When Red One abruptly dropped off after two issues last year, I assumed that the plug had been pulled on this sexist, confusingly written book. After all, a two-issue arc is unusual at best in this country, and the reaction to this book was just shy of torches and pitchforks. So, when I saw it coming back, I had to review it. Did they take into account any of the criticism about the book’s anachronisms or sexualized pandering? As it turns out, not only was all of that criticism ignored, but it feels like they’ve actually doubled down on it. If nothing else, it makes the book sort of fun to hate, but I’m sort of alarmed that something this egregious could still be written and then brought back.
There is so much that’s off-putting or flat-out illogical in this book that critiquing the story is difficult. I’m confused how the Carpenter, who is supposed to be a product of far right-wing Christian evangelicals, is so comfortable with giving a woman an abortion, which exactly what he tries to do in the first five pages of the book. I know that that scene was supposed to show just what a bad guy he is, but setting aside how offensive it is, it makes no sense in character. Of course, even without bits like that, the bad guys in this series have about as much subtlety and nuance as Ann Coulter. What makes a bad guy in this series isn’t murder so much as stopping Red from having promiscuous sex; her Soviet leaders react with a rage almost equal to Jacky Core’s over the porno.
Structurally, because of the time that has passed since the last issue, over a year, it feels like the amount of expository narration here is far beyond what would normally be necessary. None of that helps you remember who the characters are (the pregnant woman? The old man, who I only remembered halfway into this), but it can spend a lot of time going over every minute detail of the movie the Carpenter used for inspiration. Indeed, the whole book is jam-packed with dialogue and exposition, but none of it is interesting. The bad guys talk about how bad sex is, Red talks about how good sex is, people around Red talk about how hot she is, and the commies and Jacky Core make plans. It goes on like this for forty pages.
I had hoped that given the amount of criticism this book inspired, it might change course a bit in the year since we last saw it. No such luck: there’s still plenty of ridiculous cheesecake and gratuitous nudity, which is most of this book’s selling point; all the humor comes back to Red being hot, up to and including a scene in which she awakens a man in a coma by disrobing in front of him. You can’t go more than a couple of panels without either a pinup shot or Red talking about getting laid. Kiss the widow at the funeral of the lesbian woman who was killed? Check. Eager to act in this porno (perhaps the worst thing to come out of this book)? Check.
This book wants to pretend that it’s progressive by making the bad guys so sexually repressive, but all it’s doing is confusing sexual empowerment with a hypersexual woman who exists almost solely for gratification. We’re getting lines like “I need time for a little sex. It’s fundamental so that I can maintain my level of combat!” In defending pornography, it’s managed to replicate its most poisonous trope. Tossing in one little bit of third-wave feminism makes no difference, because Red is nothing more than a sexualized fantasy of liberation.
As for the actual history that goes into this book…ugh. At least the premise of the book was clever when it all began: the increasingly conservative America was the dangerous power, and the Soviets were just trying to cool things down. But the book utterly fails to present its Soviet characters in even a remotely realistic sense. The Soviets were Marxists, first and foremost; it’s hard to imagine them seeing the media as the real power in the U.S., instead of capital. Media was simply a tool of capital in Marxist analyses. But that’s exactly what one leader says halfway through the book. Why are the Soviets savvy enough to be referring to Johnny Carson?
So, having gotten through everything I’ve just said, what is the story so far? To be honest, having read this, I’m still totally baffled as to what Red is doing. Jacky Core is working directly with the Carpenter, and is running for governor. Red wants to make a porn parody of the film the Carpenter drew his inspiration from…to do what? How will that stop them? The propaganda is still sort of there, but I’m baffled as to how she possibly thinks this will do anything other than incite the obviously violent fringe to just kill more people.
This comic might have the dubious distinction of being the worst comic I've read in all of 2016. When it's not confusing or bombarding you with heavy, repetitive dialogue and narration, it's sexist.
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Red One #3 Writer: Xavier Dorison Artist: Terry Dodson and Rachel Dodson Publisher: Image Comics Price: $2.99 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital