Red not dead

One of the most pop­u­lar char­ac­ters from clas­sic Bri­tish war comics is back! Stephen Jewell talks to writer Garth En­nis

Comic Heroes - - Heat Vision - Johnny Red #1 is pub­lished by Ti­tan on 4 Novem­ber.

Aus­pi­ciously de­but­ing in Bat­tle #100 in 1977, Johnny Red was one of the weekly war comic’s most pop­u­lar sto­ries dur­ing its 13-year ex­is­tence. Con­signed to the Rus­sian Front, crack RAF fighter ace Johnny Red­burn is set to soar through the skies again in a new Ti­tan Comics minis­eries writ­ten by Garth En­nis and drawn by Keith Burns. Hav­ing pre­vi­ously ex­plored the im­pact of the Sec­ond World War in cre­atorowned se­ries like Bat­tle­fields and War Sto­ries, the Preacher scribe is rel­ish­ing the op­por­tu­nity to re­vive one of his child­hood favourites.

“At its best,” En­nis told us with ev­i­dent en­thu­si­asm, “Johnny Red stands shoul­der-to-shoul­der with Darkie’s Mob and HMS Night­shade, and is re­ally only eclipsed by Charley’s

War. I like Johnny’s scruffy de­meanour, his get-the-job-done at­ti­tude and his en­joy­ment of life as a fighter pi­lot.”

Johnny Red was orig­i­nally writ­ten by Tom Tully, but En­nis hasn’t at­tempted to repli­cate the 2000 AD vet­eran’s dis­tinc­tive prose style. “I’m never go­ing to be able to write that fran­tic di­a­logue of his,” claims En­nis. “That said, I think I’ve been true to the char­ac­ters and set­ting, and I’ve done a good deal of re­search into the pe­riod, as Tully clearly did too.”

En­nis de­scribes sup­port­ing char­ac­ter Nina Petrova, the so-called “An­gel of Death”, as one of the first truly strong fe­male char­ac­ters in Bri­tish comics and a fore­run­ner of Judges An­der­son and

I’ve been true to the char­ac­ters and the set­ting

Hershey. “Long be­fore they ap­peared, there was Nina, thump­ing Johnny for mouthing off in the very first episode,” laughs En­nis. He has set the story dur­ing the dark­est pe­riod of the bat­tle for Stal­in­grad: “The Rus­sians are on the ropes and Fal­con Squadron are es­cort­ing Nina’s An­gels of Death on ex­tremely haz­ardous day­light sup­ply mis­sions over the city. Then the squadron gets two new Com­mis­sars, with a mys­te­ri­ous plan that de­mands our he­roes’ in­volve­ment. It may not work well for them, as some­one has pan­icked and done some­thing very dan­ger­ous in­deed.”

Keith Burns, a full mem­ber of the Guild of Aviation Artists, ad­mits that it was ini­tially “a ter­ri­fy­ing prospect” to fol­low orig­i­nal Johnny Red artists Joe Colquhoun and John Cooper, both of whom have now passed away.

“What I take from Joe Colquhoun’s work is worn-out pi­lots, ac­cu­rate air­craft, move­ment and drama – it re­ally has ev­ery­thing,” he says. “I take the same from John Cooper, and although his air­craft were never as ac­cu­rate, his style was much more ex­pres­sive, with great char­ac­ter and com­po­si­tion. My air­craft lean more to­wards re­al­ism and cap­tur­ing their move­ment, but I try to keep the fig­ures more to­wards the comics end.”

Above: Like many Bri­tish comics char­ac­ters of his time, Johnny Red had a twist or two: af­ter be­ing thrown out of the RAF, he flew with the Rus­sians, and he had a splin­ter in his skull that caused blurred vi­sion at crit­i­cal mo­ments. It re­mains to be seen how much of this En­nis will run with!

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