I knew they were born to lose, and that gambling’s for fools but damn, this was the way I liked it baby and I knew it wasn’t going to live forever. With issue #8 “Murder Falcon” has come to and end. I’m an easy mark for over-the-top stories about monsters getting defeated by the power of heavy metal, but this entire series was next level. A genre that’s usually reserved for Tenacious D-style silliness was used for something sad, something beautiful, but most of all, for something heavy. Let’s talk about “Murder Falcon” #8.
Written and Illustrated by Daniel Warren Johnson
Colored by Mike Spicer
Lettered by Daniel Warren Johnson and Rus Wooten
DANIEL WARREN JOHNSON’s power ballad concludes in a brutal battle of the bands! The members of Brooticus have come too far to allow Magnum Khaos to reign on Earth. Strap on your axe, join the battle, and remember: METAL WILL DESTROY ALL EVIL!
Stylistically, “Murder Falcon” has been pretty much exactly what it looks like at first glance. A terrible creature named Magnum Khaos has entered our reality to end all free will. The only ones who can stop him are heavy metal band Brooticus, and their power-of-metal fueled creature companions. This include kaiju, demon mammoths, but most of all a cyborg bird man named Murder Falcon. This is the final stand.
For that style alone, I am an incredibly easy mark, but this final issue is where the thematic work that has been laid down pays off big time. You see, lead human character Jake has cancer, and has been living on borrowed time for years. On top of the big world-ending stuff is a smaller conflict about a group of people, a band, a family, and how they aren’t ready to say goodbye to their best friend who doesn’t deserve any of this crap.
Those two threads were always related, but they came together with more creativity and heart than I could believe. There’s a lot of mythological malarkey that the comic can explain better than I can, but all of it comes down to the Horn of the Dead. The whole series, the Horn has seemed like a zombie-making, ghost-summoning kind of thing, but in the end is something far more esoteric. It’s got to do with those who live with death, who fight to escape its cold gravity, who resist the nihilistic abyss with their passion, embodied as the spirit of heavy metal.
Sound cheesy? Heavy metal is cheesy bub! It’s loud and brash and obvious. It’s a genre where people scream their feelings mixed with imagery from Lord of the Rings and Paradise Lost. This entire series has been metal as hell, amplified well past eleven. So despite some major heavy metal snake monster battles and a holy gramophone tied to the anvil at the core of all metal, this was sort of a quiet issue. A meditation on life and death and love. I guess what I’m describing is a power ballad. After last issue’s “Master of Puppets” this was more “Nothing Else Matters.” Followed by an encore performance of “Fade to Black.”
The emotional storytelling is what really grabbed me, but the real hook is Daniel Warren Johnson’s artwork. (He also writes the series, with colors by Mike Spicer). Put simply, Johnson is a next level talent. His layouts lean towards the simple, mixing it up to land the really big moments. One page in particular starts with big panels at the top, getting smaller and smaller as they go down the page. Even when he’s playing with format, his message is always clear (in this case to show a growing crowd to represent the universal human condition) (I told you it was cheesy).
Johnson is also happy to borrow techniques from any era of comics in a synthesis that is instantly recognizable as his style. His crosshatching makes the pages look busy, but when combined with his excellent figure work and his eye for design, it’s never hard to follow the action. The panels are just filled with stuff and that stuff is awesome. That stuff also often includes big brash sound effects, important for a book as about sound as this one. If I’ve had any complain about this series overall, it’s that the lettering has been a mixed bag, but in this final issue Rus Wooton really clicks with the rest of the creative team, and the three of them put out some unforgettable panels. One image of a crowd cheering simply uses the sound effect “CHEEERRR” and you know exactly what it sounds like.Continued below
There’s so much more to say. How the use of negative space compliments the busy action scenes. The way the silly rules of heavy metal magic are used to maximum effect. How the bad guy is battled with a combination of medical equipment, magic, and emotions. And then there’s the final, tearjerking final sequence. “Murder Falcon” ends on the best possible note. You never want the series to leave, but in your heart, the finality is clear and you don’t want it to be ruined by another unecessary note.
Final Verdict: 9.5 – Daniel Warren Johnson is a modern master and this issue may be the best in his career so far.