By Robert Larson
I’ve figured out Red One’s schtick. Imagine a hard-core pornographic film that had no sex in it: some initiating dialogue, a premise, but ultimately no payoff. That’s basically this book. It works at a literal level, because Vera keeps talking about sex but never actually having any (though we’re treated to a porno fluffer sequence that ranks up there with the most pointless moments in all of print media); it also works because we keep having this conflict between her and the Carpenter teased, but now the arc is over, and we wait another year for it to be finished. All promise and no payoff.
I don’t really want to summarize everything that happens here, so here it is as quickly as I can. Vera’s KGB contact in the US has been spying on her, but it’s almost immediately resolved; there are some action sequences (to the public, she’s too peaceful sometimes but too violent other times); she tries to learn about American comics and can’t understand the total absence of sex, and they try to make the porno film.
The humor is just so goddamned tired in this series. Superhero meta-humor isn’t exactly a new line of humor: cracking wise about some superhero’s genitals was old by the time Mallrats came out, and that was twenty years ago. At least we haven’t had to revisit that Bob Marley line from the first two issues.
I feel bad for the series tagline, “What if America’s greatest superhero was a Soviet spy?” Virtually nothing has been done with this idea. There's no real East vs. West in this series. I think the best thing that can be said about this issue is the level of visual smut has been reduced, but even though I hate that aspect, it is a selling point with some people, apparently.
And as for the plot, it’s still hopelessly impenetrable. They need to make the porno version of The Farm in order to stop Jacky Core from being elected governor and tanking the SALT Treaty? Never mind the fact that there’s no sign that in this America, a porno parody (which technically began in the ‘70s, but is, in reality, a phenomenon of the ‘90s and after) would somehow change the minds of a radically conservative press and voting public, one which is so far-right it keeps defending the Carpenter. If the people are that conservative, how the hell is a porno going to change their mind?
No, that’s stupid enough, but the real idiocy is the fact that Jacky Core, as governor of California (who has literally no legal ability to affect foreign policy), could somehow derail a treaty. How, might you ask? She’ll sit next to the Soviet head of state when it’s signed, and “anything could happen.” Seriously, that’s the reason. Perhaps she’ll call him a godless communist, and he’ll leave in a huff. But wait, don’t the Soviets want this treaty to go through, and will presumably do a great to make sure it happens, including weathering insults? Maybe Jacky will have the Carpenter murder them…but why don’t the Soviets just ask that it be held ANYWHERE ELSE? Or ask Vera to stop it, and skip the PR campaign?
The take on America has also been gradually bothering me, in no small part because it’s the worst kind of stereotypical European view of the United States. Yes, this is a conservative country, and as a pretty liberal person, that conservatism bothers me. But the vision of this country is one that is so pointlessly hateful and spiteful. Is it useful to make bigotry so cartoonish that it becomes unrecognizable? I can't help but think that just makes people say "No, it's not that bad," and then ignore the very real problems Americans have with sexism and homophobia. You don't have to be a Klansman to be racist, and you don't have to be murdering gay people to be homophobic.
And what is Xavier’s solution? To put boobs in superhero comics? To have superheroines fantasizing aloud about the size of the Hulk’s penis (yes, an actual moment in this book)? The idea that sexually available women everywhere would somehow make this country more tolerant is not only unspeakably idiotic; it’s ugly misogyny at its finest. I guess Americans don’t have the monopoly on sexism.
And now, once again, this series is on pause for a year. I shouldn’t be complaining given how much I mock this book, but it is awful storytelling to keep hitting the pause button. A year from now, anybody still reading this (and me, because I hate myself) will be trying to remember what the hell happened last time, and why we should care.
Red One #4
Writer: Xavier Dorison
Artist: Terry and Rachel Dodson
Publisher: Image Comics