In Daniel Corey and Mark Dos Santos’ “Red City” #1, the planets have aligned to form the New Solar System (NSS), forming an all-inclusive political body rife with intrigue and turmoil. Following the Unification War, in which Venus and Neptune attempted to secede from the NSS, a murmur of dissent with economic underpinnings has arisen once again — and it seems as though former Mars PD and ex-conman Cal Talmage is the only man who can save the girl and stop the war. With solid artwork and so much thought put into the world building, “Red City” #1 falls unfortunately flat with wooden characters and an overwhelming amount of information.
So far as characters go, this debut issue really only focuses on one person in particular: Cal Talmage. Although this wouldn’t necessarily be a problem under different circumstances, Talmage — as presented here — simply isn’t likeable. This isn’t for lack of effort; Corey tries very hard to spin him like a savvy, suave, wise-cracking noir protagonist. However, he ultimately comes off like a poor man’s Captain Mal (of “Firefly” fame, of course) with more arrogance than charm. Despite an attempt to circumvent cliche in the beginning, Corey falls into this trap over and over again with this character and others.
What’s more, Talmage’s narrative convention is completely misused. Talmage, for no feasible reason, addresses the reader as they are: early 21st century citizens of Earth. However, as presented in this story, this is simply not applicable, unless time travel somehow makes an appearance down the line. Where this method could certainly have worked in a third person narrative, Talmage’s insistence on relating everything back to 21st century Earth culture doesn’t fit this story or character at all.
Additionally, Corey does entirely too much explaining. He’s all tell and no show in this issue, filling panels with box upon box of detailed information. For his part, letterer Dave Lanphear does a remarkable job formatting all this text in a fluid, cohesive way; in particular, his choice of red for the narration stands out in a brilliant, eye-catching way. However, the amount of detail that gets revealed this way is just overwhelming. In putting together this review, I found myself jotting down names and places to remember and — even then — it was difficult to keep them straight or tell which characters were key to the story. In all, the exposition feels terribly forced.
Although the story needs a lot of work, Dos Santos does some strong work creating a world that blends familiar Earth sites with bizarre alien tech. His world building is spot on, in that he incorporates colorful and creative creatures in the background of every city scene, giving the settings a truly bustling feel. He also uses clever perspective shots to keep the panels dynamic and interesting, giving us some gorgeous shots of space and striking city blocks. Further, he includes what appears to be homage to other spaced-based stories; his Colonel Slade looked uncannily like Tommy Lee Jones from “Men in Black” and an ad in the Red City’s square looked suspiciously like the Odi Bar commercial from “Serenity.” However, thanks in equal parts to Corey’s writing and Dos Santos’ art, every single female character comes across as oversexualized, wooden and cliched; at this point so far, they are nothing more than props in an overtly masculine world.
“Red City” had a lot of potential with a great premise and a vivid, detailed history. Despite this, this issue is a chore to read under the massive weight of Corey’s heavy-handed exposition and standoffish characters. Although Dos Santos’ art is a pleasure, there isn’t a lot here to save this issue.