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4.8 out of 5 stars
Johnny Red : Falcons First Flight
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Here at last, in a large and sturdy hardcover edition, are the early exploits of Johnny 'Red' Redburn, from the pages of Battle Picture Weekly.

For the uninitiated [you doubtless aren't if you're reading this, but just in case] Battle Picture Weekly was a weekly british comic that launched in 1975. Along with the earlier Action and the later 2000ad, it broke the mould of British boy's comics, because they all told stories that were grimmer and gritter and more action packed a little bit more serious and grown up than comics had ever done before.

Johnny Red, which went on to run for ten years before the title went over to reprinting earlier parts, was the tale of Johnny Redburn. A nineteen year old who grew up in the back streets of Liverpool, he was dishonourably discharged from the RAF in 1941 after being wrongly accused of striking a superior officer. Desperate to do his bit for the war effort regardless, the only way he could get back in was as a galley hand on a merchant ship, which is part of an arctic convoy to russia at the start of the first part.

When the pilot of the hurricane that is due to be launched from the ship to defend the convoy is taken out of action, Johnny seizes his chance, and one baptism of fire later, he's shooting down nazi planes. But with nowhere to land back with the convoy, and facing awkward questions if he does, his only option is to try and land in Russia. Landing at the home base of a Russian squadron called the Falcons, who are downbeaten and have been written off by their command and are seemingly doomed, Johnny has found his war at last. And the legend of Johnny Red, the English pilot who fights with the Russians, is about to begin....

Battle was a weekly comic, and every story had just three pages a week. You get thirty seven parts of Johnny Red [some later ones go up to four pages] and what's instantly impressive about the writing is how much it packs in every week, usually ending on a cliffhanger that makes you want to return for the next part. You do get the handful of parts that were in The Best of "Battle": Vol 1 but you do get plenty that haven't seen the light of day in many years which follow right on from them also.

The artwork from Joe Colquhoun is crisp and clear and packs in an amazing amount of detail, and it's a total pleasure to look at.

Johnny himself is an appealing lead character, a likeable young man who just wants to do his bit and who comes to feel for the Russians and the struggle they are facing, against the nazis and the occasional fanatical commissar who is determined to make everyone bar themselves die for the Motherland.

With lots of exciting aerial dogfights and some bold feats of flying, they really don't make them like this anymore.

It also pulls no punches in depicting the horror and brutality of the conflict, and the depth of research in the writing really impresses.

With an introduction from noted comics writer Garth Ennis about his love for the series, plus a fascinating section of historical information about the pilots who flew hurricanes with the arctic convoys, this is a fine collection and a great way to get a classic comic back into print.

And to bring back some cherished memories for those of us who grew up on Battle. They are now yours to cherish forever in one volume.

Whilst the final instalment in this one doesn't end on a cliffhanger and thus makes it reasonably self contained, Johnny as mentioned ran for many more years and fought many more battles. So here's hoping we will get to see those as well.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 29 January 2011
When I was a boy, three comic stories really gripped my imagination: The Tough of the Track, Charley's War and Johnny Red. Charley's War is rightly regarded as a classic. However, for me, Johnny Red was the first story to reflect the savage nature of war, conveying the desperate and often horrific nature of Russia's fight for survival in the early years of World War Two.

My appreciation of the gritty and historically accurate portrayal of conflict seen in Johnny Red may be based on hindsight. At the time I first read Johnny Red, the story was (and remains) simply a cracking read, packed with action and founded on the well-paced and interesting story of a working class British pilot - Johnny Redburn - fighting with the Red Air Force in defence of the Soviet Union. The story is also founded on the brilliant artwork of two of the UK's best comic artists; Joe Colquhoun and John Cooper (John Cooper took over illustrating Johnny Red after Colquhoun had moved onto drawing Charley's War). Colquhoun drew the instalments of Johnny Red found in this volume; I'm looking forward to seeing some of John Cooper's work in future volumes.

One of the real pleasures of this first volume of Johnny Red is looking at the level of detail in Colquhoun's drawings. Since reading the story, I have re-read several parts just to admire the artwork. It's a real tribute to Colquhoun that he was able to create such beautiful illustrations, on a weekly basis, for so many years.

I hope that Titan will release more of Johnny Red. The story deserves to become as successful as the re-printed Charley's War. I recommend this volume without reservation.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 30 January 2011
I was 11 when Johnny Red burst into Battle comic and immediately it became by favourite strip and continued to be so until Charley's War usurped it (though initially I was gutted Joe Colquhoun had switched to another story!)

