Red City plays at the sort of genre defying fun we've come to expect from new books at Image, but gets too caught up in its retro aesthetic to feel fresh or relevant.
Writer Daniel Corey, recently on Moriarty, combines elements of pulp science-fiction and noir crime drama in this new title. Set in a greater solar system plagued by political intrigue, corruption, civil war and persistent threats of planetary secession; Red City is a new Los Angeles on Mars, characterized by bright lights, inebriation via high density field, sleazy bars and hotels, and astonishingly clean strip clubs.
Federal Security Officer (FSO) Cal Talmage guides the reader through this complex situation with a combination of classic “then she walked in” monologues, and bursts of conversation where he volunteers far more information than would be prudent for a hard-nosed investigator. Perhaps after a few issues, the incongruity between his job title and his personality will be understood as part of his character.
Perhaps after a few issues, readers will also become accustomed to Talmage’s jarring, contemporary tone which goes entirely unheeded by the other characters. In fact the other characters all seem to be emulating weird Jersey accents, because you can't have a mob story without the accents. We’re not at Deadpool levels of fourth wall transcendence, but I am confused about who, precisely, is the audience of Talmage’s narration.
With a large cast of characters and settings, each introduced briefly, it could be quite a chore for readers to keep all of the Red City details straight. In this task, artist Mark Dos Santos supports the story wonderfully. His unique and expressive faces and futuristic-retro clothing design efficiently deliver information about each character and keep them distinct in the reader's mind. Dos Santos has developed a good range of aliens; some Star Trek style with colored skin and forehead ridge combinations, and some more extreme like a Walrus hotel manager. Dos Santos provides simple layouts that are easy to read and help the story. His backgrounds have sufficient detail to give an idea of the size of the city and the style of architecture, but stop short of cluttering the page and distracting from the characters.
Colorist Chris Fenolgio accentuates the artwork and sets the mood using bright colors to showcase the exciting city and dark dramatic shadows to add a bit of edge and mystery.Dave Lanphear, on lettering, uses nice red text boxes for the internal monologue, and keeps the flow of the conversation pretty natural given the amount of dialogue Corey gives his characters.
So obviously, the creative team works together well, but I'm confused by the quirky protagonist and disappointed by reliance on existing tropes like Jersey-accented mobsters. That's okay, I don't think I'm the target audience of this book.
So what's my biggest complaint with Red City #1? The scene in the strip club.
It’s not because I hate seeing scantily clad women. It’s not because she’s anatomically implausible. It’s not because she’s front and center on a full page splash while two male characters pass dialogue behind her. I even appreciate that the scene was marginally important to the overall story for revealing something about Talmage’s personality. By ignoring the stripper, he’s demonstrating focus, integrity, and a higher standard for female beauty. This will likely contrast well with his inevitable attraction to the femme fatale we’ve been promised.
No, I hate the strip club scene because it’s BORING and lacks creativity. Red City is supposed to be a completely different reality. Why does the strip club look exactly like the one down the street from my office? Why is the dancer human? Why is she wearing a bra and panties from the last Victoria’s Secret catalogue? Where can I get those shoes?
Compare this to a scene which served a similar purpose in Saga; The Will goes to Sextillion. There is a range of truly alien sexuality on display which simultaneously shocks the reader and demonstrates The Will’s integrity and focus as he walks through a sea of debauchery unphased. A strip club scene could have been a great opportunity for creative alien design or maybe allusion. Imagine if the Red City dancer had green skin, or if she were wearing a Dejah Thoris costume. That's so simple and already more exciting.
Overall, the first issue of Red City is well executed. The main character feels unfocused, and some of the plot points and settings are a bit predictable. After only one issue, there's room for this story to grow, but I've already checked out.