Created by: Jordie Bellaire & Vanesa R. Del Rey

Publisher: Image Comics

Release date: August 9, 2017

Some comics like to ease its readers into things, taking the time to introduce settings and characters. Others like to toss us right into the action, with no explanation of what’s going on, and works on revealing things as it goes along. Redlands, the new book from Jordie Bellaire (Pretty Deadly, Vision) and Vanesa R. Del Rey (Scarlet Witch, Constantine), is the latter. Our first image is a blazing tree outside of the Redlands County Police Station, where an apparent lynching has gone wrong. Who was lynched and why is revealed over the book’s 30 pages, but even by the end we still don’t have any real definitive answers.

So right from the onset, it seems that this book will not be one for the impatient reader. Fortunately, despite the lack of most answers to the multitude of questions raised, Bellaire and Del Rey keep the action at a brisk pace. We don’t get to meet many characters by name. There’s a sheriff, his son Skip, and a prisoner named Laurent. There are others as well- other officers and prisoners, all apparently trapped in the station by the bizarre conflagration outside. We know something evil is out and about. And yet, we’re not sure about the actual nature of this evil. Themes of racism and abuse of power are hinted at, but how much these themes will figure in isn’t entirely clear in this first issue.

And then there are the three women. The sheriff calls them “bitches”, but it seems they are, in fact, witches. Their names are tossed out quickly- Bridget, Ro, and Alice- but who they are or what they want or how they ran afoul of the sheriff isn’t clear yet. A power struggle seems to be brewing, and how it unfolds should be revealed in subsequent issues. Those expecting any real answers here will be disappointed or at least left bewildered as to what is going on and why is it happening. Luckily, there is just enough here to grab your interest, and by the book’s end there’s the feeling of wanting to see what comes next.

Bellaire, who’s made most of her living as a colorist, does a fine job with the writing here. She imbues the scenes with a sense of mystery and tension, making us curious about what’s going on and dreading the answer to that question at the same time. There’s no depth of character in this first issue, and yet we still get some sense of the sheriff and his son. Laurent and the prisoners remain a mystery, as do the three women. For some people, this may pose a problem, as we have no one character to latch onto. It’s not clear who to root for in this issue, which relies on the situation to plant the hook into the reader rather than give you a character to identify with.

Del Rey’s art work fits the scenario in the book, and at the same time may be off putting to some. The work is more sketchy, lacking clean lines and rich detail. And yet, it feels like it works, as the sketches feel they were done in haste to keep pace with the chaos unfolding before us. What makes the art work better than it possibly should is Bellaire’s superb coloring. The flaming tree is highlighted by bright yellows against a black background. Inside the station, everything is tinged with a reddish shade, reflecting the light coming from the fire outside. Characters are colored in such a way that they don’t all blend together, and many environments are set against backgrounds of deep blacks, reds, and yellows. The coloring almost allows us to feel the heat working its way through the station from the burning tree, and in that way adds to the tension. And that tension gets bumped up when blood starts to flow.

Redlands opens with a fast paced book, one that poses many questions but offers little to no answers. This first issue seeks to hook the reader through a dire situation instead of a character, and to a great point succeeds in doing so. The sketchy artwork may seem sloppy at first glance, but it works with the chaos unfolding, and is further enhanced by some great coloring. We’ve seen witches before in comics (notably from Greg Rucka in Black Magick and Scott Snyder in Wytches), and we’ll just have to see how Bellaire and Del Rey set there witches apart and make them unique enough to help this title stand out. As it is, the book is a solid debut, with Bellaire and Del Rey making a solid creative team, and has my interest enough to make me see what will come next. It will just remain to be seen if it attracts enough of an audience to help future issues sell.