It's written by Garth Ennis, for Garth Ennis. He's his own target audience. There won't be that many people today who still remember Johnny Red, from Battle Picture Weekly... but who cares? That doesn't matter. I read this back-to-back with Titan's 1970s reprints and it's a perfect continuation. It nails everything. It's not trying to be new or revolutionary, but instead simply a full-blooded instalment of Johnny's adventures, as if the late Tully, Colquhoun and Cooper were still with us. The only differences are:
(a) the pacing, since it's a modern eight-part mini-series with 22-page episodes.
(b) a modern framing story, with a dot-com millionaire interviewing an old Russian mechanic.
It's got it all. The Falcons, of course including Yakob. Colonel Yaraslov and that horrible dog of his. Nina Petrova of the Angels of Death. Erich von Jurgen... oooooh, von Jurgen. These characters would be cool even if you knew nothing about them, but for me this was gold.
Here are some quotes from an online interview, on Big Comic Page:
BCP: "The story ran for a good few years, but seemed to run out of steam towards the end. Would you agree with that and if so, do you think there's some unfinished business to take care of?"
GE: "Completely. The strip starts getting just a little ropey towards the end of 1980, has its ups and downs for the next couple of years, and then begins a long, grim decline in mid '83 that lasts 'til the very end. With this series and a possible second one, I'd like to give Johnny the ending I always thought he deserved.
"Part of the problem is that Johnny Red was a victim of its own success. Stories that lasted more than a couple of years were the exception rather than the rule in those days. John Wagner has said he didn't expect to be writing Judge Dredd for more than a year when he started, never mind two, five, twenty or forty. I'm sure Tom Tully didn't think he'd have to write Johnny Red for ten, which is why the latter half of the strip sees a good deal of recycled material and wrong turns (eg. Johnny's return to the UK in '83, as a kind of RAF troubleshooter)."
Ennis's planned follow-up series didn't happen. Clearly this didn't sell well enough. It's a shame. Maybe war stories just aren't mainstream enough these days? The best part of a century has passed since World War Two. Relatively few readers today are interested in it, compared with SF or superheroes. Ennis, though, is steeped in war history and these pages are full of his love and respect for now-gone heroes. (Meanwhile, Keith Burns is an award-winning member of the Guild of Aviation Artists and called this a dream job.)
I like Ennis anyway, admittedly. I need to catch up with more of his stuff. But I liked this a good deal.