Florida is a scary place. Outsiders don’t realize that. They think of Florida and their minds go to sunshine, beaches, and Disney. But I live here. I can tell you that when you get to the heartland, a more rural Florida, all bets are off. Prejudice runs rampant, and every loudmouth with an opinion probably has a gun to back it up. And that’s not even to mention the ghost stories you hear about the swamps and small towns. Redlands, a new Image horror series by Jordie Bellaire and Vanesa R. Del Ray, captures this Florida from page one and delivers one of the best new stories of the year.
Issue one introduces us to the eponymous Redlands, a small Florida town where three witches have taken residence. The townspeople, led by the local police force, resist. But the captivating thing about this story is that you don’t yet know who to root for. These witches seem more wicked than good, but are they worse than small town law enforcement?
This is the first writing credit for Eisner-nominated colorist Bellaire, but you wouldn’t know that by reading it. The story opens in media res and there’s no clunky exposition to fill us in. In fact, there’s not an ounce of fat in this book. Jordie’s writing is tight and efficient; she trusts her audience to follow along. We’re given everything we need to know in the first three pages: there’s a tree on fire hanging three empty nooses, a police station hanging the Confederate flag, and foul-mouthed officers dropping their g’s (you automatically hear their drawl in your head).
A sense of dread permeates Redlands from cover to cover, but both Bellaire and Del Ray know that there are bigger threats to small towns than witches and demons. The local police are equated to monsters. Actually, they’re worse than monsters; as a prisoner states, “I’d rather have a town run by monsters instead of murderers.” They’re racist, sexist, and any other kind of prejudiced you can imagine, and it feels uncomfortably real. Even the way Del Ray draws them is harrowing. Whereas the witches are beautiful, the cops – especially the chief – are splotchy and ragged.
This social commentary and relevance elevates Redlands to greatness. See, good horror scares you. Great horror scares you and tells a story that begs you to remember it. There’s no schlock in Redlands. There’s gore, and there’s shocking imagery, but it all holds weight. Bellaire and Del Ray are creating characters that readers can recognize in a world that feels familiar.
By the end of issue one, you realize that there’s something biblical about this story. Redlands has rotted, and it must be cleansed.
Storytelling aside, Del Ray and Bellaire make an incomparable art team. Del Ray’s pencils are raw and edgy, and Bellaire’s colors are hot – literally. This book is filled with reds, oranges, and yellows. From panel one you can feel the intensity radiate off the page, and you realize that the heat is on for Redlands. As mentioned earlier, Del Ray’s character work subliminally tells you who the town’s real monsters are. The police are purposefully more detailed and ugly, making them harder to relate to, whereas you can see yourself in the townspeople (and even the witches). Comic art should convey the feeling of a book without requiring you to read a single word. One look at Redlands #1 and you know you’re in for a thrill ride that will keep you up at night.
I’ll say it again, Florida is a scary place. We have freaking dinosaurs swimming in our lakes. But even scarier is the hate and evil that flows so freely from one person to another. Redlands shows us that we need to get our shit together, otherwise we might be facing a cleansing ourselves sooner than later.