Red One #1
Xavier Dorison – Script
Pencils & Colors – Terry Dodson
Rachel Dodson – Inks
Clayton Cowles – Letters
Review by Joey Braccino
Red One–What a strange and complicated history behind such a strange and complicated new superhero/espionage comic. The concept has existed in some capacity since way back in 2009 when Terry Dodson read Xavier Dorison’s pitch for comic about “a Soviet spy [that] goes undercover in 1977 Los Angeles.” Dodson and Dorison started working in earnest in 2012, and the book was originally titled Red Widow (which had to be changed for copyright issues) and then was called Red Skin (which was its French publication title, but it’s a little racist, sooo…) and now has finally hit stands as Red One. You can still find the cover for that Red Skin French edition, and it is a classic Dodson pin-up: gorgeous and sumptuous, but a bit too racy/sexy/sexist. Because France.
Anyway, Red One is one wacky book. Dorison’s story essentially boils down to the following: Los Angeles is plagued by a puritanical vigilante named The Carpenter who targets the sloven sinners of America (porn actresses and druggies and the like), so the Soviet authorities decides to send over Vera Yelnikov, their very best agent, to become a masked superhero in her own right and win the hearts of Americans, with the intention (I assume) of completely ruining the American morale when it is revealed that their favorite here is actually a Soviet! Ha!
Pretty insane, right? Like, it’s actually borderline farcical in its conception. The book doesn’t necessarily play out any clearer. Fortunately, Dorison doesn’t dwell too long on trying to validate the concept; instead, he seems more interested in humanizing Vera and playing up the fish-out-of-water angle. Dorison spends more time playing up the 1977 setting and putting Vera in strangely sexual situations for Dodson to illustrate. Which he does in typical sensual, luscious fashion. Like pin-up quality.
And that’s really my problem with Red One—there’s something off about Dorison and Dodson’s construction of Vera’s character and the overall feel of the book. And by “off,” I mean there is an overt sexualization going on that at once fits the 1970s aesthetic the team is trying to emulate but also diminishes Vera as a well-crafted female lead. I understand the intention—Vera is a liberated sexual being in the swingin’ ‘70s—but does she really have to have a tryst with a stranger in an airplane lavatory with little to no narrative consequence or follow-up? The final gag of the issue is the fact that the Red One uniform is too tight and can’t cover Vera’s breasts. Unless there’s a larger plan here, the hypersexualization of our lead female protagonist is going to get very old very quickly given more current, progressive views on female leads. This goes past the lead as well, as the opening sequence of the issue (which runs on far too long) sees the Carpenter torture and murder another female character for being a sinful, sexy actress.
Just an observation that might (will be?) a problem for some readers. I mean, in some respects, Red One is a fun book; Vera is a firecracker of a character with a skillset to match her vigor, and the 1970s setting is a refreshing twist on your standard Cold War fare. And Dodson’s artwork is spectacular as always. And perhaps my criticism will level out as the series rolls on and we get into the narrative plot a bit more.
Wait and see. Red One is a dynamic debut issue from Xavier Dorison and the Dodsons, but the emphasis on the 1970s cultural aesthetic and the wonky treatment of the female protagonist makes this an uneven read for me. Things might level out as Dorison and Dodson take Vera Yelnikov further into the story, but for right now I feel like there are better female-driven action/espionage comics on the stands. Gorgeous book, despite the narrative shortcomings.