Daniel Warren Johnson became something of an Image Comics star with his 12-issue series “Extremity” last year, but he hasn’t stopped creating. On the surface, Johnson’s new series “Murder Falcon” may seem overly brash, it may seem silly, and it might look like the overconfident battle cry of an artist at the top of his game. But underneath it all, “Murder Falcon” has some of the most heart I’ve read in a series debut this year. Read on as we uncover more!
Written and Illustrated by Daniel Warren Johnson
Colors by Mike Spicer
Lettered by Rus Wooton
From DANIEL WARREN JOHNSON, the creator of the Eisner-nominated series EXTREMITY, comes MURDER FALCON! The world is under attack by monsters, and Jake’s life is falling apart: no band, no girl, no future… until he meets Murder Falcon. He was sent from The Heavy to destroy all evil, but he can’t do it without Jake shredding up a storm. Now, with every chord Jake plays on his guitar, the power of metal fuels Murder Falcon into all-out kung fu fury on those that seek to conquer Earth. It’s time to shred!
The premise of “Murder Falcon,” as wacky as it may be, does appear a little simple at first: bad boy-looking protagonist Jake is down in the dumps before he’s bestowed with the ability to control a Falcon/Cyborg hybrid to battle monsters with his guitar. But Johnson weaves a lot of subtle depth into Jake; from his interactions with people, like his former bandmate Johann and close friend/associate Nate, we see that Jake is emotionally scarred, and wants to open up and play music again, but events and regrets of his past are holding him back. It’s a very human detail, and we’re never explicitly told or shown these regrets, making it even more relatable and giving us a stronger connection to Jake. We get the reverse when Murder Falcon arrives on the scene, however. Murder Falcon and his bizarre otherworldly origin push Jake to embrace the absurdity of life, and we clearly see Jake more comfortable in these situations shredding away on his guitar. Jake’s become a fully rounded and interesting character only in the first issue of the series, and I’m super interested to see where Johnson takes his character.
Beyond all this talk of character development, it’s important to note that “Murder Falcon” #1 is a Very Fun Comic. I was going into this expecting the over the top metal references to grate me after a while. However, Johnson embraces how ridiculous these ideas are, and conveys them with a completely straight face, for the most part, making the ride so much fun than it had any right to be. One-liners like “BETTER WATCH OUT MONSTERS… METAL WILL DESTROY ALL EVIL” should make me cringe, and yet within the context of the unbridled joy in this comic, it makes me smile. Murder Falcon, the character, embodies this idea perfectly. Almost everything he says, he says with the same squinty eyes and stoic grin, like your confidently awkward Dad spouting useful advice. I can’t tell you how many people I shared screengrabs of his hilarious dialogue with. I especially cackled when Jake asks about his name, and why it’s so intense, to which Murder Falcon cooly replies “DON’T WORRY JAKE… I ONLY MURDER MONSTERS”.
Johnson’s artwork has only increased in quality since “Extremity”, and it’s all on display here in “Murder Falcon”. I want to highlight the action work first because it’s the most eye-catching. From the first page, Johnson throws everything at us. The scene is literally a giant monster rampaging down a crowded street, smashing through a fully armed tank and generally tearing up the sidewalk. We get a short breather for a few pages while Jake introduces himself and calls out Murder Falcon, almost like the verse to the upcoming chorus. Then, the chorus hits, Johnson draws Jake shredding up and down on his guitar while electricity erupts from it to power Murder Falcon, who proceeds to launch himself at the monster. It’s high-energy, super-kinetic sequential action that highlights Johnson’s manga-influenced aesthetic, giving a good sense of pace to the story through the appropriate use of speed lines. There’s some really tactile imagery later, blending these Japanese sensibilities with a more Jack Kirby approach. When Jake first starts to fuel him with power, Murder Falcon kicks off a monster’s head with a resounding kick with a hilarious “DECAPITATED!” lettering splash in the background, a nice touch from Rus Wooton.Continued below
There’s some immersive and beautifully detailed environmental work at play here. Previously, especially in “Extremity”, Johnson’s only rendered fantastical worlds, but seeing him bring a crowded and messy urban environment to life is refreshing and fun. From the more cinematic scenes like the destroyed cityscape of the opening scene to the quieter moments like the night shot of a set of tall, dilapidated apartments, there’s a lot here that shows a capable mastery of all different types of scenes. Johnson plays a lot with interactivity between his characters and environments, adding an extra layer of immersion and intensity. We get this from the start, with the monster tearing up the general concrete of the street, but there are nice little touches too. When Johann drives away with Jake, there’s a neat little shot of the car from behind, with newspapers blowing around in its wake. Even just seeing the scattered beer cans around the van where Jake and Murder Falcon share a quiet moment lends that extra touch of believability to the book.
Colors are handled by Johnson’s frequent collaborator Mike Spicer, who brings a brilliant, vibrant, candy tone to the whole book to really make it pop. There’s some great contrast in the start of the book when we’re given the usual greyish, monotone cityscape, but the characters like the Monster, and Jake and Murder Falcon in their van are all brightly dressed in primary colors. Spicer’s neat electric glow he gives to electricity powering Murder Falcon also generates a lot of excitement in the reader combined with Johnson’s powerful action-packed pencils. The quieter scenes are nicely paletted too, with the night settings looking sleek with a turquoise theme to convey the gritty yet charming tone of the city.
I also want to draw attention to Rus Wooton’s lettering in this issue. With the comic being so heavily associated with metal music, Johnson uses a lot of it lyrically in his writing. Wooton has an expressive, script-like style for drawing sound effects, like the HISSSSSS when monsters appear and SHRAKT when Jack starts jamming. However, later when Jake and Murder Falcon share a beer on their van, we see some emotive lyrics lettered in the background while Jake reminisces over a lost love, making for an incredibly heartfelt scene that wouldn’t have hit as hard without Wooton doing such an expressive job.
“Murder Falcon” #1 took me completely by surprise. What I thought would be simply a fun romp in a brash music genre turned out to be a layered and genuine debut. Johnson excels in the story, characters and high octane artwork that feels like a mega-amplified punch to the gut. Spicer handles colors exceptionally, and Wooton provides excellent, brushed lettering. Don’t skip out on this one.
Final Score: 9.5 – “Murder Falcon” #1 is Daniel Warren Johnson at his greatest – with compelling characters, hyper-expressive artwork, and genuinely warming attitude.