Redlands #1: Review

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Redlands, the newest series from creators Jodie Bellaire (colorist for Pretty Deadly) and Vanesa Del Rey (Scarlet Witch) has been described as the love-child of The Sheriff of Babylon and American Horror Story: Coven. In fact, the first line of the press release sent to me reads:

“Hell hath no fury like women scorned in REDLANDS—a pulse-pounding story about three witches who take over a small (and-small-minded) town and unleash their bloody, unspeakable revenge.”

Which sounds badass right? However, the comic seems more like a cross between a Lifetime Original and an a Coven fanfic than a galvanizing ode to rebellious women.

It follows the story of three witches as they take over a small southern town from its misogynistic masters and rule in their stead. Though the ending dedication, “and you, the angriest of angry souls, feeling unheard and alone –this book is for you,” seems to want to make a valiant effort as a feminist text, the first issue, at least, falls flat.

Let’s start with the art, which is easily the strongest element. It’s unquestionably well done, with strong, thematic coloring and a gritty art style that complements the type of story Bellaire and Rey want to tell. Rey’s art is expressive and unconstrained, with an almost sketchbook-like quality that makes action sequences come alive.

Bellaire’s coloring is, of course, great. She’s the first example of how under appreciated colorists are in the industry. The basement scene panels are green and blue, cold and damp. The burning tree is stark yellow and orange against a black background. Visually, the comic is very strong.

Unfortunately that strength is not carried by the framing of the panels or with the writing.

Those of you who’ve read my other reviews will know that I enjoy comics that push limits of the medium, comics that aren’t afraid to experiment with size and breaking panel walls. Redlands does nothing so daring. It falls into what I call the “picture book problem,” in that the panels only show the obvious- as if illustrating a children’s chapter book. Like a director, an artist needs to know what to show and what not to, and Redlands shows everything. It’s uncomplicated in this way, but it’s a long way off from Bellaire’s previous title Pretty Deadly. This is one of the reasons I likened it to a Lifetime Original. Like yet another dramatic re-enactment of a white girl getting her head chopped off by a distraught lover, the directing is obvious and pointedly dramatic.

But perhaps what drags this comic the furthest away from its promise is the writing.

We began with an expletive. I am no prude, and in fact have gotten trouble in professional environments for my language before. However, I find that whenever we’re getting into a feminist text the B-word tends to be thrown around a lot. Like, way more than necessary. Like, way more than is believable or actually insulting. The fact that the word is always bolded doesn’t help matters much, especially since the B-word is not the worst thing women have ever been called. It sends a strong xX2edgy4meXx vibe. This kind of writing, with what feels like random and overly-dramatic bouts of violence from the characters undermines the original seriousness this issue was written with. But, as with the framing, Bellaire needs to make the villains obvious. The racist, sexist sheriff and his minions against the three witches. It is then that we as readers should collectively realize that this sheriff isn’t actually a person, but a thing created to prove a point. And the worst part? This is the main character of the first comic. So when I put down the book I found myself asking, why did I just read this? If the main character is only there to prove a point, instead of telling a story, it feels an awful lot like being preached at.

I love Bellaire’s work, but this is her first round at writing a comic. I really like the premise of this comic, and I think there’s space for it with the publisher’s audience, but the comic itself doesn’t deliver. But again, this is Bellaire’s first round at writing a comic. We can only hope that, as the story continues her writing will become more complex. This comic was advertised as the next Bitch Planet, another title to add to great feminist comics, but it’s not there yet.

Redlands #1 will be released on August 9th, next week.

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