Written by Jordie Bellaire
Illustrated by Vanesa R Del Rey
Colored by Jordie Bellaire
Lettered by Clayton Cowles
Backmatter designed by Becca Carey
Supplemental material by Kevin O’Mara, Mallory Wyman, Louise Fitzpatrick, Fionna Adams, and Gabriel H Walta
Edited by Heather Antos
Published by Image Comics
Witches burn the town of Redlands to cinders and claim it as their own. Despite the ritual sacrifice, it’s any other city in Florida: an accidental haven to monsters of its own creation. One witch loses her mind and finds someone else’s, a murderer appears, and so does the devil. Throw in some ghosts and some sex offenders and suddenly a simple murder double-cross gets complex.
Redlands is a horror book born from a complicated misandry. The women of Redlands have the necessary complexity witches are due, so naturally there are flaws in the characters that cast strange shadows about their actions. Stone cold killer monsters from nigh beyond time are surprisingly not magnetic north on the moral compass. What we as readers need to decide isn’t how many rapist decapitations are too many, but what kind of response the institutional abuse of the patriarchy merits.
This is to horror what social criticism is to science fiction (plenty of both of those in Redlands as well, just ask the bounty hunting alligator man). There is a place inside the reader that finds justice in terrible acts. Writer/colorist Jordie Bellaire and principal artist Vanesa Del Rey use the genre as a chance to examine what we find tolerable and intolerable.
Redlands is both steamy and difficult to navigate emotionally. Bellaire’s world has sex, sex traffic and sex murder and all the darkness waiting for women. Yet also filled with love, with longing, need. Gets into your whole body, from arousal to revulsion, and lives deliciously. The writing is fearless.
Eros comes easy in Del Rey’s style, figures built up by the hand by layers and layers of voluptuous curves, cleaned up and stylized, with much of the process left in. Del Rey’s classic sensibilities convey the sensuous weight of the body, capturing a presence more than a figure, figures. Horror, too, suits Del Rey. Transformations between beauty and living rot flow against each other like ripples in water. Fire and bone can draw in heavier inks with different flavors. Del Rey knows how to build up bodies and she knows how to vivisect them.
Together, they tell a story of mystery and power. Sunken structures where you feel their presence before you can see them clearly. Unseen and unspoken but there, influencing the shape of things. And on re-examination, later in the book or when reading it again, that impact is joined with its inherent importance and the two become inseparable.
Many fates coming together. A bunch of dead murderers. Redlands is a golden spiral through time from Egypt to Ireland to Salem to an unexpected 80s baby who could tip the scales. Whose plan is all this? The depth of coincidence seems impossible, each point has been rearranged so that all blades point to the center. A taste for power and everyone wants to break their bonds.
Witch boss, ghost cop, spider mother, everyone is trying to stop being monsters solely. It’s an alarming window to view the conflict of found family against the past through, though the Bellaire’s rage hardly exists in a vacuum. Each character walks with evil. Redlands is the struggle to reconcile being evil and being. Even the devil is searching for his place in the world (which is honestly on brand). The world is a bigger thing than the gods that inhabit it.
Redlands supplements the main story with a variety of unique visual footnotes and cold case files. The diary at the end of the first arc’s penultimate issue is some of the most harrowing, gutting work in comics today. Becca Carey creates and corrals the uniformly disturbing forays into the larger context of the story.
It really solidifies the feeling of a horror story set in crime story framework. An overflowing mix of improbable personalities, danger, and the thrill of seeing how it all plays. No guarantees. What sets Redlands apart is that usually you get to enjoy the threat to life from the safety of living outside the story you are reading. But you should be afraid of the monsters in Redlands whether you hold the book or not. Whether you’ve read it at all.
Social drama. A sex-think. Occult horror with fifty flavors of murder. Prison break revenge. Vendetta. Willpower greater than doom, like Mary Shelley of 1818. Fiercely passionate about the broken relationships between man and woman, top and bottom. Redlands is loathing turned into writing. It’s passion. The timeliness and disturbing artwork of Infidel, the attitude and power of Bitch Planet, governed by sophisticated adult content European sensibilities.
Del Rey’s wild lines do a great job of showing-not-showing. Bellaire’s sublime, dark and subtle color choices raise this feeling by an order of magnitude. Redlands is a story that crawls into the darkness that makes neon lights shine magic. It gets away from the lights all together, into the swamp, into the unlit waters of being, and is colored accordingly. Bellaire has an uncompromising vision of blood coming out of the earth. A night with no moon. Dramatic choices that romance the mind instead of clarifying for the eye, call it filmic if you can get your aperture wide enough to develop nightmares.
But no panel borders and clear white gutters! Dark art, darker colors, hung in a frame of light, paired well with the negative space relief of the word balloons. And it’s a talky book. Clayton Cowles’ discretion makes it, though. A wordsy book is a huge challenge for a letterer. Dress it up without stepping in its way. You have a lot to read, you want it to be pretty, but you also want it to be easy. Cowles writes in typewriter pulp screenplay, with angle and stroke demechanized, quill and inkpot magazine pages.
This book is a rare tempest captured. It is a chance to hear voices speak uncompromising truth and also some truly fucked up lies. Redlands vividly conveys what rips us apart inside, what remains, and how fiercely it clings to love.