By: Garth Ennis & Keith Burns
Review by Luke Williams
The Books: World War Two is almost over, but no one seems to have told the Germans – as Royal Air Force pilot Jamie McKenzie finds out when he’s assigned to deadly shipping strikes along the enemy coast. Flying the Mosquito fighter-bomber against heavily armed targets is dangerous enough at the best of times, but after incurring the wrath of his vengeful commanding officer, Jamie is assigned the most unpopular navigator in the unit- not to mention the least reliable aircraft. Worse still, the commander’s sights are firmly set on Jamie’s beautiful young wife, Beth.
In the second volume of Out of the Blue, Jamie McKenzie’s fighter-bomber strike missions against the Germans get even deadlier, but his ongoing feud with his own commanding officer is no picnic either. His loving wife Beth provides a surprise or two of her own – but Jamie soon finds that there are those who’ve paid a steeper price than himself in the battle with Hitler’s Reich. The stage is set for a showdown high above the frozen fjords of Norway, as a horde of Nazi fighters lie in wait for the RAF Mosquito squadrons…
The Review: Ennis is a one-man war comic revivalist. Everything from Nick Fury, Enemy Ace, Battler Britton, “The Haunted Tank” sequence in his run on The Demon, his War Stories series of one shots, Battlefields and his first collaboration with Burns, the wonderful Johnny Red revival from Titan Comics, a few years ago. Out of The Blue uses characters first introduced in Archangel, one of Ennis’s runs of War Stories from DC / Vertigo later re-published by Avatar, but you don’t need to have read that to enjoy this.
Out of The Blue follows newly transferred, accident prone, Flight Lieutenant Jamie McKenzie to a Mosquito fighter bomber squadron following a stint flying Hurricanes. He causes chaos on arrival, destroying two aircraft and a crew to hospital on his arrival incurring the wrath of his new commanding officer. As a reward, he gets assigned the most jinxed “wooden wonder” in the squadron, an aircraft that mysteriously develops faults no matter how many times it is serviced or examined.
Despite being a fine pilot, none of this helps Jamie’s self confidence; his low self esteem isn’t improved by a fractious relationship with his navigator and his COs lascivious attention to Mrs McKenzie.
War comics are an undervalued and under-appreciated genre, in a medium overwhelmed by superheroes, and Ennis is, seemingly, their sole high profile advocate. He can be criticised for recycling characters and plots, that he has a formula for his strips and indeed, Out Of The Blue does feel a little bit of a re-tread of his Avatar series Vampire Squadron, with the familiar tropes of drinking, derring-do, unreasonable poshos, comradeship, heroic chaps at the front fighting a bitter war – and doing a grand job despite the idiots in charge and it.
But Ennis has never been known for his subtlety, but nor does he pull any punches. There’s no glorification of war here, he is sympathetic to both sides and his dialogue is wonderfully naturalistic. His attention to detail rivals Pat Mills: he clearly has a passion for the subject matter. I think of myself as a ‘plane geek’, but he makes me feel quite inadequate.
The art is beautiful. Keith Burns’ figure work is scratchy and stylised; redolent of a cartoony Jim Watson, or a more detailed Eddie Campbell. His action and aircraft sequences are absolutely stunning, just look at the covers for this and for Commando. He exploits the oversized hardback European style format with double page spreads and splash pages to wonderful effect, it’s a beautiful package. The only thing that it’s missing is a slip case for us dead tree publishing lovers.
More of this please, Aftershock, Mr. Ennis and Mr. Burns.
• Out of the Blue Volumes One & Two are available from all good book shops (AmazonUK Affiliate Link)