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Monday, March 20, 2017

Red Range. Joe R. Lansdale (Writer), Sam J. Glanzman (Art), Jorge Blanco, Jok (Colours), Douglas Potter (Letters). It's Alive! (2017)

A superbly controlled explosion of a comic, deeply engaging, hugely enjoyable and utterly fearless in execution. A violent Klu Klux Klan attack on a farm is interrupted by The Red Mask, a Black man who drives of the Klansmen and rescues a boy from the well. The Red Mask takes the boy to his hideout and the Klansmen regroup and set out on his trail. After another massively violent confrontation the survivors continue the pursuit and find themselves somewhere completely unexpected. There is just as much trouble and violence in the new location and while the book ends on a "To be continued" note, the story is pretty much complete in itself.
Joe R. Lansdale's writing is extraordinary, rich and astonishingly expressive, the dialogue is virtually a character in its own right. This wonderful language gives the cast a vivid and substantial life, they stride off the page into the reader's imagination with force and vigour. It is never overwrought or ornamental, it is absolutely what the cast should say if they were articulate enough to say it. They are revealed and elevated by the writing and this is vital to the impact and grip of the story.
A plainer story would vanish into the powerful dynamic of racial violence that unfolds in the pages of Red Range, the cast would be struggling to stand out against the terrible forces that they are involved with. Instead they are utterly at home in the context, their actions arising naturally from their lives and extraordinary expensiveness channels the energy of the situation directly into the cast instead of at them. Joe R. Lansdale firmly puts people at the centre of the action, they are entirely responsible for what they do, even when the context for that action changes as completely as it does, the human cast are still the driving force and focus for the story.
Sam J. Glanzman's art is the perfect match for the energy and rhythm of the writing,the cast never are overwhelmed by the writing, they embody it and bring out every subtle nuance and expression that lie within it. The very diverse cast, swapping roles as hunters and prey as the narrative shifts and the actions flows, respond to the changes with expressive body language and faces. The range of the art, from horrifying violence to intimate close ups, is always drawn with stunning details that capture the reader and add consistent depth and physical force to the story.
While the original edition of Red Range was in black and white, the colouring buy Jorge Blanco, Jok is stunning. It adds a vital dimension to the story, bringing out the details of the art and increases the impact of the violent action. Douglas Potter' letters are easy and natural on the page, the sound effects are hugely important and dramatically effective. They sharpen the action to a cutting edge that is exactly what it should have.
Racial hatred that spawns a vicious and intractable cycle of violence and revenge is an always relevant and potent topic which is exactly the problem with trying to create stories about it. The topic is so raw that any creative hesitation will become fatally compromising, equally, those willing go the distance required to honestly engage with the topic runs the risk  of driving uncommitted readers away from the book. There are no rules for talent however as Red Range proves, as uncompromising as the topic and with bleak, laugh out loud humour it is wholly true to itself and takes narrative risks that would sink a less talented team of creators. The abrupt change of context works without a ripple because the essentials of the story continue. The ferocity of the theme is balanced expertly by the ferocity of the humour and that balance creates the space for the story to be told.
This is a brilliant comic, burning hot fiction that never takes itself seriously and takes the reader very seriously indeed.

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