Xavier Dorison, Terry and Rachel Dodson’s “Red One” #1 is a parody of prudish American culture through the lens of a Russian spy in 1970s California, when the Cold War was waning but still being waged via media and propaganda. It’s an action adventure comic with cheeky humor, gorgeous cheesecake art and an empowered female lead. Though it’s mostly back story and origin, it’s an entertaining read with a promising creative team and a good premise.
Dorison has a screenwriter’s approach to the proceedings, providing a big set piece to start before diving into the plot elements in Russia. The opening is a bit clunky, either through translation or logistics, as characters are extremely over-the-top in their portrayals and readers aren’t provided much context about what, exactly, the protesters are so up-in-arms about. The controversy feels whitewashed but, once the Carpenter — a real-life vigilante inspired by the fictional comic exploits of Batman — makes his strike, the story jumps to introduce readers to protagonist Vera Yelnikov and settles in to a fun rhythm.
Dorison’s script seems to relax into its own concept as the book continues. Vera is a confident and proud member of the Socialist Party and readers are given just enough of her back story to understand her sadness at being placed undercover in the United States to not only take down the Carpenter but to also create a feeling of “fairy tale” propaganda about superheroes in the modern world. She is independent, sexually confident and completely capable, a perfect foil to the sexist and male-dominated Hollywood scene of the era. Vera approaches the negative parts of the culture with a curious eye, finding it foolish rather than offensive due to her own self-worth.
Terry and Rachel Dodson gorgeously illustrate her as proud and in control of every situation in which she finds herself. Every character in the book emotes and acts under the Dodson’s cartooning eye. The scenes will please anyone looking for deeper connections to the material. Dorison addresses the cheesecake and the sexism head-on and puts a pin directly in a lot of the themes that permeate American culture. The country is fueled by idealism and fictional motivations that influence real-world decisions and, while that’s not always a bad thing, it’s used as the driving device for the extreme conservative views of Jacky Core, a self-appointed crusader for family values who may or may not have ties to the Carpenter’s vigilante tactics.
The Dodsons pack the oversized issue with beautiful portrayals of southern California in the 1970s. In the backmatter, Dorison mentions that the setting is what really excited Terry about the concept and it shows in the environmental and costume detail. The colors give the book a slightly washed feel, as if the proceedings take place on media from the time. It’s the attention to these elements that really make the book stand out.
Clayton Cowles also heightens the work with his speech balloon work, using the tails to assist the art in portraying the characters’ states of mind. Weary and injured characters have withering tails and shouting characters have jagged, lightning style tails, which is a great way to focus the script without resorting to just changing the height of words or bolding the lettering itself. A few odd choices happen here; for example, the book has no qualms with explicit dialogue or scenes, but randomly censors a single curse word in the book. It stands out a bit, especially since curse words pop up on the surrounding pages immediately before and after in their full resplendent glory.
With a great premise and a confident creative team, “Red One” #1 delivers on all levels after readers get past the opening scene. It’s fun and full of great characters that audiences can get behind. This is a book worth checking out.