Writer: Alex Paknadel
Artist: Nil Vendrell
Colorist: Giulia Brusco
Letterer: Ryan Ferrier
Publisher: TKO Studios
Small-town America has always been a reliable setting for horror, especially when it serves as a metaphor for the terrible things that can haunt a community. It’s in the very fabric of the country, really. Any given community is always a bad day away from seeing its human ties get severed by the same thing that kept it together, be it by the closing of factory that employed the majority of the people in it or the collapse of a coal mine that shuts down work for good.
Alex Paknadel, Nil Vendrell, Giulia Brusco, and Ryan Ferrier’s Redfork is about all of the above, but its horror specifically lies in the elements we entertain and put our trust into when things fall into a void of despair and hopelessness. This TKO Studios book is about how dangerous it is to invite someone, or something, in who proclaims to have terrifying but ‘sound’ solutions for struggling families in desperate times.
Redfork follows ex-con Noah McGlade as he returns to his hometown, a place that’s got coal mining running through its veins. Once he lands back home he notices the opioid crisis hanging heavy over the town, eroding whatever’s left of the place, and that joblessness has gutted the collective spirit of the people residing in it. An accident at the coal mine, where Noah’s brother works, offers an exit for an old evil being with a very selfish agenda all its own, and it prefers to go about getting its way with an approachable smile on its face.
There’s a sense of immediacy to the story that’s evident from the very first pages of the comic. The evil thing from the mine wears a human skin that’s almost always shown as if bursting at the seams, barely concealing a mess of black veins and inky fluids that look, and are, highly contagious.
Being that this thing, which goes by the name of Gallowglass, wants to recruit the town to do his bidding in exchange for a chance at getting back a semblance of the life they had, one is hard-pressed not to think about our current relationship with media, influence, and bad people in power. It allows the book to take a look at what happens when a manipulative force descends upon a people desperate for change and how those same people, due to their predicament, can so easily put their faith into something that’s so clearly divorced from the truth.
Vendrell’s art does a great job of capturing the charisma and magnetism of Gallowglass. The character radiates with hope whenever he’s in public, surrounded by people. When things are about to get dark and bloody, Vendrell goes for absolute menace, turning Gallowglass’ facial features into weapons of their own. There’s a particular approach taken with the eyes that gives the character a deep and alien-like stare reminiscent of IT’s Pennywise the Clown.
Body horror is put to good use in the story as well, and it succeeds in showing how far the people in the town have fallen to Gallowglass’s promise of better days ahead by having their bodies deform into grotesque shapes. The degree of faith showcased by the townsfolk is returned in kind by the ensuing decay that Gallowglass’s corrupted ideas unleash on those who follow his message.
Paknadel’s script succeeds in setting up the town’s misguided hope as an addiction that can only satisfied by affording more faith to the man that’s presented himself as everyone’s savior. The message is pushed consistently and aggressively throughout the entire story and is fair in painting a portrait of a people’s willingness to put their trust in anything if they think their lives will get better in the end.
The comic doesn’t judge these kinds of people or their collective thought process in any way that feels gratuitous. Instead, it tries to understand the conditions that led them to put their faith in potential schemes, conspiracy theories, or insidious snake oil-type salesmen that try to get their way by making everyone believe their selfish goals are the goals of the people. It’s about looking at the mechanics of a swindle through body horror and small-town American politics.
Redfork wants to remind readers that independent thought and skepticism are, to a reasonable point, essential during times of crisis and economic hardship. It’s during those moments that evil creeps in to take advantage of a community in pain with disingenuous promises of communal betterment and revitalization.
It’s a tale as old as time, selling one’s soul to the devil for a shortcut in life. Only Redfork prefers to look at the unfair and self-convincing reasons why anyone would ever even consider doing away with their souls. In the process, it finds that in this day and age the devil seems like a more believable option for progress than any force of good.
Published by TKO Studios, Redfork is available in stores and online now.