By Jordie Bellaire, Vanesa Del Rey, Clayton Cowles
Since Redlands came out, it’s struggled with finding a narrative through line. Up until now, Jordie Bellaire and Vanesa Del Ray have shown who their lead characters are, but not of what they’d be doing. That changes in this issue, as Redlands finally starts to reveal itself.
One of the great aspects of a horror anything is that it keeps you guessing. Jordie Bellaire and Vanesa Del Rey have excelled here. They open with a subtle pun and unapologetically throw readers into their swampy, unknowable world. There aren’t even familiar characters until several pages in. They set up a smokescreen, making readers think they should be rooting for one character, then tripping them up. That feeling is even better when you realize the conscious choice made in how this particular character is portrayed. Bellaire and Del Rey flip one horror’s tired tropes on its head, which has been one of the most successful parts of Redlands. No matter what it looks like, you’re probably wrong – especially true in this issue’s twist.
The art lays a foundation for the mystery of Redlands. It’s scratchy and sketchy in ways that are reminiscent of courtroom sketch ups. It’s visceral; just like the world these women live in and the people they deal with. Speaking of which, Del Rey puts energy into her characters that makes them appear to be in a constant state of motion. They never feel frozen on the page. She draws with motion in mind, adding to the state of confusion set up by the narrative. Even physically, you never know what a character might do next.
Even the format on the page works to set the tone. The choice to remove most of the borders makes the world more immersive. It’s inviting, especially when it comes to intimate character moments. The art and plot are constantly playing off of each other, letting the book’s quiet moments shine and establishing a showing-over-telling strategy.
Finding critiques for this duo is difficult, to say the least, but there are two small issues. The transitions leave a bit of room for interpretation, first off. There’s one point that might require some backtracking, but it’s never egregious or overbearing. Redlands’ most glaring issue, however, is the plot. For three issues what may or may not be the conflict of the story has been skirted around in a way that seems to have one foot in an anthology structure, and the other foot in traditional storytelling. Although it’s captivating world building and character development, in terms of art and writing, Redlands hungers for more of what promises to be a thrilling story.