The new Johnny Red title from Titan Comics written by Garth Ennis – launching in November – looks like it will be terrific, simply based on what artist Keith Burns has already done in comics. That include ERKS for Volume 11 of David Lloyd’s Aces Weekly, his art on Duane Swierczynski’s Ex-Con for Dynamite and Michael Moreci’s Reincar(Nate), soon to be reprinted by Heavy Metal and under development for TV.
(If you’re looking more of his work, check out back issues of FutureQuake, one of Britian’s best indie anthology titles).
The icing on the cake for many fans of Battle Picture Weekly, where Johnny Red first appeared, will of course be trying to snag a copy of the variant cover by Carlos Ezquerra, whose best-known work on the war comic was of course, “Major Eazy”.
Hitting comic shops on 4th November, the explosive new Johnny Red series features all-new, original adventures of the fighter ace who thrilled millions and rocketed to status as a classic British comic character in Battle, bringing World War Two to incendiary life in the finest air warfare stories ever told.
Legendary British fighter ace, Johnny ‘Red’ Redburn, returns once more as the commander of the Falcons – a Russian fighter squadron battling the Nazis in the skies over Stalingrad. But dogfighting Messerschmitts is about to become the least of his troubles when the NVKD – the notorious Soviet secret police – come calling!
“Johnny Red achieves a level of historical detail that I still find remarkable today,” enthuses Ennis. “Johnny’s story is not just one of my favorites but a British comics classic!”
Ennis and artist Keith Burns dive right into the thick of the period action to present the character to a contemporary audience, and I hope this project gets the audience it deserves. Garth has delivered some terrific tales of conflict in War Stories and is well known for being a fan of the original strips, introducing the Titan Books collections. Keith Burns art is absolutely stunning and he’s a perfect choice for the book.
Johnny Red: The Back Story
“Johnny Red”, created by writer Tom Tully (who also wrote “Roy of the Rovers”) and artist Joe Colquhoun (best known for “Charley”s War“) began in Battle Picture Weekly and Valiant in January 1977. It told the story of a young disgraced British fighter pilot who took off from a Catapult Armed Merchantmen (CAM) ship to protect his Arctic Convoy against German attack before flying this Hurricane fighter to Russia where he joined the Red Air Force’s Falcon Squadron.
This origin story for the character Johnny Red was based on a real incident in World War Two that occurred during the PQ18 convoy, when (as Jeremy Briggs related here), Flying Officer Arthur Burr of the RAF Volunteer Reserve was launched in his Hurricane from his CAM against 15 Luftwaffe Heinkel HE111 torpedo bombers. He shot one down and caused another to crash and none of the convoys ships were hit by their torpedoes.
With no ammunition but a lot of fuel left he decided to attempt landfall at the nearest airfield, the Soviet Keg Ostrov aerodrome 240 miles due south.
In Battle’s version of the incident Convoy PQ18 became Convoy XQ14 and Arthur Burr became Johnny ‘Red’ Redburn who, unlike Burr who returned to Britain with his aircraft and ship, remained in the Soviet Union to fight the Germans alongside his new comrades and went on to become one of the weekly comic’s most popular characters.
When Joe Colquhoun moved to “Charley”s War“, art duties on the strip were assumed by John Cooper, who regarded it as his favourite strip to draw, and, later, Carlos Pino, who is still drawing Commando to this day.
Titan Books has published three collections of the original strips to date, with a fourth – The Flying Gun, featuring art by John Cooper, which, contrary to online dates on Amazon, is scheduled for an early February 2016 release. While utilising scans from the comics (and the work Johnny Red fan Moose Harris did on these was truly above and beyond the call of duty), they’re well worth a look – I’ve included some review snippets of each released so far below, many by Americans who were getting their first experience of British comics thanks to Garth Ennis’ involvement – and seemed to love every minute of the experience.
I really hope this series is the success it deserves to be, in part because it’s Johnny Red, and because it looks fantastic, but also, given that Titan has licensed the use of the character from Egmont UK, the book’s success could, potentially, pave the way for the return of other classic British comic characters in similar fashion. Action‘s Dredger by Andy Diggle, perhaps? I’d be up for that!