Thirty plus years later it is great to re-read the first stories. Colquhoun's artwork is amazing and he captures the horror and barbarity of the Eastern Front equally as well as the trench warfare of the Western Front in Charley's War. What surprises me though is Tom Tully's writing. Pat Mills is rightly lauded as a comic writer extraordinaire but Tully is no slouch and pushes all the right buttons and levels of excitement. In the days of Play Stations and satellite TV I still think that stories like this can capture a child's imagination and start them reading (let's bury any prejudices about "war stories" and "comics" eh?)

Highly recommended, buy one for yourselfl and one for a younger relative! Hopefully Titan will print more volumes in due course...
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 4 March 2011
This was the story Joe Colquhoun was working on before he moved across to create the brilliant Charley's War with Pat Mills. While Tom Tully's writing doesn't quite match that classic, the art is equally magnificent: grim scenes of battle and destruction, ruined cityscapes, numerous different types of aircraft, ships, tanks, trucks, armaments, a frozen and hazardous world .... all depicted with effortless ease (though I suspect it was far from effortless: Joe was a perfectionist as well as naturally talented). He could apparently turn out one fantastic page after another, and his standards never really dropped.

The story is engaging enough too, with a sympathetic but flawed hero, odious villains, interesting characters and frequent cliff hangers, though the hero leads a charmed life, and anyone who has him in their sights usually ends up being shot or blown up just before they can pull the trigger! It is interesting to see the suffering and struggle of the Soviets during WW2 portrayed in such a sympathetic light as well. Tully clearly put in plenty of time researching the history of a perhaps under-acknowledged conflict.

In among the Marvels and DCs I read while growing up in the sixties, I used to enjoy various British comics as well. They never credited artists by name, but you could obviously still tell one's style from another, and just about my favourite was whoever it was who drew Roy of the Rovers, Football Family Robinson and a few others. I never knew who it was, but this art was always easy on the eye, technically accurate, exciting and consistent. As I didn't read Battle when it came out, I missed out on Johnny Red and Charley's War for many years: until the latter was reprinted in the Judge Dredd Megazine a few years ago. I recognised Joe's idiosyncratic style instantly, despite the many years since I had enjoyed those earlier stories. It has been a huge pleasure to discover a bit more about Joe Colquhoun, to realise the esteem in which he is rightly held, and to have been able to collect the excellent reprinted volumes of Charley's War and Johnny Red since. It's gratifying that he now gets some recognition, but he really was under-appreciated and under-rewarded during his long career.

To anyone reading this, I would suggest you buy the book and enjoy the story (while making allowances for its flaws and datedness) ... but truly appreciate the illustration of one of the industry's greats.

And if you haven't checked out Charley's War, then it's time you did: it's a Band Of Brothers of comics.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 23 March 2011
This is a high-quality reprint of one of British comics best lost characters.This is a realistic story of furious air combat in one of the most extreme environments of World War Two,arctic Russia.Johnny Redburn a disgraced trainee pilot with the RAF,who after an unlucky fight with a senior officer is dishonourably discharged.He ends up working in the galley of a cargo ship in the freezing Barents sea.For defence,these ships would have a fighter mounted on a catapault for quick launch.When the pilot is killed in an air attack and the ship is endangered ,Johnny dons the dead pilots uniform and climbs into the Hawker Hurricane.He takes off and after downing the Germans realises his ship has been sunk.Instead of ditching in the cold sea he flies to the mainland.The first airbase he lands at is the home of Falcons an impoverished russian fighter squadron using worn-out aircraft,and low on fuel and ammo.Redburn comes to realise that if he went back to the British he would probably be imprisoned for taking the Hurricane,but here he could actually make a difference fighting with these Russians.So he stays.

It is scripted by old school British comics legend,Tom Tully and drawn by the equally old school Joe Colquhoun.I say this because these two have been associated with many iconic comics since the fifties,including Roy of the Rovers,The Steel claw,Paddy Payne and many others. British Comics had a renaissance in the mid 70's,when Pat Mills and John Wagner re-energised old comics and launched new ones including Battle,Action and 2000AD.These new comics included more realistic better-researched stories and also reflected some of the cynicism of 70's Cinema.Johnny Red represents this new approach beautifully.Tom Tully given a chance to do something different becomes outstanding,totally surpassing his earlier more simplistic work.This shows he had done his homework,educating and entertaining us with this gritty,morally complex original story.Who is the real enemy here?The Germans or the Commissars,executing and terrorising their own men?The scene where the impoverished Falcon Squadron go into combat,knowing they have no ammunition is both moving and smacks of truth.

