Last Stop on the Red Line #1
Written by Paul Maybury
Art by Sam Lofti and John Rauch
Lettering by Adam Pruett
Published by Dark Horse Comics
‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10
A supernatural murder mystery taking place in the heart of Boston, Last Stop on the Red Line has plenty of potential, but this four-issue series’ debut can’t help but feel as start-and-stop as a lengthy ride on the T. While artist Sam Lofti gives this series a winning sense of visual polish, writer Paul Maybury has trouble settling on exactly what story he wants to tell, giving the narrative structure a choppiness that can sometimes be difficult to follow. While there’s a cinematic smoothness to the visuals that feels engaging, this story needs to pull its focus together if it wants to keep readers hooked for further installments.
The idea of exploring Boston as its own unique setting isn’t necessarily a new one — you can check the filmography of Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, for starters — but it’s a place that’s surprisingly untapped by the comic book Direct Market, and Maybury does a good job at establishing the city as a separate kind of cold and bustling from sterile metropolises like New York. But also from the jump, you get the sense that some of the imagery he’s playing with feels muddled — for example, an opening sequence of the Boston Marathon that’s seemingly consumed with orange light can’t help but seemingly unintentionally evoke the Boston Marathon Bombings, while a POV sequence featuring a woman being strangled on the Green Line by an inhuman monster abruptly shifts gears to our homeless hero Yusef.
You can sense that Maybury, an artist by trade, has a distinct idea he’s wanting to convey, but the execution doesn’t quite connect intuitively — as a result, his narrative feels a little like it’s casting about, which is a shame given that murder mysteries usually bring an inherent focus in terms of lead characters and their motivations. It’s a shame, because all the disparate pieces that Maybury stitches together could work on their own — the idea of a homeless detective worked wonders for The Dregs and Goodnight Paradise, while the idea of taking classic monsters and recontextualizing them for blue-collar Boston could carry a series on its own. Even fledgling stabs at a romance could have some spark, but Last Stop on the Red Line never lingers at any one location long enough to convince us.
But to this book’s credit, you can’t deny that it looks great. Sam Lofti fits this series nicely within the Dark Horse house style, evoking bits of David Rubin with his more psychedelic sequences and even hints of David Lafuente with his more comedic bits featuring Yusef’s supernaturally inspired friends at the Acorn Shelter. While there’s a little bit of a stock quality to having a werewolf and vampire living at a homeless shelter - not to mention Yusef’s stony, bald visage - the artwork here looks incredible, even if the page-to-page flow doesn’t always connect. (Comic books are a team sport, and while the script might be choppy, the visual storytelling doesn’t pave over many of those potholes.) While John Rauch’s colorwork looks striking, letterer Adam Pruett is a bit more hit or miss - while an early use of the book’s title looks really cool, other captions hang over the artwork, essentially competing for a reader’s attention, while one character’s use of ESL almost gets drowned out in every instance.
There are elements to Last Stop on the Red Line that I think could set this story apart, but one can’t help but feel like this creative team’s eyes might have been too big for their stomachs — there’s a hodge-podge of different concepts and ideas all fighting for the spotlight in this debut issue, and as a result, this launch winds up being less accessible than its high concept would lead you to believe. Beantown might have its own creatures that go bump in the night, but Last Stop on the Red Line is going to require its own Big Dig to clear away all of its narrative debris.