Saturday, July 2, 2011

I am a bullet

* Здравствуйте, Johnny

The most enjoyable comic I’ve read all week was Johnny Red: Falcons First Flight by Tom Tully and Joe Colquhoun. I knew Johnny as a big John Cooper-drawn slab of meat, and am intimately familiar with Colquhoun’s work on Charley’s War, and I’d even read bits and pieces of these early stories, but reading it all in one go was a spectacular experience.

Colquhoun’s action scenes are superb - there is real momentum in these powerful planes flipping through the flak-heavy Russian sky, and his war damage remains the best in the business with the real misery and pain of the innocent victims of war on every page.

And it’s such a simple story that it’s a compelling one, with Johnny Red stuck in a predicament, with a large number of obstacles to overcome. But he’s a plucky little runt at the start of this series and he’s got the guts to be a good soldier, so he never backs down.

Tully is one of the old workhorses of British comics, producing decades of deeply mediocre war and sport comics without ever really writing anything that was actually truly awful. (That’s something that can’t be said for a lot of current writers.) But he keeps Johnny’s story chugging along nicely in four-page instalments without resorting to too much cliché.

Combining the best strengths of both Colquhoun and Tully, Johnny Red is a cracking comic that the reader can fly through with all the grace of Johnny’s beloved Hurricane.

* Diving in

My local comic shop was cleaning out its back issue stacks, so was offering 100 comics for $100, and I had a bunch of credit saved up, so I just fuckin’ went for it. It was a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend a Saturday afternoon and it took me more than an hour to sort out what I wanted.

Even though they had been thoroughly picked over in recent weeks, it wasn’t hard to find the good stuff on the first pass through the bins – I finished off my Optic Nerve collection, got some Shaolin Cowboy down me, got some early Sub-Mariner comics from the 1960s and a few other little gems.

On the second round I got a big chunk of the current House of Mystery because there are some lovely artists in there, and a few of Rick Veitch’s last Swamp Thing stories, and things like Giffen/Grant/Bisley’s Authority/Lobo crossovers and some Stray toasters and some random Ellis and a bunch of Marvel Premiere issues.

On the third pass over, I bought a whole lot of X-Factor comics to make up the numbers.

* X hits the spot

So obviously – I ended up really enjoying the X-Factor comics. They’re mainly from the second year of the title, back in the late eighties, where husband and wife team supreme Louise and Walt Simonson started doing interesting things with the title.

As well as the always welcome jagged line of Simonson, there is also some reasonably early work from guys like Marc Silvestri and Big Dave Mazzucchelli, two remarkably different artists who still fit the comic nicely, with some savagely idiosyncratic styles already starting to emerge.

Even better, the Simonson team started looking at the whole concept behind the series and took it to logical conclusions. Bob Layton did his best as the original writer on the comic, but he was hamstrung by a truly awful premise, with the original X-Men posing as hate-filled mutant hunters to bring in the next generation.

It was a terrible idea and it all came apart in the second year of the title, with Angel losing his wings during the Morlock massacre, and later apparently dying in a helicopter explosion. (He came back blue within a year.)

Like the Johnny Red stuff, I read bits and pieces of these issues over the years, but it wasn’t until I got into the whole lot at once that it became truly rewarding.

I am speaking from a nostalgic platform, because I was 12-years-old in 1987 and thought the Uncanny X-Men was The Best Comic In The Universe Ever. I got mildly obsessed with X-Factor one summer around the time of Fall of the Mutants, but it was a summer romance and I was over it in a couple of years.

But it’s not just nostalgia speaking when I say these comics are pretty good – they are packed full of action and incident, and the comic takes its time to build up the supporting characters. All those runaway kids that X-Factor take in might be physically disfigured or emotionally crippled, but they’re also making progress towards a normal life.

They’re terrific comics, and a worthy last minute choice. It’s surprising what you can come back with when you dive in like that.

* Grant Morrison is haunting me again

Last night I had a dream where I was down the pub with a young Grant Morrison with a full head of hair and a softly spoken voice, and he was telling me that he was doing a bit of labouring work on the side to supplement his comic writing income, and how great it was to get out into the world and interact with normal people, while also getting physically fit.

This afternoon I was wandering through the sad debris of the once-might Barbelith message board, where I find a link to a 1990 video featuring Grant Morrison with a full head of hair and a softly spoken voice, although he is talking about Arkham Asylum, rather than the benefits of labouring.

I have no idea what this all means, or if it means anything.


Anonymous said...

I recall reading, perhaps in Thrillpower Overload, that Tom Tully and Gerry Finlay-Day were two writers for IPC in the 1970s who were basically guaranteed a minimum level of writing work and income. Hence the 'solidly mediocre' production...although they did have their moments, as Johnny Red proves for Tully and Fiends of the Eastern Front for Finlay-Day. Pat Mills also rated Finlay-Day as an excellent editor on Tammy comic.

P.S., I agree with your comments about the rugby in the post below...over-rated and over-priced. If I hear one more word about the blasted RWC I will scream...

Comics Bonfire said...

did you catch the Darkie's Mob collection from Titan? Great book of early John Wagner and Mike Western war comics.

Bob Temuka said...

I haven't read the Darkie's Mob collection, but I have got it from when it was reprinted in the Judge Dredd Megazine a few years back. Johnny Red, Darkie's Mob and Charley's War are easily the three best things to come out of Battle...

It must have been a nice gig for Tully and Finley-Day, but when you produce that amount of work, some of it is always going to be accidentally brilliant.