Joe Colquhoun was one of the most gifted,versatile,generous comic artists around.His people are covincing individuals,having readable expressions and body-language.His vehicles,aircraft and machines are painstakingly accurate.Uniforms,weapons even cockpit interiors are lovingly rendered.The level of detail in an average episode is way beyond what was required for a boy's comic from 1977.Other artists drew this when Colquhoun moved onto Charley's War,John Cooper and Carlos Pino,both talented,but not quite in the same league.

A really welcome book,important too as those old comics are so fragile,and something like this could easily have been lost.I hope it finds a new audience too.As my 12 year old says: "hardcore".
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on 18 May 2011
Battle a war comic from my childhood every thursday i had my pocket money and every week i got this comic and every other week a model ww11 1/72 scale to go with it happy days . so this book is the 1st instalment of the story which was battles longest running story 77-86 i belive this comic had many great stories from this to D Day dawson, rat pack, panzer g man,the sarge and many more over the years (the other biggest story being charlys war set in ww1 / russion revolution and finishing in ww11.which titan books are also reprinting (book 9 in oct 11), so to johnny red a true grit and horror of fighting in the eastern front most of the time in the air but he also had many battles on the ground in both cases came up against not only the germans but also power crazy russons who knew nothing of human life this 1st part takes you from the start from england to how he finds the falcons on a cold and fog bound night and so the story begins !! .im so happy that titan books are reprinting this story the only down side is if they match charlys war books you get a 1year gap but each book leaves you wanting more !! i have recently managed to buy all up to date charlys war on amazon books so have some readying to do so roll on to book 2 of johnny red , you can find more on johnny red on falcon squardron site
i would say if you like war comics or storys this is for you and would also check out charlys war
only thing i forgot to say is the art work is spot on and so is the story they both bring you into the strip seeing is beliving
many thanks and i hope i can bring some of you into the world of good old fashioned comic book war
ps this is my 1st reveiw )
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on 22 June 2012
I'll keep it brief as I need to get back to Johnny and his high jinx.

The artwork for this strip still blows me away and would not be out of place in a modern comic. Why people put up with the art in contemporary US comics of the time is beyond me! What also amazes me is how gruesome the deaths are, of which there are about 50 per page!
The story and writing style is a little dated but then it is thirty years old and was aimed at little brats like myself but I just keep going back to the art. The Hurricanes and Me-109's are all brilliantly drawn as are the exploding German tanks and exploding German trucks and exploding German artillery pieces and exploding German pill boxes and exploding German infantry and......you get the point.
Great looking hardback book which took me back to a simpler time when goodies were good and baddies were German.
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on 3 January 2012
This is a great purchase for anyone who used to read these comics when they were younger, or even if you didn't. Wonderfully put together and presented I can't recommend this high enough.
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on 25 November 2012
Brilliant new chracter for me. Have got vol 2 and have already pre-ordered No3.

Would recommend to all my friends
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 27 March 2011
Like many other reviewers I loved this as a child. Charleys war was naturally my favorite, being the best war story ever told in any format.(once you skip past Pat Mill's pathetic socialist gibbering).
Johnny Red was so great in those days. As a 10 year old kid I was flying with him in that old Hurricane. Evry time a Falcon was shot down, it felt as if this story really showed the brutality of war.
Real life battles were portrayed. Stalingrad, Kursk, Seelow Heights.Jo's artwork of course was fantastic and as tracer rounds blasted through chest cavities, the bounderies of censure were challenged.

My Battles were stored away in the attic, and then i reread the whole series last year from the excellent Kommanders site.

It was like veiwing the hot girl at collage with hindsight. Suddenly all the flaws appear. Redburn's lantern jaw seems phoney. He shoots down about 5 Germans each mission. He kills 2 or 3 of his own commanders for cowardice. ME109's fall like rain before the Falcons guns. A capured Redburn leaps onto a PO2's wing as it flys past a parade in which he is to be executed,(seriously).
There are some fine characters. Yakob, Ratov,Grigor & the Gang of 7, all fleshed out individuals. Theres some brilliant machinery. The Red Death Mosquito with its nose full of fifties, and the B25 Mitchell retrofitted with about 30 fiftycalibers in the nose. But that same mitchell outturns ME109's, The Germans run about pretty much chanting "Achtung! Himmell! Nein..The Hurricane! IYYEEEE". They are goons and criminals the lot of 'em. It leaves you wondering how these feckless incompetants managed to take over all Europe and European Russia.

As a product for Kids and of its time, the plot isnt THAT much better than Rat Pack or Lord Peter Flints ridiculous forays behind the lines in Warlord. Who can forget him being sent to assassinate Hitler,Killing his way through a whole German division, then failing to shoot Hitler in the back because it was Unsporting!

Charleys war remains King, and i'm sorry I read Johnny Red again, rather I kept those fond hazy memories of snarling Merlins and Chattering Polikarpovs.
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