Friday, September 7, 2007

Reprint This! 10. Johnny Red

UPDATE: The first 75 or so episodes of Johnny Red have been reprinted in 3 hardcover volumes by Titan, released in 2011-13. Go, buy 'em all!

Reprint This! is a periodic feature where I talk about some out-of-print comic book gems that are not available in collected form for readers to enjoy. This is hoping to let rights owners know that, yes, readers are out here, and we'd like to buy the things we can't get at this time!

Despite such an enormous variety of books available these days, and genuine efforts to present the material in reasonably-priced, archival volumes, there are still countless fabulous series from the US, Britain and Japan which are overdue for new editions. I've selected two dozen titles which should be on bookshelves, but at this time are not.

One title that's been missing in action for years is JOHNNY RED, a World War Two thriller created by Tom Tully and the late Joe Colquhoun. It ran in the pages of Battle Picture Weekly from 1977-87, with other artists including John Cooper and Carlos Pino. This was one of Battle's best-loved series, an exciting rollercoaster of a comic that's as unpredictable as it is inventive and fun to read.

Johnny Red has a great premise. It's about a pilot who's been busted out of the service for striking an officer and, lacking any other prospects during the war, is scrubbing decks on a merchant ship in the Barents Sea. He steals the ship's Hurricane after the pilot bites it in a German attack and fights off the Nazi airmen, but feels he doesn't have any option but to land the plane in Russia after his ship goes down.

In Siberia, he joins a squadron of bedraggled, demoralized frontliners who are barely surviving after the Germans have cut most of their supply lines. But Johnny faces awkward questions from the Russian intelligence who want to know exactly what it is that he's doing there at all...

Johnny Red was an immediate hit with Battle's readers, and it racked up something like 500 three-page episodes over the course of its run, appearing in almost every issue for a decade and finally ending when an ailing Battle merged with Eagle and it was decided to save money by running reprints. The first two years were drawn by the great Joe Colquhoun. After 96 episodes, Colquhoun was moved to a new feature, Charley's War, and John Cooper took over. Cooper was better known for several earlier strips about lone wolf, tough-guy spies, but really raised his game to follow in Colquhoun's shoes. This was a pretty shrewd move on Battle's part, splitting the successful team the way they did, but it was to both series' benefit.

Incidentally, the images you see here were cropped from the quite nice scans available at Falcon Squadron, a Johnny Red fan site where readers can enjoy the first four years of the strip. This is the next best thing to a bookshelf reprint, although no real substitute. It's been speculated that the fans at Spitfire Comics have considered licensing the rights, and other people have held out hope that Titan, who've brought us the excellent series of Charley's War books, among others, might try out a nice hardcover collection one day. I think it's a winner in the right hands, so how about it, Titan?

(Originally posted September 07, 2007, 08:01 at hipsterdad's livejournal.)

Edited to add: (3/1/08) Titan has announced that they have acquired reprint rights to more of the Battle material, specifically noting Johnny Red, Major Eazy and Rat Pack as among the strips which will be reappearing soon. The major new reprint series will begin with the long-running soccer strip Roy of the Rovers as the spearhead, and also incorporate material from the comics Action, Buster, Tammy and, possibly most excitingly, Misty! Here's the announcement, from Down the Tubes. More details as they become available!

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