Publisher: AfterShock Comics
Writer: Garth Ennis
Artist: Keith Burns
Colourist: Jason Wordie
Letters: Rob Steen
Release Date: 27th March 2019
Let’s be honest, when you hear a name like Garth Ennis you instantly start to make assumptions about the type of story you’re going to read. When you hear the story is about a WWII fighter-bomber, this only compounds the excitement of getting your hands on the book. Throw into the mix drawings from Burns, a member of the Guild of Aviation Artists, and its chocks away!
No beating around the bush. The artistry displayed in the aircraft throughout, understandable given the pedigree, is off the scale. I’m not big on my aviation history, but the realism and precision on show is truly something else. From the explosive dogfights, of which there are many fine examples, down to views glimpsed from briefing room windows, the vehicles on display always appear perfect. The fruits of someone who clearly knows their craft, no pun intended, and must take some considerable enjoyment from it; I know I did.
Elevating the visuals even higher, Wordie’s muted palette is wonderfully reminiscent of those framed vehicle watercolours you used to see or even the slightly faded classic war movies of the ’60s and ’70s. This is contrasted by the warmth and sometimes vibrant colouring of the characters and interiors. There’s an obvious shift in styles between the ‘cast’ and the setting but it settles quickly and I found the whole thing a real pleasure. It’d be remiss of me not to also highlight the talents of Steen. When you have a splash or big panel with so much raw action on display, to have the lettering sit in a way which doesn’t pull you out the immersion is no easy task. The whole thing was so nice it’s almost worth picking up just to look at.
So what about the story then? I was genuinely pleasantly surprised by how different this was to my initial expectations. We’re not talking horror, the grim reality of war excepted, or blockbuster action, although there is plenty on display. Instead we have the story of a man, McKenzie, a product of his times and circumstances, trying to be the best he can be. After an arduous struggle to get home to his lovely lady, Flight Lieutenant McKenzie finds himself believing in his family curse. He is at the end of the war flying a jinxed aircraft with a commanding officer who hates him, a navigator who is the embarrassment of the wing, and a past that he can’t shrug off. It’s believable and relatable to see how far we think we’ve come since the 40s.
Politics, racism, jealously, and what you could call toxic masculinity all presented with trademark black humour. This isn’t all stiff upper lip, toodle-pip and Roger Wilko, instead it’s bleeding out from a shot in the guts, the tortured faces of unnamed sea men facing the rock and hard place of drowning or burning alive, and the desire of the witnesses to wash it away with a pint of lukewarm bitter by the fireside in the local.
The book, to me at least, doesn’t fit with the traditional beginning middle and end. Ennis, and the team, have expertly taken these characters and given us enough to understand who they are and care for them only for us to be pulled away at the last page. It’s like being given the gift to peer through the window but only for so long. That isn’t to say there isn’t an arc or a satisfactory conclusion, there’s oodles of development, but Out of the Blue instead provides a snap shot into the life of McKenzie and those around him to provide contained tales of adventure, derring-do, but also gritty angst and internal conflict.
I’ve been on a bit of a WWII kick recently so this has hit me at the perfect time. Out of the Blue will definitely appeal to those with a fondness for Eagle, Action, or Commando but for everyone else, if you have even a passing interest in WWII or are looking for a fresh take on those glorified battles, it’s worth a look.
The writer of this piece was: Adam Brown
Adam Tweets from @brother_rooster