Are you looking forward to a new comic book but it’s impossible for you to wait for its release before you know what we thought about it? That’s why there’s DoomRocket’s Advanced Reviews—now we assess books you can’t even buy yet. This week: ‘Out of the Blue’ Volume 1 (of 2), out March 27 from AfterShock Comics.
THIS ADVANCE REVIEW OF ‘OUT OF THE BLUE’ VOL. 1 CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.
by Brendan Hodgdon. War stories have been woven into the fabric of comics since the beginning. But aside from rare exceptions, war comics in the modern era are almost solely the province of the inimitable Garth Ennis. Having moved on from the absurd, vulgar work with which he made his name, Ennis continues his solid run of World War II titles with Out of the Blue, a graphic novel from AfterShock Comics with the art team of Keith Burns, Jason Wordie, and Rob Steen. Following the put-upon pilot of an RAF Mosquito in the waning days of the war, Out of the Blue doesn’t reinvent the wheel but nevertheless provides a respectable wartime adventure for all the comics-minded dads out there.
The graphic novel follows Flight Lieutenant McKenzie as he takes up his new station flying Mosquitos on bombing raids and night patrols. The bad luck that has apparently trailed McKenzie through the war follows him to his latest posting, as he immediately crashes his plane into another one, taking both out of commission and hospitalizing the crew of the other. This earns him the ire of the group leader, a ruffian named Broome, who immediately assigns McKenzie the group’s least-reliable plane and least-desirable navigator. Once all of this is established, the story follows McKenzie and his squadron-mates through a series of different missions, while McKenzie contends with Broome’s antagonism and spends private time with his wife Beth and other pilots.
The characters are largely broad and archetypal, as are their interpersonal conflicts and motivations, but they function pretty well for the sort of story that Ennis is scripting here. A lot of their personality comes from Burns’ artwork; the way he renders faces does slightly recall other Ennis collaborators like Steve Dillon and Darick Robertson, but not quite at the same level. The character side of the story is very melodramatic, particularly the slowly-emerging plot of Broome coveting McKenzie’s wife, and the way that both Ennis and Burns approach those beats errs on the side of bluntness. But it provides the basic emotional underpinning that the story needs, and never takes so much time as to drag down the pacing.
It’s the creative team’s grasp of the technical specifics of the period that gives the whole narrative the specificity that it lacks in the characters. The various planes that figure into the combat sequences are rendered in thorough, enthusiastic detail, and Burns depicts them in action with visceral glee. And Ennis’ attention to detail when it comes to lingo makes the whole experience that much more immersive. The whole book feels like a great, almost docu-drama snapshot of the day-to-day of RAF pilots, and highlights a level of pain and brutality that you don’t always expect to see in flyboy stories.
Colorist Wordie and letterer Steen provide reliable work in their corners as well. Wordie’s colors are mostly subdued, with lots of blues and grays punctuated with orange gunfire and red blood. But he also provides warmth to the book’s more pastoral settings, and knows when to lay on vibrant colors for dramatic effect (see the story of McKenzie’s friend Paddy in the second chapter). Steen’s work is most impactful during the battle scenes, where he populates empty space with stray radio transmission bubbles that amplify the chaos while also leading your eye through each brutal tableau.
One odd thing about this book is the decision to publish it as a graphic novel instead of individual issues. The structure of the book definitely suggests that it’s really 3 issues of a series delivered in a one volume format; in its current form, the graphic novel gives the reader a more complete picture of the title but also doesn’t feel any more complete than it would as the first 20-something pages in the first issue of a series. But this is more of a curiosity than an outright problem.
For lapsed and devout military history buffs alike, Out of the Blue will scratch a particular itch. It highlights a very narrow piece of World War II, and Ennis, Burns, Wordie & Steen do a fine job of immersing the reader into this particular martial world. The path their story takes is certainly well-trod, but it delivers exactly the retro, rah-rah combat glory found in the best war comics. If that’s your cup of tea then this is certainly where you want to be.
AfterShock Comics / $19.99
Written by Garth Ennis.
Art by Keith Burns.
Colors by Jason Wordie.
Letters by Rob Steen.
7 out of 10
‘Out of the Blue’ hits stores March 27.