2 out of 5
Should you read Murder Falcon? Yes, absolutely. Daniel Warren Johnson’s 8-issue series is packed full of fantastic imagery and a simple, satisfying concept – heavy metal weaponized against Cthuluian nightmares! – that it’s definitely an enjoyable read, at least on those levels. The added punctuation of some genre jokes merits laughs out loud, and DWJ’s enthusiasm and earnestness is clear in every panel, and every page.
But there are some hiccups, even at this top level, with some characters who look too similar to be able to immediately register in the way most of Johnson’s character / creature designs do, and along those lines, the cast is surprisingly large to the extent that the lesser characters can get jumbled – a final, important scene literally had me asking who the heck the person featured in the panel was supposed to be.
These hiccups pile on top of a narrative which, unfortunately, I found to be extremely clunky and problematic, reading as though it was designed backwards – and this is somewhat supported by interviews Johnson gave about the comic – from, firstly, the design / name of its titular character, to a justification for having that character appear, and then to some type of emotional hook that would presumably deepen the writing for Johnson, supposing that metal-fueled fights just weren’t enough to hang eight issues of his energies on. And that hook is admirable – I go back to the earnestness mentioned; Johnson’s heart is in the right place – but instead of adding layers to the story, it cheapens it. It’s celebratory of metal music and all its over-the-top imagery, and of the power of music in general, but it shys away from the former when it blankets that joy with an “important” issue, and affects the latter similarly: it can’t just be about the joy of song – it’s gotta have meaning.
None of this is inherently a bad idea, by any means. However, Johnson does a couple sleight of hands – I think – with how he reveals what this other layer is, and it’s incredibly distracting. It also requires a swerve around characterization in order to keep the sleight from being revealed, which reduces a female lead to something of a Mary Jane role, and other side characters’ plights into literal one or two-page tossaways. Again, my feeling here is that Johnson kept wanting to massage this away from straight-forward heavy metal imagery, but then he kept adding more and more story support to the extent of it being too cluttered, then serving none of those story pieces all that effectively. Swerving back around to my italicizing of what I thought about those sleights of hand – I emphasize that as such because I’m not 100% positive it’s intended to be a sleight. If it is, I appreciate the attempt at playing with reader expectations, but it’s an awkward application of it that turns something heavy into a cheap reveal; if it wasn’t intended to be a twist, then that means it’s just poor story telling.
Again, I don’t want this to chase a reader away from Murder Falcon. Johnson’s visuals are worth it alone, but he’s also proven himself narratively in, say, Dead Earth, and even here, the dialogue and narration is not technically poor, and does not come across as though it was written without consideration. I just think Johnson needs to come to terms with how to script something more primal like Murder Falcon’s core concept in a way that’s still satisfying to him, or continue working on these more complex narratives until they flow more organically. This particular story evolved in a way that severely caused me to disconnect from its characters and plot, and its “serious” and “silly” elements simply never gelled for me. But given the almost universal rave reviews it received, it certainly sounds like mileage can vary, drastically.