Best Shots Review: REDLANDS #1 (9/10)

"Redlands #1" preview
Credit: Vanesa Del Rey (Image Comics)
Credit: Vanesa Del Rey (Image Comics)

Redlands #1
Written by Jordie Bellaire
Art by Vanesa R. Del Rey and Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Image Comics
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Credit: Vanesa Del Rey (Image Comics)

The siege genre has long been a staple of cinema, with cult classics Night of the Living Dead and Assault on Precinct 13 setting the formula in place for countless imitators. Yet it is in the medium of comic books that the genre seems most appropriate, confined as the characters are by the edges of the pages and panels that contain them.

Jordie Bellaire has an innate understanding of this from the first panel of Redlands, as the fan-favorite artist and colorist makes her writing debut on an ongoing series. Opening on the titular Floridian Redlands in 1977, a group of good ol’ boy cops are holed up in the county station fending off something bent on vengeance outside. There are numerous prisoners locked up downstairs, but whatever it is that is trying to get in seems to be the far bigger threat to this small group.

Credit: Vanesa Del Rey (Image Comics)

Redlands immediately presents us with more questions than answers, consciously playing on our expectations and assumptions. Indeed, from the opening line “Where did them bitches go?” Bellaire and artist Vanesa R. Del Rey have the reader second-guessing aggressor/defender dynamic. The sheriff hits one of his own across the face with a rifle, the group risks their life to save a little girl, another cop is outwardly racist towards a black prisoner. These short and sharp scenes keep the reader on the backfoot, so when any new element is introduced is has the same effect as a jump-scare in a horror film. This is how you tell a suspense story.

Credit: Vanesa Del Rey (Image Comics)

In the co-signed backmatter, the creative team tells us much about the thematic undercurrent of the book. “This is a diary of the people I hate, the people I love, the places I have and haven’t been. It’s a combination of nightmares I have while asleep and the ones that seem to happen even when we’re all awake.” Which is where the book looks set to soar, tapping into those dark corners and exposing the monsters of fantasy and reality in equal measure. Just like one of the works of the late great George Romero, we begin to find ourselves questioning who the real monsters are in this scenario.

Credit: Vanesa Del Rey (Image Comics)

Del Rey grabs the reader immediately with the vision of a burning tree with three blazing nooses hanging from, imagery that is laden with meaning. Inside the station, Bellaire’s colors bathe much of the issue in the sinister reds and oranges of flame, a constant reminder of what is going on outside the station. Against the backdrop of this burning world, the cop characters blend seamlessly into the wood paneling of their surroundings, a visual indicator of the sealing of their collective fates. It makes the shock of color from the prisons, and the trio of women who arrive in the back half of the book, even more impactful for their contrast.

Just as it began, the first issue of Redlands defies expectation and leaves us with a cliffhanger. The traditional siege story would reach its climax with the events depicted in this book. Bellaire and Del Rey choose to start their story here, and where it goes now is anyone’s guess. A gripping start to what looks set to be a bold and topical new series.

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