Battle Picture Weekly, or Battle, was a British war comic magazine that ran through the 70s and 80s, and Johnny Red was one of the more notable ongoing stories. Johnny Red was a Royal Air Force pilot who was disgraced after killing an officer and joined the Merchant Marines with a stolen Hurricane to continue fighting the Nazi scourge. Now the battle has taken him to Russia where he’ll have to dodge the brother of the officer he killed, survive the besieged city of Stalingrad and meet who could quite possibly be his equal in the air, Nina Petrova.
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. There may be a little more exposition than we’re used to, especially due to the episodic nature of the comic, but most of it was useful in reference to the unfamiliar nature of the gritty details of World War II battles.
Regardless of whether or not you read the first Johnny Red collection, Angels Over Stalingrad can easily stand on its own. The collected stories, for the most part, tell their complete tales and wrap up by the end of the book. For a comic meant to tell fun and entertaining stories set during World War II, Johnny Red does not shy away from the horrors and brutality of war. It doesn’t talk down to the audience and still provides an entertaining piece of historical fiction.
If there was any detraction, it would come from the ink-laden art. There isn’t a single image in Johnny Red that couldn’t be described as busy. I was turned off at first, but reading further, the art lent itself well to the dirty nature of war. I wouldn’t say I necessarily liked it, but it served its purpose and suited the story.The art isn’t bad, it’s just not personally appealing and clearly comes from a different era.
When your collection of comics is opened by a heartfelt letter from Garth Ennis, you know you have something special. Johnny Red: Angels Over Stalingrad is a fantastic collection of Johnny Red stories. 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. While other examples would indicate different, Johnny Red still holds up against modern comics and presents a fantastic story set in the battles of World War II.