The entirety of Redlands #1, the first issue of a new horror series from writer/color artist Jordie Bellaire and artist Vanesa R. Del Rey, is structured like the final act of most horror films. A small group of ordinary people are holed up in a confined location, under siege by horrifying supernatural forces, seemingly with no hope of escaping a bloody end. It’s a bold way to begin the story to be sure, but Redlands #1 winds up being one of the most intense and effective openings to a horror series in recent memory despite a couple of minor flaws.
The issue takes place in Redlands, Florida in 1977 at the county police station. In the aftermath of a lynching, the corrupt police force is under siege by a coven of witches, and the good ol’ boys find themselves being picked off by the vengeful forces outside, even as a group of locals imprisoned in the jail take their own shots at their racist cops.
Starting the series in media res, during a fiery cataclysm that ends as bloodily as these supernatural stories often do is certainly an intense and impressive way for Bellaire and Del Rey to kick things off. Redlands #1 is suffused with the grimy, sweaty southern gothic qualities that have driven so many horror stories over the years. And this technique certainly gives the issue energy and a boatload of atmosphere to draw upon and satisfy and fans of horror. It’s also a book with a palpable sense of outrage and passion behind it, which hints at offering us more than a simply scary campfire tale. Bellaire’s clearly got some feelings about the type of social ills that plague small towns in America, and while she doesn’t let that point of view overwhelm the horror-story elements, it’s nevertheless present and important.
I did think this decision to start their series this way, while it offered the reader a great sense of the tone, concept and style of the book to come, did have a flaw in a lack of main characters in whom to invest. The story is largely told from the point of view of characters who, shall we say, we won’t be seeing much more of? I liked the way Redlands #1 turned the expectations of horror on its head by overtly setting up the “monsters” of the pieces as the series’ stars, but it does mean that the characters in the issue with whom we spend the most time aren’t the protagonists and certainly aren’t likable. As a result, I spent most of the issue kind of detached from the fates of anyone involved. Luckily this is only the first issue, and therefore I can assume that we will have protagonists in whom we can identify to some degree, but if there was a flaw to Redlands #1 it was that, for most of the issue, I didn’t really know who I was supposed to care about.
The book is truly awesome to look at though, thanks to the team of Del Rey and Bellaire. The art is instantly spooky and oppressive, and you can practically feel the dank humidity of the hellish night, not to mention smell the fire and blood in the air. The use of shadows and blackness, punctuated by blood reds and fiery oranges, combine to give the book the unique and effective feel of nightmare. The issue is murky and shadowy without ever being indistinct or muddled, and I look forward to coming issues that continue to demonstrate two of the best artistic talents in comics today, firing on all cylinders.
Redlands #1 is an assured and compelling debut issue, despite the fact that the issue serves more as cold open or prologue to the story to come, I think. It holds its cards close to its chest, not explaining anything, which is a strength in the opening moments of a horror tale. Certainty and clarity put the audience on more secure footing, and the opening acts of horror should destabilize and disorient the reader. I did think it could have benefitted just a tad from being more aggressive in establishing ongoing characters, but for a first issue, fans of horror couldn’t ask for a more memorable and creepily effective opening scare than Redlands #1.
Redlands #1 will be released August 9, 2017