This will be the fourth collection of comics written by Garth Ennis that I’ve read this year, and it’s safe to say that the writer has been having something of an off year. Yes, I’m saying that “Out of the Blue” doesn’t measure up to the lofty standards of the writer’s past work either. This is in spite of the fact that it’s a sequel to one of Ennis’ old “War Stories,” “Archangel.” “Blue” finds its pilot, human bad luck magnet Jamie McKenzie posted -- with his lovely wife -- at a new base where he makes the worst kind of first impression by crashing into a plane that was signaled to land at the same time he was. The base commander is not amused by this and puts the pilot with Ranjaram, the Indian who is disliked by everyone (because he’s an Indian), and made to fly the twitchiest plane in the roster. After this start, you’ll be wondering how things can get worse for Jamie, but he’s nothing if not pessimistic about his chances!
So if reading six chapters, originally published as two hardcover original graphic novels, regarding McKenzie’s terrible luck sounds like a good time, then “Blue” has you covered. You’ll get to see the pilot showcase his amazing skills in combat and then come back to base to stumble over how to talk with Ranjaram, be bullied by base commander Archie, and despair at the thought that his wife may be cheating on him. The plot is really just a collection of rambling episodes like these without an overarching plot to give them focus. Ennis does a good job of capturing the day-to-day gallows humor the war engenders, but the overall narrative feels slight. You’re left wishing that the writer had focused on one thing from these issues -- like the disfigured pilots who wind up being re-integrated into society and the war effort -- than giving us a broadside of plot points.
The volume does have great art, though, courtesy of Keith Burns. He’s got a keen eye for detail that makes the aerial combat scenes viscerally entertaining, which is good because there are a lot of them in this story. Better still is that his style also gives the many conversational scenes their own intensity as well, with Burns being quite proficient at nailing the heated emotions each character is (mostly) trying their best to tamp down on. Still, I had more fun reading Ennis and Burns previous collaboration on “Johnny Red” than I did here, and the writer’s collaboration with Steve Epting, “Sara,” is still the best war comic of his that I’ve read this year. “Blue” isn’t bad, but now it comes down to seeing if Ennis’ latest go-round with Frank Castle can deliver the quality read that I’m used to getting from him.