The teaser sounds like a dream come true. Noir-drenched mystery tales and a large cast of characters mixed with classic science fiction in the vein of Heinlein or Asimov. The ideas are there, but unfortunately this astral whodunit struggles to live up to its grand ambitions. “Red City #1″ is entertaining at times, with a deep and carefully plotted structure, so it’s a shame that it rarely rises above the genre cliches and annoying characterization.
The story starts off interestingly enough. It’s a typical how-did-we-get-here? setup but does enough to pique our curiosity in Red City‘s femme fatale and planet-based world. The idea, revolving around a unified solar system, is a fascinating one. Wars have been waged, societies have been formed, and an intricate system is in place. The whole thing mirrors multiple modern day alliances/problems, and is one of the book’s biggest strengths. Great sci-fi doesn’t need to span multiple galaxies, making Corey’s decision to stay closer to home an important one. It helps keep the story more focused, especially with the fine line that keeps civilization in order. Those expecting interplanetary adventures might be disappointed for now, but as suggested by the title of the book, we mainly stay focused on Mars.
The first half of the issue mostly contains a bit of back-story for our main character, as well as charting his course towards the red planet. Some of it –mainly the historical recaps– is engaging, but the bulk of the dialogue is repetitive and stereotypical. There’s a gruff general who, naturally, dislikes our main character. Cal Talmage, the antihero, seems like an attempt to fill the “smuggler with a heart of gold” role. Except that he isn’t very likable. Constantly interrupting the few compelling tidbits with narcissistic bids for humor, he never comes off as anything unique enough to root for. Readers love a scoundrel with a propensity for heroism, but a Chandler novel this is not. Noir fans will pine for a Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe.
Having an unlikable lead quickly sinks the second half. Mars Central is supposed to come off as a neon-infused, futuristic Blade Runner city. However, the art never seems to capture the dark grittiness of Corey’s proposed urban jungle. That isn’t to say the art is bad, but it never seems to be anything other than serviceable. Big and bombastic would have worked here, or even Dos Santos playing with shadows. Instead, it’s all rather plain. The issue ends with two, long conversations that highlight Talmage’s detective skills. Although he’s considered a security officer, the detective roots shine through. Again, it all feels very familiar and safe, effectively destroying any anticipation that may have been building after the opening few pages. It’s classic noir, sure, but without anything to differentiate itself, Red City would be hard to choose over older, more successful instances.
“Red City #1″ has a sufficient cliffhanger to try and hook readers in for next month, but it really isn’t anything that the past 25 pages couldn’t have told us. This is a series with a powerful concept and beloved genre, so why doesn’t it work better? A weak, irritating main character and a lack of any standout storytelling are the biggest flaws. There are pieces that have potential, so it’s unfortunate that reading through this debut issue isn’t much fun. Fans on either side of this infusion will be hard-pressed to find something they haven’t seen before. If Corey and Dos Santos can take those pieces and turn them into something more exciting, the series could find itself having a grounded, inclusive universe with a complex history, akin to something like Mass Effect. For now though, “Red City #1″ is mostly a disappointment and hard to recommend over better entries in this style. Approach with caution.
“Red City #1″ earns a 6/10