A burning tree crackles in the foreground, with a question issuing from the Redlands County police station in the background: “Where did them b****** go?” Redlands, Volume 1, a horror comic by author and Eisner-award winning colorist Jordie Bellair and artist Vanesa Del Ray, is set in the fictional Redlands, Florida. The five-issue volume follows a coven of three witches; Bridget, Ro, and Alice, aka “them b******”, as they take over the rural community of Redlands. Their motivation? “We chose this town because we saw it needed the most. Your soil is rot. Your people are vacant. We needed a place to make new.”
The witches’ methods for making the place new are questionable. While the racist and misogynist cops are no longer in charge of the town, the witches’ order exists in part through rituals like the yearly sacrifice of a young female virgin. It’s difficult as a reader to get behind these women, who might have a righteous cause, but who also rescue a 15-year-old from the advances of her school principal only to lead her into the forest and kill her. The men of the story are either vile rapists, unintelligent racists, or crass crime lords, or they are more or less puppets of the coven.
Many reviews of the comic complain that the story lacks sympathetic characters—male or female. This is true, but mostly because each character is barely developed before another is introduced. Further complicating the development of characters is the tendency for a character to shapeshift (female to demon, female to male, male to alligator, etc.) or to be possessed by another character. However, for the most part, sex and power drive the men, while the women seek revenge on the men who violated them.
Perhaps this lack of character depth is intentional. In one scene, Alice is reading Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot to her “daughter” Itsy (who was originally an insect of some sort). In the background, we see a list of horror titles, many by Stephen King, and Itsy complains that the vampires aren’t showing up quickly enough. Alice tells her that the book “focuses on people in the town first. You know, for color” because “without the sweet bits, the bad bits never seem as bad.” Maybe Bellaire is challenging this standard practice of building up to the horror by skipping straight to the “bad bits.”
However, the lack of character development is not redeemed by a clear connection of the “bad bits.” The setting frequently bounces from the present to the 70s, 80s, and even the 1690s. What seems to be a vital plotline in the first two issues—the Redbrandt serial killer who taunts the coven by painting with the blood of his female victims—is quickly resolved and not mentioned again after the third issue. While the overall plot presented in this first volume seems hopelessly snarled, it’s possible that future issues and volumes will unravel it.
This volume is rated Mature for a reason: there is frequent nudity, sex, violence, and swearing; this is best limited to mature teens and adults. As a horror comic about a witch coven, it deals with elements of the supernatural and depicts gratuitous violence. However, the scenes of greatest violence are the ones that are the most arresting art, especially those set in fire.
Readers who follow Jordie Bellaire will be interested in this comic, and it does share the flavor of Image’s Southern Bastards. However, I recommend waiting until another volume comes out before adding this to your collection. Another volume may bring the plot clarity and character development that this volume hasn’t quite mastered.
Redlands, Vol. 1
Author: Jordie Bellaire
Artist: Vanesa Del Ray, Jordie Bellaire
Image Comics, 2018