Johnny Red 8 (August 2016)

Johnny Red #8

Garth Ennis has made me cry before, I’m sure of it. Definitely wet eyes at some tragic war story. Not what I was expecting from Johnny Red, especially the way he brings in the present day stuff, which I’ve never liked in the book. But Ennis has this licensed property and he goes very big with it for the final issue. He gets schmaltzy, he gets as close to saccharine as he probably gets. But then he pulls back a little and starts talking about the idea of the comic–the idea of Ennis doing a Johnny Red comic in 2016, being the Garth Ennis who puts so much work into his war stories.

And he goes somewhere else. He and artist Keith Burns have already softened the reader. Burns’s art isn’t strong on the open, either. He rushes through the cliffhanger resolution and just throws the schmaltz at it. It’s not artful schmaltz. It’s pulpy and Johnny Red is supposed to be pulpy, right?

No. It’s supposed to be serious and Ennis spends the last three-quarters of the book being very serious. He talks to the reader about the war story, asks the reader to look at it in a certain way, not another. To question the whole idea of the comic. It’s really deft, really great stuff from Ennis. It puts Johnny Red high up on his post-Punisher work. It gets to be the longer form war comic Ennis does right.

And out of nowhere, right? Titan Comics! Who knew.

CREDITS

Za Rodinu; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Keith Burns; colorist, Jason Wordie; letterer, Rob Steen; editors, Jess Burton and Steve White; publisher, Titan Comics.

Johnny Red 7 (June 2016)

Johnny Red #7

It’s an action issue and not much of one. Lots of exposition, lots of scenes, lots of flying and getting nowhere. Ennis doesn’t lose the series’s momentum, but it’s the first Johnny Red in a while to not leave me stunned. The achievement is probably not losing their momentum.

Because there’s nothing to this comic. It’s a bunch of plot stirring, a bunch of poking the bear. Ennis teases the reader over and over again. It’s gently manipulative but in obvious enough ways one can just look past it. Ennis has to get through the issue, he has to move the characters to certain places, position the story a certain way. He drags it out.

The worse part is how much Burns’s art suffers with the pacing problems. He’s got a lot of pages to fill with action and the occasional air battle suspense, but he doesn’t have much in the way of a story.

I’m hoping Ennis lands this one all right. I’m sure it’ll be at least “all right.” I’m not sure it’s going to go down as his essential World War II story though, something I was previously hopeful about.

CREDITS

Straight In and No Messing; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Keith Burns; colorist, Jason Wordie; letterer, Rob Steen; editors, Jess Burton and Steve White; publisher, Titan Comics.

Johnny Red 6 (May 2016)

Johnny Red #6

How long is Ennis going to keep Johnny Red going? I assumed it was six issues, but it seems much more like eight at this point.

There’s no moss on this one, no wasted panels. Ennis and Burns have a lot to do. They have a sensational cliffhanger to resolve and then explain. The explanation sequence–the secret policeman laying it all out for Johnny Red and his squadron–is excellent. It’s a lot of history (is it?) and Ennis keeps it lively with some reaction moments for the supporting cast, but, really, he’s giving Burns a lecture to illustrate engagingly.

And Burns succeeds. Just like Burns succeeds later on with the big action sequence. The squadron, reunited with Johnny, trapped behind enemy lines, feels removed from everything around them. They’re in a bubble, which occasionally makes the issue seems a little disconnected, but Ennis has to get through this material. It’s one part of the series’s pay-off (and coming before the final issue is a nice surprise).

I’m hopeful Ennis will land Johnny Red successfully, whenever he gets around to it, issue seven, eight, or twelve. But I’m not worried at all about Burns. Again, on the ground, he manages to impress more than he ever did in the air.

CREDITS

The Iron Man; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Keith Burns; colorist, Jason Wordie; letterer, Rob Steen; editors, Jess Burton and Steve White; publisher, Titan Comics.

Johnny Red 5 (March 2016)

Johnny Red #5

Burns might have just done one of the best comic book action sequences. The way he and Ennis pace out the issue’s second half, with Johnny infiltrating a German compound to rescue his men, is unbelievable. They get so much done. They identify the compound, they land a plane, they get Johnny to the compound, to his men, to the cliffhanger. Burns is good at the plane stuff, but he’s peerless pacing out that ground stuff. Johnny Red moves beautifully.

It also has time to resolve the previous issue’s cliffhanger, establish what Johnny’s sidekicks are doing, and how Johnny knows a Red Baron-type German flier. It’s a brilliantly paced comic. Ennis even gets in a reference to the flashback framing device, which doesn’t even get half a page this issue.

Johnny Red is great Ennis World War II stuff with an artist who is able to take it beyond what Ennis is usually able to achieve. And it’s a relaunch of an existing brand no less. Excellent stuff.

CREDITS

Bastards and Suckers; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Keith Burns; colorist, Jason Wordie; letterer, Rob Steen; editors, Jess Burton and Steve White; publisher, Titan Comics.

Johnny Red 4 (February 2016)

Johnny Red #4

It’s a bridging issue of Johnny Red, which is sort of fine, sort of not. Ennis concentrates on writing really good scenes–he has them for his leads, he even has one leading up to the cliffhanger (so a good setup scene with some German pilots)–but he lets the plot get very, very loose.

Ennis doesn’t even spend any time on his framing narrative. There’s a page with the modern-day storyteller explaining the found plane isn’t interesting, but what Johnny does next in the flashback. Presumably next issue because nothing’s interesting here. It’s engaging because Ennis knows how to write the comic, but it’s not interesting. It’s a distracting transition, actually, with Ennis apparently using the present-day frame to setup whatever’s next in the flashback. Then he doesn’t deliver anything major.

Instead, good scenes, nice character moments, not much excitement. It’s texture, but it’s also just a bridging issue. Johnny Red, which I think runs six issues, could have run five.

Some nice art from Burns, who has a great sense of movement for the planes in the air, though he gets bored drawing the talking heads parts.

It’s a perfectly solid bridging issue.

CREDITS

The Ghost Lands; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Keith Burns; colorist, Jason Wordie; letterer, Rob Steen; editors, Jess Burton and Steve White; publisher, Titan Comics.

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Johnny Red 3 (January 2016)

Johnny Red #3

Johnny Red has a strange organization to its messy narrative. The issue opens with a history lesson–in present-day monologue–about the Night Witches and how they figure into the series’s ground situation. It goes on for pages. It goes on for so long I forgot the book was about Johnny Red and instead thought Ennis was doing an impromptu Night Witches fill-in.

But he isn’t. Because after telling readers to look at the bunnies on the left, Ennis then spins them right by about ninety degrees and tells them to look at something else, something entirely new to them. And then he does it again at the end of the issue. There are three big things going on here and at least two subplots. Johnny Red is Ennis doing an edifying comic. He’s assuming his readers aren’t familiar with the subject matter and he’s teaching them about it.

At the same time, for all the traditional Johnny Red fans–if traditional Johnny Red fans are a thing–Ennis is breezy enough with the history lesson not to condescend. He’s showing his street cred as a WWII storyteller. It’s simultaneously showing off and being humble. It’s a great approach.

Johnny Red might be Ennis’s best WWII comic in a while.

CREDITS

Witches Over Stalingrad; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Keith Burns; colorist, Jason Wordie; letterer, Rob Steen; editors, Jess Burton and Steve White; publisher, Titan Comics.

Johnny Red 2 (December 2015)

Johnny Red #2

The issue’s a little too slight. Not in the middle, but once Ennis wraps it up. He finds Johnny Red’s momentum–the stuff with the Russian fliers, not when it’s narrated, but when it’s the action, is excellent. Like, some of Ennis’s better war writing in a while. It’s real good.

But then the soft cliffhanger comes around and it’s a lame one. Ennis is doing this reboot of Johnny Red, he’s got the constraints for trying to deliver to an existing audience; all of his bad choices make sense. They’re all to be more commercial. And Ennis isn’t anti-commercial in the rest of it, he’s just doing a milder book. The character potentials of the extreme situation (a Brit flying with the Soviets) are where he excels.

As for Burns’s art, most of the WWII stuff is great. The bookend scene in the modern day is bad. Rushed, like an afterthought. It’s a weird waste of a page or two.

Once the action hits, Burns is on point. He can draw exciting dogfight panels. He’s got just the right balance of movement and detail. The grit just furthers what Ennis is doing anyway. It’s a great pairing of creators.

CREDITS

Mrs. Redburn’s Little Boy; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Keith Burns; colorist, Jason Wordie; letterer, Rob Steen; editors, Kristen Murray and Steve White; publisher, Titan Comics.

Johnny Red 1 (November 2015)

Johnny Red #1

I wonder how long Johnny Red is going to go. Unlike writer Garth Ennis’s usual war comics, he gives this one a modern-day frame and an American protagonist (in the modern day). I think Ennis used to give his historical series some kind of frame, but I haven’t seen one lately (or ever in War Stories), so it’s weird.

But Johnny Red isn’t just another war comic. It’s Ennis doing a relaunch, something he doesn’t do as often as one might think (especially lower profile).

On the art, Ennis has Keith Burns. It’s a fine pairing. Burns handles the larger than life aspects of the plot, but he also has extremely detailed, extremely realistic air battles. There’s an energy to Burns’s art, an enthusiasm to his lines. He’s excited about the contrast–the present-day settings, the flashbacks to the forties. Ennis puts those connections entirely on Burns this issue, comparing modern Russia to early Soviet.

There’s a lot of dialogue before the flashback too. Ennis has a good time with it. He’s practically breezy with Johnny Red; it’s serious, but somewhat removed thanks to the framing.

CREDITS

P7089; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Keith Burns; colorist, Jason Wordie; letterer, Rob Steen; editors, Kristen Murray and Steve White; publisher, Titan Comics.

War Stories 3 (November 2014)

War Stories #3

If Ennis had just started out with the story he finishes telling in this issue, it would have been a much more satisfying story arc. He doesn’t want to seem too sentimental, I guess. But he starts narrating it in the past tense, directly referring to the war being over, so his protagonist clearly makes it.

Only the protagonist isn’t really telling his war story. Ennis has this interesting thing–a war story where the narration doesn’t engage with all the visuals, the protagonist has forgotten the details, they’ve ceased to be the important thing about this period of his life. It could have been an awesome little story.

Instead, Ennis tries to correct it all this issue and he rushes through it and it doesn’t work. It’s well-written, it’s just obvious and desperate.

And Burns’s detail on the war battle can’t make up for his terrible human beings.

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CREDITS

Castles in the Sky, Part Three of Three; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Keith Burns; colorist, Digikore Studios; letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

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