It's a great time to be a comic fan because as much as we're getting a ton of mainstream superhero stories from Marvel and DC Comics, it's also a great time for independent publishers. And no comic emphasizes this more than Image Comics' thought-provoking Redlands.
Jordie Bellaire, one of the industry's top colorists (The Vision, Batman), pulls double duty here and really impresses as a writer without boundaries. Five issues in, and it's more than just a coven of witches staging a coup in Redlands, Florida, it's impassioned statements addressing so many problems plaguing today's society.
This book is tongue-in-cheek, but still brutally dark. Vanesa del Rey's artwork, as well as Clayton Cowles' lettering, evoke an atmosphere that fans of 30 Days of Night, Severed, Outcast and Wytches will recognize. It jumps between time periods, painting the witches taking over the town in all their gore and glory in the '70s, to cryptic murders decades later in the '80s, to the present day where the creative team then blend modernism with the supernatural. And rest assured, Redlands holds nothing back on the horror scale: bizarre rituals, spiritual possession and even creatures disguised as humans -- oh yes, there's a spider-girl and a gator-man here.
However, the strongest aspect of Redlands comes via its sociopolitical commentary. It takes aim at white supremacy and racism on the whole, sexual freedom and identity (and there is a lot of this involved), rape, pedophilia, violence, police brutality and, last but not least, the main theme of feminism. After all, witches hijacking a town and putting it on a track they consider to be the right one sums things up, right? It's a breath of fresh air to see how the coven -- Alice, Ro and Bridget -- reshape things and place women in a position of power. More so, the town seems to accept it rather than merely abiding out of fear. Seeing the cops go from calling them "bitches" to people now respecting these same ladies as sheriffs running the show paints a message that's so relevant and necessary for the present-day. “I’d rather have a town run by monsters instead of murderers,” is what one prisoner says during the witches' takeover, and more or less sums up the lesser of two evils the townsfolk prefer.
Messages aside, what makes Redlands tick even more is that there isn't a clear indication as to who's exactly a hero. The coven is still involved in bizarre rituals that require innocent sacrifices, there are ghosts lingering around with secrets that could alter how we view certain 'protagonists', and oh, there's a dark lord the coven calls "father" who's coming to town soon. Until all this gets resolved, in the meantime you have a lot of sexual liberation and women being as free as they can be on the pages. Yet Bellaire's overall vision is way more substance than style, laying down powerful threads of love and romance that are, for want of a better word, cinematic.
This book is as fascinating as Guillermo del Toro's Crimson Peak, not to mention it has the racy suspense of Bram Stoker's Dracula packed in. Redlands is perfect for the big screen, but it most certainly can be the next Penny Dreadful, American Horror Story or Netflix series. After all, there's nothing as scary, yet seductively impressive on the comic book market at present.
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