What is Daniel Warren Johnson’s Murder Falcon? Imagine if a 90s Saturday morning cartoon was injected with a dose of late night Adult Swim, infused with the passion for rock music seen in Wayne’s World, with a dash of interdimensional monsters invading Earth sprinkled in just for good measure, and you’d be getting close.

Murder Falcon follows Jake, former lead guitarist for the metal band Brooticus, and his ragtag band of fellow metal heads. Having lost his passion for riffing on the guitar, Jake comes home one night to find a giant demon spider in his apartment. When he reaches for his guitar to bash the spider’s brains out he discovers that his instrument has been transformed and now summons the powers of Murder Falcon (or affectionately, Murf), a muscular bird with a mechanical arm that would be right at home on an Iron Maiden album cover. What follows is an epic struggle against the evil forces of Magnum Khaos, a tyrant à la Darkseid, who seeks to enslave humanity through hatred and fear.

Johnson is best known for Extremity, his hyper-violent Image Comics series that focuses on themes of hope and revenge, and his recently announced but yet to be published work on DC Black Label’s limited series Wonder Woman: Dead Earth. Along with colorist Mike Spicer (who partners with Johnson on all of these projects), Johnson is a comics creator whose stock is rising. But, while anticipation for his Wonder Woman book is high and Extremity was acclaimed with an Eisner Award nomination, Murder Falcon lacks some cohesion that would make it a truly remarkable book—though it gets incredibly close to being just that.

Johnson’s art and Spicer’s colors complement each other and there are some awe-inducing spreads and splash pages throughout Murder Falcon. There is something comforting about the art, like what you’d find on your favorite band t-shirt or in the liner notes of that old rock album you found in your dad’s record collection while hanging out in your basement as a kid. And the book is genuinely fun to read. Even in the face of another preposterous and apocalyptic situation that Earth so often finds itself in in superhero and fantasy comic books, I found myself still rooting for Jake and the remaining cast of genuine characters. Their love of heavy metal and the predicament they find themselves in embodies the can-do spirit of every aspiring musician. There are sincere moments where you can feel the brutal chord progressions of Jake’s guitar that power Murf in the fight against invading monsters. Unfortunately, some of those high notes are brought down by the lows of absurdly convenient plot points that disjoint the otherwise excellent pacing. For example, at several points during the book our adventurers are stalled by lacking specific tools needed to complete their quest. Rather than having to overcome an obstacle to gain that tool, the characters are simply handed the device needed to move the plot forward.

Interestingly, Murder Falcon also presents themes that are relevant to graphic medicine. Jake abandons his love for playing music, and even leaves his wife, due to the anxiety he faces from a surprise cancer diagnosis. The journey he takes throughout the book is about overcoming those fears, following your dreams, and staying true to the people who love you most. Underneath all the monsters and magical musical instruments is a heartfelt message that people always need to hear: believe in yourself no matter the odds.

There is a question of who this book is for. Metal head teens? Dad rock enthusiasts? A catch-all everybody? The answer is probably somewhere in the middle, but whoever might enjoy this book should come at it with a healthy sense of humor and a suspension of disbelief. If you have your pick of comic books, Murder Falcon isn’t the main course. It’s like filling up on dessert, though there’s nothing wrong with that.

Murder Falcon
By Daniel Warren Johnson
ISBN: 9781534312357
Image Comics, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: T

  • Franco Vitella

    Past Reviewer

    This reviewer is not longer actively working on our site, but we would not be here if not for our many dedicated contributors over the years. We thank all of them for their reviews, features, and support! Franco is Acting Manager of Mobile Services with the Toledo Lucas County Public Library in Ohio. He serves as a Board Member at Large for ALA's Graphic Novels and Comics Round Table and is a 2020 ALA Emerging Leader

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