The Book: Johnny “Red” Redburn, British-born leader of Russia’s Falcon Squadron, has two enemies to worry about: the Nazis in front of him and the Russian secret police – the dreaded NKVD – at his back. But now, NKVD Major Rastovitch comes to Johnny with a proposal that could clear his name – or end his life. All that Johnny has to do is fly a single heavily-armed aircraft, with a top secret passenger, over hundreds of miles of enemy territory – battling flak and enemy fighters all the way…
With a new introduction by acclaimed writer Garth Ennis (Preacher, Crossed), artist John Cooper (“The General Dies At Dawn” from Battle) joins series creator Tom Tully (Roy of the Rovers) for this stunning new chapter in the greatest air warfare series ever told – collected for the very first time.
The Review: For me, John Cooper was always the artist of choice for Johnny Red, so this is a perfect starting point for any comic fan whether you are a veteran reader of Battle or being introduced to it for the very first time.
The story was printed in the weekly comic Battle, a comic dedicated to war stories and ran from Issue 200 to Issue 238 in 1979, initially drawn by Joe Colquhoun, with John taking on the strip when Joe moved on to other projects.
The story is centres on RAF pilot Johnny Red, a tale inspired by true events, but for the purposes under sentence of death by the NKVD and is forced to fly an almost suicidal mission from Russia to Britain in a heavily modified B-25 Mitchell bomber. This bomber is based on the B-25H variant which was involved in ground attack warfare during the Pacific campaign.
However, Johnny does not face death alone, as two of the veterans of Falcon Squadron volunteer to accompany Johnny on this mission impossible.
The story moves along at a cracking pace and Johnny seems to end up fighting off half the Luftwaffe in order to get his VIP passenger to Britain for a high level conference. Once he gets there, he deserts to find out what has happened to his parents in Liverpool. Discovering they were the victims of a German bombing raid, Johnny faces a race against time to get back to the base in East Anglia to be able to fly back to Russia to wreak his vengeance on the German forces.
If we examine this tale in the light of hard facts, it is a little hard to swallow. One bomber being thrown around the sky like it was a Spitfire and able to take down an entire staffel of German fighter pilots is sounding suspiciously like a plot from a boys’ adventure story. But once Tom Tully has scripted it and John Cooper has drawn it, you can’t but help be sucked into the story. You are kept wondering if this will be the one case where the main character is going to end up as Johnny Dead, as various enemy pilots take aim with what they hope to be the killing shot.
I have been a fan of Johnny Red since I first discovered the character and this is a great example of the stories, with Johnny as the perpetual rebel against unstinting obedience of authority. Johnny will obey orders – but only on his terms and can be seen as a continued fight against the “I was only obeying orders” mentality that many still use today.
For a war story, it is so often anti-war you sometime wonder if the villains of the piece are the ones that Johnny is fighting against or the ones that send Johnny into the fight against his better judgement.