There are a lot of comics out there, but some just stand out head and shoulders above the pack. With “Don’t Miss This” we want to spotlight those series we think need to be on your pull list. This week, we’d like to draw your attention to Image’s Eisner-nominated horror series “Redlands” as it begins its second story arc.
Who is this by? “Redlands” is Jordie Bellaire’s major debut as a comic book writer, but as Tom King gushes in the introduction to the collected edition, there are no signs that this is the work of a scriptwriting novice. The award-winning colorist also pulls double duty on this title, draping a gothic mood over Vanesa Del Rey’s scratchy and expressive illustrations. Clayton Cowles performs lettering and production design services.
What’s it all about? “Redlands” is the story of a trio of witches (Bridget, Alice, and Ro) who have made their home in the eponymous town of Redlands, Florida. The members of the coven have put down roots since taking over the local police station in 1977, but recent events threaten to upend their well-cultivated domesticity and reveal their secrets to the world. The first arc primarily takes place in the present day but ties back to a decades-old cold case involving a missing girl and a supernatural twist on possession that even one of the series’s primary witches couldn’t anticipate. There’s also a high-concept serial killer named Rembrandt, an alligator man, and a ghost who serves as the desk sergeant at the Redlands police precinct. If this all sounds flashy, don’t expect “Redlands” to treat these elements as focal points. Instead, they’re woven into the tapestry of this everglades-infused horror noir.
What makes it so great? “Redlands” is not just a great book, it is an important one. It’s also a book as deeply unsettling as it is morbidly entertaining. It’s clear that Bellaire and Del Rey have things to say about gender politics in the 21st Century, but it’s too facile just to categorize “Redlands” as an act of catharsis for the creators and their audience in the midst of the #metoo movement even while “Redlands” poses tough questions about the female response to the violence and harassment brought on by male perpetrators. To say that these eternal women are formidable would be an understatement. Fire is fought with literal fire, but for all their power, even these ladies have limits, and swift and deadly vengeance doesn’t seem to be enough to right the most terrible of wrongs.
What the series demonstrates so well is that these issues of power and control have been with humanity since it could walk upright. The seventh issue opens in Ancient Egypt and asks the question whether it is better to be feared or loved, a question that leaders still grapple with today. It’s a beautiful prologue to the second arc, trading Florida swamps for Middle Eastern deserts and solidifying the notion that these experiences are universal. When the Egyptian deity Set visits Alice, then a pharaoh reclining on her dais and surveying her kingdom, the two share a scene like any father and daughter might share. Here, the daughter is so eager to wield her power that she forgets from whence it came, love and family. As the narrative progresses and the demonic father figure takes on a larger presence in the present day proceedings in the small Florida town, it will be interesting to see how Bellaire and Del Rey address the inherent patriarchal structure represented by the witches’ infernal father and his caprices.
Like many meticulously-crafted creator-owned series, “Redlands” is probably a book that reads marginally better outside of the monthly serialized format. As a regular reader of the series, there were multiple narrative tumblers that had previously slipped a gear but clicked into place upon revisiting the issues all at once. There’s also a sense of building dread that simply seems more suited for a longer form format. Then again, some may find the length of a single issue as much as they can bear in one sitting as there are few glimmers of humor or hope in Del Rey and Bellaire’s dark panels.Continued below
“Redlands” is most certainly a horror book, but the most horrific thing that it offers readers is the fact that it would lose none of its frightening effects if it were stripped of its supernatural elements. In fact, these supernatural elements provide an aesthetic distance, a way for readers to reconcile their cognitive dissonance by finding safe harbor in the trappings of mythology and folklore. The creators know better though, and before you can close the back cover on issue #7, they add a metatextual level to the narrative via a brief text piece that may signal an unexpected shift in “Redland”‘s tone. As for the story to come, wherever it veers, I will certainly be along for the dark and stormy ride.
How can you read it? The first six-issue arc was collected in a trade paperback in April. It sadly jettisons the backmatter material that made all the entries (but particularly the fifth issue in the series) even more harrowing. So if you feel up to it, the single issue experience is the way to go for a fuller and more provocatively disturbing experience. All issues are also available digitally via Comixology and the Image site.