By Zack Quaintance — In the opening of this comic, a kaiju attacks a city, a conversion van speeds to the scene, and a long-haired guitar-slinging protagonist steps out from behind the wheel to save the day, laconic and determined. His early dialogue includes lines like There’ll be no baby eating on my watch; and I don’t need weapons, officer...I brought METAL. The hero (whose name is Jake) commences to rock, creating blue lightning with his guitar riff, from which a muscled and shirtless chicken man emerges and subsequently uses a bionic arm to kungfu fight the kaiju into submission.
This is all in the first five pages of Daniel Warren Johnson’s new comic Murder Falcon, which reads like a Tenacious D song in graphic sequential format. Like The D, Johnson’s new book gleefully embraces heavy metal culture, loving it so hard and so seriously it tips into a delightful self-aware parody of its source material. The opening of this book is, simply put, exactly what its perfect name and kinetic cover imply: a love letter to metal articulated through an action comic, a delightful burst of pop art informed by a hirsute and black t-shirted corner of our culture. It succeeds wildly, powered by an unpretentious good time plus also Johnson’s massive talent as a comic book artist/storyteller.
And if this were the sum total of Murder Falcon #1’s aspirations, it would be just fine, a light and hilarious exercise in craftsmanship. At page six, however, this story becomes something much deeper. It flashes back to our rocker on a bench in calmer times. He’s subdued and despondent, and soon we get a clear sense that he’s in mourning, that’s he severely depressed, that...something tragic has occurred. We don’t know exactly what (more hints in time), but we know nearly everyone in his life is driven to stop and ask how he’s doing, to be kind in a way often reserved for those who’ve weathered a massive loss.
I don’t want to go too far into the metaphors and juxtapositions in this book, but I’ll just note that there is a dichotomy here—heavy metal cornball rocking vs. heart-rending drama—that elevates Murder Falcon #1 into rarefied air of debuts, placing it among the best new #1 comics of 2018. Essentially, this book is more than a corny rocking homage to metal. It’s a deep meditation on how we cope with tragedy and loss, how severe depression can both push us toward and away from the hobbies we’ve come to love in our lives.
Overall: A powerful debut with much to say about love and loss, Murder Falcon #1 succeeds on a number of levels. Johnson is a massive talent, and he nails this story, letting his kinetic artwork shine during moments of high action while knowing when to backoff and frame emotional moments with simpler visuals. This is a MUST BUY comic. 10/10
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Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.