• Johnny Red Issue #1 – available in stores and on digital devices from 4th November comes with three covers to collect: an art cover by series artist Keith Burns (order code: SEP151621), a variant art cover by Carlos Ezquerra (order code: SEP151622 ) and a blank sketch cover (order code: SEP151623)
Johnny Red: The Collections
Johnny Red: Falcon’s First Flight
When pilot Johnny Redburn is discharged from the RAF for striking an officer, he is forced to join the Merchant Navy. But a German sneak attack forces Redburn back into the air – in a stolen Hurricane!
Redburn aims for Russia, planning to save his plane and career, but on landing, meets the ‘Falcon Squadron’ of the 5th Soviet Air Brigade, who are under German attack! Redburn takes to the skies once more – to fight for Russia!
The classic series by Tom Tully and Joe Colquhoun (“Charley’s War”) makes its explosive debut and includes a new introduction by comics legend Garth Ennis (“The Boys”, “Preacher’, “War Story”) and a feature on air combat!
“Johnny Red isn’t an acquired taste, but it is a predetermined one—people are either down for this kind of stuff, or they aren’t. While not devoid of the sentiment that can disease the war films it most resembles, it is more firmly grounded in that sentiment’s home: patriotic, full-of-shit hearts, gutter drunk on idealized brotherhood and the religion of dumb luck. Johnny’s adventures are ones where every motive (both the readers and the characters) is laid out in full display. There’s nothing to get in the way of guns, glory, and the freedom of the one man war.”
– The Comics Journal
“It’s the battle scenes that, I suspect, kept this British boy’s strip a viable property for ten good years. Artist Colquhoun had a knack for emotively rendering both air and ground fights — and for believably depicting the harsh winter setting where Johnny Red fights his war. Both our hero and his fellow Air Brigadiers are, of course, outmatched in their battered old planes, but that doesn’t keep ‘em from kicking Nazi tail.”
Johnny Red – Red Devil Rising
Continuing the adventures of Johnny Redburn, discharged from the RAF for striking an officer. Taking to the skies in a stolen Hurricane, he meets the Falcon Squadron of the 5th Soviet Air Brigade, and begins his fight against Germany from the other side of the Iron Curtain!
Includes a feature by comics legend Garth Ennis.
“I don’t know that I’ve ever read a comic as exciting as Johnny Red. I’ve read good comics, interesting comics, thought-provoking comics, funny comics, scary comics — but for pure adrenaline-filled heart pounding, hurling-along-at-500-miles-per-hour action Johnny Red can’t be beat.”
– Comics Bulletin
” In this amazing collection of aerial stories, we are presented with the amazing artwork of Joe Colquhoun. Joe is the artist behind Charley’s War, and let me tell you, he is quickly becoming one of my all time favorite artists. His pages have so much detail and consistency to them… The dialogue is something to behold because it is fantastic.”
– Comic Collector Live
Johnny Red – Angels Over Stalingrad
The final collection of Joe Colquhoun’s work on the seminal aerial combat story – in which a Spitfire pilot attached to the Falcon Squadron, Flt. Lt. Frank Coppel, has recognized Johnny as the man who killed his brother, and introduces Nina of the Angels of Death, an all-female group of Russian pilots modeled on the real world group known as the Night Witches.
Includes a feature on Stalingrad by comics legend Garth Ennis.
“Where Tom Tull’s words start the story, Joe Colquhoun’s art finishes it. His detail and uncanny ability to conjure the action and excitement of combat elevate this comic to something that would be at home on the shelves of your local comic shop today. True, Johnny Red is somewhat dated in tone and style, but its message and technique will ring true as long as there is injustice in the world.”
– FanBoy Comics
“I’ve read my fair share of comics written before I was born. While I’ve enjoyed the Spider-Mans or Flash Gordons of yesteryear, I had to read them with a grain of salt. Johnny Red is one of the first comics printed before the 80s that I’ve enjoyed without that trepidation. Tom Tully’s writing manages to stand the test of time… Ripped right from the pages of Battle, these comics feel exactly the way you would want them too, printed on a higher quality paper, but without sacrificing the integrity of the original panels, and in a good, hardcover volume.”
Johnny Red – The Flying Gun
On Sale from 3rd February 2016
Further exciting instalments of the popular aerial combat story from the classic war comic, Battle! Johnny Redburn has just led Falcon Squadron on a successful mission over Stalingrad. But Major Rastovitch has a new mission for Johnny: to fly an important Russian official to a top-secret conference in England in the incredible Flying Gun. The stakes are high and danger never far away …
• This item was updated on 30th September 2015, amending the on sale dates of the fourth collection