The Witching Hour Arrives In Redlands #1

by Noah Sharma

Redlands, the first full comic written by Eisner-winning colorist Jordie Bellaire, is finally here. Bellaire has already proven herself a powerful creative force through the largely ignored medium of coloring and her enthusiasm for this book made it one of the highlights of this year’s Image announcements.

Redlands introduces us to the police department of Redlands County, Fl. A nicer group of guys you couldn’t hope to meet. Whether that’s sarcasm or a result of their unbridled awfulness making it impossible to imagine men as sincerely nice, I leave up to you. Regardless, Bellaire leaves no room for doubt as to their character. From their confederate flags, to lifelong child abuse, to the menagerie of every minority and rabble-rouser in town shoved into a single cell in their basement, it is clear that we are dealing with some truly revolting people.

Technically, if I’m being one hundred percent accurate, I should say a truly revolting person, because there’s really only one and a half characters amongst the force, the Sheriff and his son, Skip. That’s intentional, because it’s the Sheriff’s grip over the town that’s the main character of Redlands #1, but we’ll get to that.

You see, despite the unabated foulness of the Sheriff’s soul and the utter lack of any attempt to put him in check by his men, it is the police department whose perspective we adopt for this issue and it’s by far the best choice that the issue makes.

Bellaire and artist Vanessa del Rey may not give us much in the way of character or even plot, but this is a masterwork of tone. Dripping with horror movie savvy and silence that goes unnoticed, Redlands makes you feel the fear and the false hope and bravado of the officers, even as it hammers home how disgusting they are. It’s that same, perfect blend of ‘what would I do’ and violent morality that great horror films are made of.

And so Redlands takes you on its wild, gravelly ride, teaching you to loathe the police only to encourage you to put yourself in their place and, finally, letting you savor their downfall. We don’t need to know much about the witches who drive the story or the cops who take up page time, this is a story about law and order dying and a new law taking its place.

Though they enact satisfying vengeance on the police of Redlands, the morality of the witches is hauntingly ambiguous at this point. We don’t get to know the history between the witches, the sheriff, and the enigmatic Casey and we aren’t entitled to any insight into the coven’s motives beyond a short statement at issue’s end. The mythology that Bellaire is calling up is certainly that of vicious Christian witches, not the pagan matriarchs or unaffiliated spell casters that have reconstructed witches over the past few decades, but there’s no assurance that that represents the truth of them, either.

Especially with hints from Bellaire that the coven may not be quite so anti-tyranny as they claim, there’s an attractive mystery in who we should be rooting for or, more accurately, whether there’s anyone to root for at all.

Vanessa del Rey’s minute lines look like they could either have been etched into wood or laid over Bellaire’s muted, gradient colors, rather than the other way around. Inside the station, the details are incredibly fine but the art retains the same kind of vagueness that the human eye does, snapping to essential detail while floating through the rest of the scene, still drawn expertly but designed to direct the eye away.

But as the story moves into the dark the feel of the art changes significantly. Though the style employed remains similar, the resulting hyperfocus and focus on contours creates a sharpening effect. The ability to process all of the detail becomes actually unnerving. Until finally we’re brought into the light and things begin to become solid.

At times it can be a little hard to make out what’s happening, but it’s impressive how intentional that feels. Del Rey consciously withholds information, giving you what you need to have your sense of place and action but offering a taste of the confusion occurring in the scene. It’s all the more noticeable for the large, ‘wide-screen’ layouts that she employs. This gives the issue a cinematic feel, making it effortless to transition from one panel to another, and drives home the fear of the dark.

Effectively acting as the first ten minutes of a horror movie, one suspects Redlands #1 will only find a portion of its audience here. This is exactly the kind of book that will likely benefit most from a ten dollar Image trade once there’s more to dig your teeth into. But for those willing to brave its pages, to investigate the strange noises outside when the rest of the group is too afraid, Redlands offers an unusual and carefully made offer to return.

Redlands #1 is a gutsy debut. There aren’t really any characters to get attached to and we aren’t privy to enough of the details to make out the plot just yet. Nonetheless it’s an engrossing read that toys with primal fears and horror tropes like little girls pulling the wings off butterflies. Everything is a mystery except the quality of production and the feeling in your gut. Those who like to know everything now might be better off waiting, but for those who want to explore, who can sit with the discomfort of horror and read comics for the memories of single issues, Redlands is a wonderfully put together package, and it’s been put together for you.