By Jordie Bellaire, Vanesa R. Del Rey
Redlands #4 starts off strong, with a subtly meta scene that reads as a conversation from creators to readers. It’s captivating, and the pull of discovering what’s happening in Redlands is constant throughout the book, as is the artwork – but when the book is closed it’s hard not to wonder what these past four issues amount to narratively. While entertaining and opinionated, the series constantly introduces what appear to be new threads, and leaves many questions unanswered. Whether that’s good or bad varies from reader to reader.
The way Redlands looks, though, is consistently unique and memorable. It finds balance between spastic lines and delicate ones, especially so in Ro’s bathrobe. The way it drapes itself over her frame is tantalizingly realistic. This is a stand out example that serves as a precedent for the rest of the drawing in the book.
More than that, Bellaire and Del Rey use light to set tone throughout the book, and the entire series, in interesting ways. A muted light in a dark room makes a character look ill and eerie, foreshadowing new developments. Watching another character walk away into the darkness while the others are cast in light shows the metaphorical distance between them. And the almost omnipresent scratchy shadows give an overarching sense that an unknown danger looms over Jacksonville.
That’s true narratively as well. Sometimes, it seems like there are too many of these mysterious, unexplored monstrosities. There’s so much horror that it’s difficult to be afraid of one thing and not get caught up in whatever the next plot point may be. It’s unclear if there’s any intent to tie all these knots together, or if Del Rey and Bellaire will keep moving forward in what may be an anthological structure. It’s worth sticking with for readers who particularly enjoy being kept on their toes, but Redlands is anything but traditional.
It succeeds in its small moments. The opening scene gives one of the main characters well deserved development and then reveals tension between the sisters. This particular plot addition feels well placed in that it gives a more solid conflict to follow, and lends itself to a contained, one issue story. It serves as a human conflict for Redlands’ sort-of-inhuman lead characters and makes them relatable. Conflicts like the one in this issue familiarize readers with Ro, Bridget, and Alice, and bring them back to Redlands.
The mystery of Redlands rolls on without unfolding itself much, and doesn’t look like it cares to. Bellaire and Del Rey play to the unknown as a strength rather than a weakness, making it clear that readers don’t need to know everything their series to enjoy it. The contrary is true. Not knowing what’s going on is part of the experience. It’s integral to the series just like the characters, and the stand out, gritty art style. Readers of the series must let themselves fall into the deep, beautiful shadows of Redlands if they want to get the most out of it.