The Cold War has always been a fount of engaging fictional stories, as the period itself was one of the most tense and tumultuous in human history. When superheroes get involved, these narratives are all the more interesting, especially as they often reflect the time in intriguing ways.
Red One #1, released yesterday from Image Comics, chronicles the rise of the United States’ greatest superhero during the Cold War. The only catch? She’s actually a Soviet Agent, tasked with winning over the American people! For anyone keeping score, this is the third time I’ve been very excited about and reviewed a comic starring a Communist protagonist (Superman: Red Son and Divinity were the previous examples…don’t read anything into that). As it stands, I couldn’t be happier to check out Red One.
Hollywood, 1977. While movie stars and directors clamor for fame, they face a tide of religious protesters who aim to topple the media empire. One pastor in particular, Jacky Core, has become a figurehead for a movement that seeks to eliminate the decadence and perversion seen in this city. Behind all this, a vigilante known as The Carpenter has initiated a stream of horrible murders, yet many see him as a hero to be admired.
Meanwhile, in the USSR (or CCCP, if you prefer), Vera Yelnikov, a high level agent, finishes her latest mission and returns to her beloved homeland. Instantly a hit with the locals because of her impressive athletic abilities, attractive appearance, and general goodwill she spreads, Vera wants nothing more than some time off from work.
Alas, when Brezhnev recruits her for a mission to the United States, Vera cannot refuse. Vera’s mission is to become a superhero of the American people, topple the carpenter, and extinguish the flames of chaos growing in California.
Artistic duo Terry and Rachel Dodson prove a perfect choice for this story of political intrigue sprinkled with the right amount of humor and sass. The Dodson’s are a highly successful team, especially notable for portraying beautiful women and exciting feats involving vehicles. One only has to see Vera tear off on her motorcycle to appreciate the glory of what the team brings to the title.
Character models are exceptional, and the Dodson’s give us a charming heroine in Vera. It’s not just her beauty that appeals to the reader, but also her personality. From her acute facial expressions, such as when her contact boasts of his wildly high IQ, reveal that she’s a woman with a lot of hidden talents and knowledge.
The pages are vibrant and full of fun, especially the scene when we watch Vera effortlessly bench press hundreds of kilograms while scaling a rope with her legs, before outrunning a boastful marathon runner and charging up a tree. The image of Vera standing before soldiers with a barbell balanced in her hand is one of the best character shots in modern comics. Even the subtler scenes, such as Vera’s meeting with her superiors, are highly enjoyable, from her commentary on American film reels to her reluctant acceptance of her duties.
It’d be remiss if I forgot Clayton Cowles’s lettering. I’ve seen his work before, and here it shines once again. From the gorgeous design of the series logo, to clever balloon placement in some small panels with lots of dialogue, it’s clear a lot of work went into his process, and it clear paid off.
Xavier Dorison, Red One’s writer, places a wonderful story before the readers. From the clever dialogue, to the great story transitions, and especially to the ability to balance multiple plot lines, it’s clear a lot of thought went into this comic. The concept of a Soviet hero setting out to become a popular American superhero, in order to foster peace and foil a madman, is one I’ve never seen before, but I love it instantly.
Red One #1 falls short on two counts. The first is our lack of vision into Vera’s head; we learn almost nothing about her motivations, and while we see shades of her personality, I wish we could have seen more. Nevertheless, this is only a minor complaint, as there’s plenty of time for future issues to develop this thread, and it’d be unfortunate if the first issue gave everything away.
Secondly, there are a few odd transitions in the comic’s second half. In particular, Vera offers to repair a motorcycle in one panel. In the next, we see her foot on the bike and a screwdriver on the ground, followed by a panel of her riding off into the distance. It took awhile for me to realize she fixed the motorcycle off-screen, and at first glance I wasn’t sure if she had simply stolen it and just ridden off despite mechanical issues. I would’ve liked even one panel of Vera in the garage, working on the machine.
Overall, Red One #1 is a gorgeous, highly enjoyable comic that kicks off a series unlike any I’ve heard of before. This is a comic fans of period pieces will love, especially those with interest in the American movie industry during the 1970s. I highly recommend this comic!
-gorgeous artwork from the Dodson’s
-readers learn very little about Vera’s characteristics or personality
-a few odd temporal jumps between panels in the second half of the issue
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