Murder Falcon #1
Written by Daniel Warren Johnson
Art by Daniel Warren Johnson and Mike Spicer
Lettering by Daniel Warren Johnson and Rus Wooton
Published by Image Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
Every so often, Comics Twitter gets into a certain chicken-and-egg kerfuffle about who is more important to sequential art — a writer or an artist. Some say that without a story, the artwork doesn’t coalesce into a working narrative; others say that without artwork, you’re left with stick figures or prose. But Daniel Warren Johnson’s Murder Falcon feels like a distinct win for the latter argument — while his overall narrative feels a little thin, the beautiful way he strings it together is undeniable, even as time will tell if spectacle will carry this book beyond its debut.
Whereas Johnson’s previous work on Extremity was a mournful treatise on the role of art in a post-apocalyptic world, Murder Falcon returns to similar themes but in a much less serious sense. We meet Jake, a rock guitarist who has seemingly given up that hard metal ghost — that is, until he’s rescued from alien monsters by the power of Murder Falcon, a cyborg avian super-soldier who draws strength from the power of sick riffs. It’s an inherently goofy concept, a spin on Johnny Thunder pushed through beat-’em-up kaiju flicks and Internet meme culture — yet when Johnson is at his most contemplative, Murder Falcon is also about the same return to making art that Extremity explored, as Jake struggles to dig out of his own emotional wreckage to rock out and save the world. Some of this backstory is a little heavy-handed, but at the same time, at least he’s not burying us in exposition.
Of course, a lot of Johnson’s introspection takes a back seat to the in-your-face fisticuffs — and like I said, this is where Murder Falcon undoubtedly succeeds. If you’ve seen a single page of Johnson’s artwork before, you’ll know he’s on a short list of the most talented indie artists, right up there with Tradd Moore and Nick Pitarra — he’s got a hyper-kinetic style that really sells what would be a ridiculous character in anyone else’s hands. Murder Falcon, with his red bandana and his giant cyborg arm, is an exercise in gleeful violence, and to his credit, Johnson also makes Jake seem mournful when he reminisces about the losses in his life. Even quiet moments like watching Jake and “Murf” rock out on the roof of a van feel simultaneously mundane and energetic, wringing moments of poignance and camaraderie out of what could have been seen as a joke concept.
That said, the jokeyness of Murder Falcon is hard to escape, and sometimes actively counteracts the weight of Johnson’s themes. On the one hand, not every book has to be Extremity — Johnson clearly wants to do a book more similar to Leviathan or even Shirtless Bear Fighter, just a weird violent book about dudes and monsters and over-the-top fisticuffs. But I’d argue that that is a trope that’s starting to wear thin, no matter how virtuosic the artist is — after a bit, the emphasis on “sweet” beat-’em-ups starts to feel a little self-indulgent and shallow, with only surface-level differences setting this book apart from some of its peers. For many, however, Johnson’s art will be more than enough to sell them on this concept — but for fans of Extremity, you may feel a drop in investment, just because this jokey series still feels like it has fairly low stakes.
But that’s the power of art in comics — in the hands of a talent like Daniel Warren Johnson, you can take what would be a ridiculous, random concept like Murder Falcon and make it into something that will stand above plenty of more deliberately plotted narratives on the shelves. One can easily describe this book as a tonal palate cleanser from Johnson’s heavier work on Extremity, and they wouldn’t be wrong — but that lightness in tone and content can’t help but make this debut feel just a tiny bit hollow. That said, if someone says that Murder Falcon doesn’t look sensational, they’re lying to you — but at the same time, it remains to be seen if Johnson can bring the same sort of solid narrative to his incredible artwork, or if this bird will have to fly on the fickle winds of off-the-wall spectacle.