New To You Comics #83: Murder, Magic, And Mayhem In ‘Redlands’ Vol. 1

by Brendan M. Allen

Tony and Brendan have very different tastes in comics. Tony loves his capes, super powers, and sci-fi. Brendan tends to stick to horror, noir, and weird indies. Occasionally, their paths cross, but like most readers, they tend to stay in their own lanes.

New To You Comics is here to break up the pattern a little. Tony will throw some of his favorites at Brendan, and Brendan will hit Tony with some of his. Every NTYC title is brand new to one of them. Every once in a while a title will land with both of them. Most of the time they can find some common ground, but even when they don’t, it’s fun to watch them go at it. Brendan fights dirty. Tony kicks like a mule. 

This week, Brendan introduces Tony to Image Comics’ Redlands, by Jordie Bellaire and Vanessa R. Del Rey. Here’s what Image has to say about the book:

‘A mysterious and bloodthirsty matriarchal force runs the town of Redlands, Florida, and in order to stay on top, sacrifices must be made. Someone is intent on removing these women from the top of the food chain, and he’s ready to unleash their darkest secret but has seriously underestimated the lengths the townspeople will go to protect the new order of things. Inspired by the strange complexities of real-world politics and crime, the characters of Redlands play victim and villain, attempting to understand themselves and others through murder, magic, and mayhem.’

Brendan Allen: First off, let’s get the content warning out of the way. This book contains rape, human trafficking, and child abuse.

I originally picked this one up not really knowing what I was in for. Jordie Bellaire is best known for her color work and, if I’m not mistaken, this is her first outing on the scripting side of the business. 

Bellaire definitely wanted to set the tone immediately. This sucker opens up in front of a police station at night, where a huge tree is engulfed in flame. Three empty nooses sway from a thick branch. The police are barricaded inside the station, terrified for their lives, their intended victims having flipped the script on them. Initially, you might feel bad for the boys in blue, but it quickly becomes apparent they’re horrible people, and they deserve every bit of what’s coming.

Tony Thornley: This might be the toughest read of everything we’ve done but holy crap, does Bellaire not hold back one bit in this script. This is a damn good read. It might also be one of the best examples of horror as allegory we’ve read to date, as it tackles racism, misogyny, and domestic violence, on top of the content warning topics you mentioned.

If this isn’t Bellaire’s first scripting work, this is her first creator owned series. She basically steps onto the page here fully formed as a writer. I just finished reading the book shortly before I started writing here and I’m still a little shook. 

It’s disturbing, but what’s disturbing about it isn’t the supernatural. It’s the examination of human nature. The scariest things that happen are very real things that I’ve heard about on the news.

Brendan: There’s a quote I keep going back to from a horror panel I covered at NYCC back in 2018. Will Dennis was talking about how some of the most effective horror isn’t undead chainsaw killers or aliens that use telepathy to explode human skulls, but the stuff that exists just five degrees to the left of reality (heavily paraphrased). That’s the one line I can remember from the entire panel, and there’s a reason it stuck.

Tony: While this story is very good, it’s not perfect either. It has some serious pacing issues after the first issue. That first issue was a roller coaster, but after that, the pacing slowed to a crawl. I also had some issues with the continuity, issues #2-4 all seem to take place in the same day, but I can’t quite put together for sure whether they were for certain, and how they fit together.

My second issue was that the story didn’t really establish the setting really well. It was obviously set in the Southeastern US, but I don’t think it really set in that it was Florida until… maybe the fifth chapter? I mean the gator attack in the first half of the story made it obvious that it was probably somewhere along the Gulf of Mexico, but the Gulf Coast is a big place.

Brendan: Vanesa R. Del Rey brings raw, gritty pencils that build a frenetic level of tension in an already unsettling turn of events. The ultra-violence comes hard and fast. She has an impressive talent for blurring the lines between terrifying and sexy, bold and subtle, grotesque and beautiful. This is one of those books that you could probably read without any dialogue or narration and it would still tell a dynamic story.

Tony: Oh for sure. Del Ray did a fantastic job across the board. She has a strong eye for laying out her pages, so everything is driving forward. It’s a really good example of how strong layouts and figure work tell the story as much as the script, just like you said. I really would love to see what a silent issue by these two creators would look like.

She really nailed the horror too. The way she used shadow and framed the figures as the frights scaled up would make my skin crawl. That last issue of the collection in particular got real scary, and the monsters in that one were just mundane humans. She showed how ugly they were inside, reflected by the looks on their faces, the shadows around them… I said I was still creeped out when I started writing and a lot of the credit there goes to Del Ray.

Brendan: Bellaire obviously did the color, and damn. There are a couple things I’ve come to expect in comics coloring. Fire and blood are ridiculously hard to nail, and I usually give them a bit of a pass on the realism because of it. Not here. That bonfire in the first sequence jumps off the page. You can feel the heat on your face. 

Together, Del Rey and Bellaire pulled off some amazing tricks. Reflections of fire licking glass window panes. Shadows playing on the faces of the characters on the other side of the glass? Are you kidding me?

Tony: Oh completely. I absolutely agree. I think Bellaire is one of the five best color artists in the business right now. She’s probably the most rule-breaking of them all too. Like… Marte Gracia and Tomeu Morey are recognizable instantly. They fill their books with color and light, making the art feel like the best cinematic blockbusters. Bellaire though is thoughtful, deliberate and does every project a little bit differently. She might do one story in washed out sepias and greys, while another in atmospheric reds like she does here.

That’s a long way to say, I think she’s extremely thoughtful about each project and shifts what she’s doing to match what it needs. This might be her best work from the art side for exactly that reason. I mean, who knows the mood of a story better than its writer.

Brendan: And not for nothing, this is a mostly female team (Clayton Cowles on letters is the exception), writing a female led story, and the whole thing is fantastic. It’s a big ball of feminist/occult/crime procedural horror. 

I should probably mention this definitely isn’t an all ages title. There is quite a bit of nudity, sex, gore, and graphic violence.

Tony: Yeah, this isn’t the most gruesome story we’ve read but this is the one that I think is most “reader discretion advised.”

Brendan: I actually forgot about some of the more intense stuff until I got pretty deep into this volume. None of it really felt gratuitous, though. 

All that being said, where’d you land on Redlands Vol. 1?

Tony: I don’t think I’m going to revisit this volume anytime soon, but am I going to check out the rest of the story? Absolutely. This is pretty must-read for any comics fan, but especially for horror fans.

Brendan: Fair. What’s on queue for next week?

Tony: We’re going to visit one of my favorites that I’ve picked up recently- Memetic by James Tynion IV and Eryk Donovan!

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