knows how to be properly leisurely, and he can turn a situation on a dime fast enough to break your neck. While 'Johnny Red's first issue is 100% set up, I can already see the structure being put in place to result in a fantastic story, one I am enthusiastic to keep reading and one Titan is extremely lucky to have.
An Internet millionaire buys a World War II era plane, British made, but under suspicious circumstances was discovered in Russia. Passionate about his new hobby, the millionaire travels to Russia to speak to a veteran of the war who claims to have knowledge of the plane's unique history, a story that will lead us to meet our titular character.
The book's tone is a bit of a hybrid of some of Ennis's recent projects. It's meticulously detailed, quite a bit of the book's dialogue being avionics technobabble and historical primer. While it may make readers like myself have to read slowly as to pick through some of the denser passages, I appreciate Ennis's respect for authenticity, something he demonstrated in Avatar's 'War Stories'. However, the impression left by 'Johnny Red' is, that while it will likely continue to play the face of World War II very realistically, the tone won't be quite as reverent and staid as 'War Stories', which often read, appropriately, like a war doc. Not much can be gleaned so far, as I mentioned previously, this issue is largely set up for the real story, but the idea that this could be a merging of his war biopics with a pulp sensibility is very exciting.
And what a partner to help bring this story to the page. Artist Keith Burns is stunning in the book. With compositions reminiscent of Sean Gordon Murphy, his true talent is drawing planes. From the first stunning spread of the torn up husk of the plot-centric plane, to the books first dogfight, aerial action has rarely been illustrated so beautifully. The combat is grim and brutal, with planes choking out buckets of spent cartridges, or being shredded into flakes of glass and metal. Burns' people are the one slight weakness, coming off somewhat perfunctory in design next to his beautiful renderings of cold-hardened Moscow or the grimy innards of a plane hangar, but it matters little when he can draw an airplane exploding like that. Props also to Jason Worde, whose subtle color rendering knows exactly how to approach Burns’ style, desaturated and quiet, letting the black fills do the talking.
I'll say it again; Titan is lucky to have a book that is this good. It's one of the best first issues I've read from Ennis since 'The Boys', and definitely should have a place in the pull of anyone with a soft-spot for history. Go buy it. I'll just be waiting here for Ennis to finally figure out how to disappoint me.
Johnny Red #1 Writer: Garth Ennis Artist: Keith Burns Publisher: Titan Comics Price: $3.99 Release Date: 11/4/15 Format: Mini-Series; Print/Digital