Friday, March 25, 2016


Created by Xavier Dorison & Terry Dodson
Script: Xavier Dorison | Pencils & Colors: Terry Dodson
Inks: Rachel Dodson | Letters: Clayton Cowles

It seems working on MUSE was an agreeable experience for Terry Dodson, as he subsequently chose not to re-up his Marvel contract and decided instead to continue working in the European comic market. The first follow-up to MUSE comes in the form of RED ONE, co-created by Dodson and French writer Xavier Dorison, which received a domestic release from Image in 2015 in the form of two single comic book issues followed by a lovely oversized hardcover album collecting both chapters together.

I had high hopes for this one for a few reasons. One, though I found the ultimate resolution of MUSE to be a bit iffy, I really did enjoy the story up until the eleventh hour twists came into play, and I found Dodson's artwork and colors to be tremendous. Two, from what advance material I saw, RED ONE was to be set in the seventies and feature a Cold War-themed plotline. For reasons even I don't entirely understand, I love the seventies. I'm fascinated by the decade and I tend to enjoy almost any period piece set in that timeframe.

Unfortunately, this first volume doesn't quite live up to my expectations.

The story concerns a fundamentalist movement in 1977 California, headed by gubernatorial candidate Jacky Core, which supports the actions of a vigilante called the Carpenter -- a man on a mission to cleanse the Los Angeles area of "undesirable" elements in the most violent ways imaginable. The KGB objects to Core's position, believing that if elected, she will work against an upcoming nuclear treaty and cause trouble for the Soviet Union down the line. To combat the Carpenter and undermine Core, KGB higher-ups send their best agent, Vera Yelnikov, to California to become a superhero and stand up for the Carpenter's oppressed victims.

I'm not sure what exactly I think of Vera. She's a free spirit, to be sure. When we first meet her, returned to Russia from a mission, she visits two friends and, reading between the lines, apparently indulges in an orgy with them and two visitors. Later, nervous on her flight to America, she slips into the lavatory with a gentleman traveler to calm herself down. She likes to drink and party, and at one point, when offered the opportunity to appear in a pornographic movie, she appears to strongly consider it. Oh, and she's bisexual.

Now I have no problem with any of these traits in particular. My issue is more that she has all these traits at once. She comes across like some adolescent fantasy of what an ass-kicking superheroine's secret identity should be, rather than a real person.

But this is only the first volume; I'm willing to wait and see where things go with her characterization.

Once Vera arrives in the United States, under orders from the KGB, she gets herself a job as the personal assistant and driver of a porn director named Lew Garner -- presumably so she'll be close to the "seedy element" targeted by the Carpenter, though this is unclear. Over the course of a few weeks, Vera acquires a costume and weaponry and begins fighting back against Jacky Core's fundamentalists while at the same time ingratiating herself with Garner. She becomes close with him but is forced to abandon him during an attack by a group of Core's people when her handler, a Russian-born Los Angeleno named Bouchko, locates the Carpenter. The story ends as Vera confronts the Carpenter and must choose between fighting him or rescuing a pregnant lesbian he just attempted to kill.

I think I prefer the European cover...
some reason.*
Before I get to my criticisms of the story, I should note that the artwork by Dodson is beautiful as usual, and looks especially amazing in the European album size (which is how MUSE was also presented, though I don't know that I mentioned that at the time). The colors are great, though perhaps not as lush as in MUSE, and I like most of the character designs.

But, aside from a few cars here and there, it's hard to tell this thing is set in 1977. Where are the outlandish seventies fashions and hairstyles? None to be found in these pages. For the most part, RED ONE looks like it could've happened today, which is a shame. The seventies had a very unique look, which Dodson fails to capture.

I'm also a bit troubled by Dorison's story, which essentially presents the liberal lifestyle as a persecuted minority under attack from the evil fundamentalists. Look, I think extreme right wing nutjobs are ridiculous and I certainly don't support them. But as someone who tends to lean a bit more right than left on the political spectrum, I'd like to see Dorison present a more moderate viewpoint down the line. Right now he's basically just saying that Liberal = Good and Conservative = Crazy, period. Let's see some evil left-wing extremists and some level-headed conservatives to balance things out, shall we?

(I don't usually get political around here but this was something that really stuck out at me and I felt it had to be addressed.)

Lastly, I'm unsure what Dorison and Dodson are going for as far as the "maturity level" of this thing. We have tons of references to porn and sex, and there are a handful of uncensored F-bombs dropped throughout these pages (though weirdly there are also some censored "wingding" swear words too, which makes no sense), so this is clearly meant for an adult audience. But where's the T&A? Especially by Terry Dodson standards, this is an unusually tame book. I'm not calling for full-on nudity and graphic sex scenes, but I certainly don't think a little more gratuitous cheesecake could hurt, given that the book is already aimed at an older audience.

Aside from the artwork, RED ONE book 1 doesn't blow me away. I'll give it another chance with the second volume, though -- Dodson has indicated that there will be one book a year, and at the very reasonable cover price I'm willing to see where things go next. So hopefully I'll have a more favorable opinion around this time next year.

Available now from Amazon.

* In another absurd example of the weird dichotomy regarding the audience of this title, the cover of the European edition is reprinted inside the Image album, but Vera's butt has been recolored to appear covered by panties (though there are no lines so it looks very odd). Are we to believe all the adults reading this thing are okay with profanity and adult themes, but would be scandalized by a naked posterior? Isn't this exactly the sort of prudishness the main character is fighting against in the story itself??


  1. I'm interested in the '70s and '80s fundamentalist movement, and I love Terry Dodson's art, but making the fundamentalists outright bad and the free-spirited liberal outright good just sounds lazy.

    And the idea of a modern Image comic featuring "editorial swimwear" is insane.

    1. Yeah, I don't know what Image does and doesn't allow with regards to nudity, as I really don't read any of their comics, but it seems really bizarre to censor a naked butt inside a collection. On the cover I'd understand at least, but not within a shrink-wrapped book.