-This article was possible due to the gift of a review copy, QWERTY, and rolling natural 20s.
Guest Writer: Bill Coffin
Story / Art: Jordie Bellaire, Vanesa Del Rey
Cover: Vanesa Del Rey
Redlands, Florida, 1977. A one-horse town in the middle of the swamp someplace East of nowhere is under siege. The entire police department has barricaded itself inside of the police station, where holding cells jammed with restive prisoners want to know why it is that a trio of very scary women have somehow set the huge tree out in the parking lot on fire, and have every man in town either dead or fearing for his life. The police chief is as brutal and as small minded as one might expect coming from such an ugly little caricature of a town, but it hardly matters. Before the evening is out, he is dead, his son is dead, his police are dead, and the only people left alive are those deemed worthy of following a new order based on blood sacrifice, dark magic, and unspeakable pacts with even more unspeakable powers. Welcome…to Redlands. It’s a new kind of Southern town, y’all.
Written by Eisner Award-winner Jordie Bellaire and illustrated by Vanesa Del Rey, Redlands is now available in a trade paperback that contains the first six issues of a dark, challenging series that brings to mind some of the finest supernatural horror conjured forth in graphic novel form since the earliest days of a certain someone who governed the province of dreamland.
The story—which is definitely meant for mature audiences—follows Ro, Alice, and Bridget, the coven of witches who appear to have been walking this world for many more years than their youthful appearances might suggest. They have not aged a day since they took over Redlands some 40 years ago, and in all that time, they have run the town with unquestioned authority. Anybody living here is most definitely with the program, content to pledge their silent allegiance to the witches in return for living in relative peace and harmony. The various drifters, killers and freaks who seem drawn to a boondocks place like this, all seem to be taken care of before they can do any damage, and the price of regular blood sacrifice appears to be a cost the locals are willing to pay. There isn’t exactly what you’d call a normal day in Redlands, but there is a routine, however grim, weird, and disturbing it might be. But all of that is threatened when it becomes clear that not only is there a serial killer operating in the region, but that same killer seems to know all about the witches, and is planning a visit to the town that somehow all feels strangely overdue.
Redlands is a terrific read, if somewhat frustrating. Bellaire employs a slow-moving, organic storytelling approach that reminds one of the first half of a really good season of HBO programming; the characters are all given plenty of time to simply be themselves, each with their own stories unfolding while the much larger arc that unites them slowly comes into focus. By the time we get to the end of this volume, we’re not exactly sure what is really going on, but we are sure that we want to find out. Bellaire expertly draws us in with a paucity of actual detail, all while teasing us with the certainty that there is a much bigger and more horrifying story to be told several steps further into the darkness from where we can see things. It’s just a matter of giving it to us in small doses over a long period of time. Too much, too fast, and we’re likely to burn just like one of the fools who cross Redlands’ witches and char like paper for it.
Del Ray’s artwork is simply wonderful, and perfectly matched to Bellaire’s writing. Heavy and atmospheric, it conveys the oppressive, and yet liberating, mood within this work and its characters, and does a great job of sparing none of the seamy details that makes this sweaty trip into the Devil’s underground such an enjoyable trip. Moreover, the ease with which the artwork delivers the writing, and how the writing slips smoothly into the artwork reveals a writer-artist team that isn’t just working at the height of its powers…it’s working at the height of each other’s powers, as well. That is an uncommon thing, to see such a wonderful and powerful collaboration. If there is any major criticism to Redlands, it is more of a worry than anything else: these first six issues make such a strong first impression with the combination of Bellaire and Del Ray that one hopes they will finish their story together. Absent one or both of these talents, and Redlands simply wouldn’t be the same. And that would be too bad. You kind of get the idea that for all of the blood and fire Ro, Alice, and Bridget are responsible for, the swamplands are still somehow better off with them than without them. The same can be said for your own bookshelf.
Redlands is on sale now at your local comic book retailer.