Bartlett Is A New America – Reviewing Rednecks No. 3

by Oliver MacNamee

’Slap’s dead. Cattle’s dead. BBQ shop in ashes.’ – Bartlett (Rednecks #3)

Pretty much summing up some of the events of the first two issues of this critically acclaimed new series written by Donny Cates with Lisandro Estherren on art, this third issue takes up the action moments after issue 2’s promise of bloody slaughter. And, like any good movie, the violent aftermath is presented, but the deed–taking place in that space that exists between issues–is best left to the reader’s imagination.

This may well look like another slice of Southern Gothic on first reading, but stick with it and you’ll notice this is a series that tells the story of family, kith and kin and the politics of long standing family feuds. And, for Bartlett at least (one of a family of vampires living in plain sight in east Texas; Cates’s own childhood home), it’s a tale of fitting in. Or, at least, finding a compromise when you’re a blood sucking good ol’ boy who just wants to live a peaceful life and be left alone. And they would’ve gotten away with it too, if it wasn’t for those pesky kids and their sexual urges.

Any chance of a peaceful life that has been forever shattered by the events of Christmas Eve and an impromptu visit to the town’s strip bar, with the fallout currently playing out in this first story arc.  And, while I am still undecided whether to read this through the point of view of Bartlett, this issue widens the net to include more on the family’s patriarch, ‘Granpa’, who remembers the day when they ruled the land, and ruled through fear. We have only seen him in the shadows in issue one, and now he is revealed, as are his rather conservative views. Looking back through rose tinted glasses at a perceived Golden Age has always been the conceit of the old, whether they be vampiric or not.

But, the world changes, attitudes change, and Bartlett can be seen as representative of this. Is Bartlett the coward Grandpa thinks he is? Or, is he just after a simple life in which his family can be left alone? They aren’t your typical vamps after all; living off the blood drained from the cattle they then pass onto their BBQ shack, now decimated. To me, Bartlett is representative of a new America, an America we don’t always have presented to us at the moment as stereotypical rednecks are placed front and centre as the typical supporters of Trump, a man bleeding America worse than any old world vampire could ever imagine. Bartlett is a far more ethically grounded vampire; a new world vamp.

Or, he could be a stone-cold killer. The jury’s still out on that one as we delve further into the hazy events of Christmas Eve that has led a small posse to the Bowmans’ family home.

Three issues in and the varied cast of characters are coming into focus as fleshed out individuals. Cates slow-burn and slow paced chronology (by my reckoning, its still only Christmas evening) does not mean there isn’t the action and visceral horror. Indeed, I only mention the timeframe because so much seems to have already happened, and we are only slowly realising the longterm consequences that could well come about should this feud get even further out of control. The truth is out and it could well get very ugly.

All the while, Estherren’s loose, scratchy shadow heavy style of art, (well, it is night-time) complemented by Dee Cunniffe’s broody, dark palette provides the doom and gloom that hangs over this issue. Punctuated every now and again by orange glows that suggest the heat of the south. And the odd explosion.

Cates is creating a story of epic proportions, I think. A vampiric family that stretches back in time can only offer a wide range of stories to be told and while the obvious comparison for this series would be Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque’s  American Vampire, I think that would be too easy and too lazy given the family melodramas playing out in this issue.

This is very much a well realised world and it would seem, especially at the end of this third issue, Cates has the whole family history mapped out and ready to delve deeper when needed. In Bartlett, we have a man somewhat a slave to his family as well as to circumstances and I, for one, cannot believe he killed anyone. I look forward to next month, and learning more about this particular mystery being unraveled and, no doubt, the bigger picture. I feel this is a series that has legs and could well go on for a good while yet.

And, to indicate that this series does indeed have legs, it was only just announced that this third issue is going back to the presses for a second print. Now that has too be a seal of approval form all of you reading it. And those who aren’t? There’s still time to get stuck in.

Rednecks No. 3 is on sale now from Image Comics. If you can still find a copy that is.