Garth Ennis is no stranger to war comics, having grown up as a reader of the classic British weekly Battle, and having gone on to create various homages (such as the brilliant War Stories) and curate collections of Battle reprints. This book ties it all together, reimagining Tom Tully and Joe Colquhoun‘s classic story of a disgraced British Hurricane pilot, who finds a home in a Soviet fighter squadron protecting supply drops to a besieged Stalingrad.
Ennis’s racy plot, deft characterisation and biting dialogue are enough to make this worth the price of entry, not least because of a wonderful plot twist that briefly puts Johnny at the very heart of WWII’s political machinations. However, Keith Burns’ striking illustrations trump even this, capturing amazing scenes of aerial combat, which truly evoke the extraordinary courage of the men and women battling it out for supremacy in the skies. The carnage is unfathomable, and Ennis and Burns embrace the chaos and destruction, but also the skill and bravery of the pilots and crew.
On the ground, Burns seems to be channeling the creative spirit of Carlos Ezquerra, with Johnny’s lover, Nina, looking particularly Ezquerra-esque. It’s also dark and grimy in war-torn Russia, as the pilots wait between missions, fighting their personal battles against incompetent officers and ridiculous, dangerous orders.
You don’t have to be a fan of war comics to appreciate this because it’s a universal tale of heroes in times of hardship. However, those who marvel at the heroism of normal men in this extraordinary setting, particularly the efforts of highly-skilled fighter pilots, will find this exceptional.