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Jordie Bellaire's Redlands tells a horror story of feminine revenge
The opening sequence of Jordie Bellaire and Vanessa Del Rey's Redlands shows us a small town in Florida under siege by unknown forces. A group of policemen is holed up in a station at night, with several prisoners kept in the basement for crimes unknown. The men are afraid and angry, vowing that they'll take back their town from what we infer are a group of mysterious, as-yet-unseen women. A young girl appears alone and is brought in, only to have the man who rescued her quite literally lose his head. In the basement, those kept in captivity assure the men that they'll all be dead soon. Within the next handful of pages, three witches appear and prove this to be true.
From the first pages, this is a story of specifically feminine revenge. One officer calls women by derogatory terms while another uses the typical “asking for it” line that has been used to condone violence against women for as long as any of us can remember. We the audience know that their deaths are justifiable without even seeing the full extent of what they've done. Our sympathy is with the witches despite their horrific acts of violence against these men. Beginning here, the narrative discards the narrative of the male killer or stalker and focuses instead on women stepping into a place of power, and by doing so, it gives us a whole new kind of horror story.
Redlands focuses on a coven of three women — Bridget, Ro, and Alice, all of whom lived long ago and became immortal when given the chance by a demonic man who we assume to be the devil. There are plenty of holes yet to be revealed in their origins, but they all share a necessary loyalty to the entity that granted them their power. After the chaotic opening sequence in which they burn the town of Redlands very nearly to the ground, we see them years later, having rebuilt it in their own image. They are law enforcement officers due to the level of power it grants them rather than any belief in the law.
The three women are taunted by a standard serial killer who murders young women in theatrical ways to gain their attention. Quickly, he is killed by Bridget's love Laurent, who tosses him to the alligators. Sadly, this is not before Bridget sustains an injury that sees her possessed by a young woman named Nancy who had been murdered. Nancy uses Bridget's body to take her vengeance on the men that hurt her, but when that occurs, a new individual who has been wronged and given a violent death appears in Bridget's consciousness.
While the primary story of Redlands focuses on these acts of revenge, the subplots show us how human these omnipotent witches have become. Ro has adopted a spider given human form nicknamed Itsy, who appears to be a young girl but who hides her many eyes behind a set of sunglasses. Laurent and Itsy have tender bonding moments with one another while the women are out investigating homicides. Ro was never fully interested in becoming a witch and was forced into it by circumstance and her disinterest in serving her dark lord's commands is obvious. Meanwhile, Alice has a ne'er-do-well girlfriend whose personal problems stand in the way of their relationship developing into anything more real.
Though a story about specifically feminine vengeance, Redlands is full of complexity. Despite their power and autonomy, the witches are still enthralled by an ancient God, possibly the Devil, who is male and who makes it clear that in his eyes, he owns them. This is not a spell that is broken within the series, though they clearly rebel against it. By indicating that their independence still comes to them conditionally, the story speaks volumes about the way that marginalized genders can occasionally make a forward motion in attaining equal rights only to have those rights revoked whenever it becomes inconvenient to a patriarchal world. That the system still keeps us in its grasp regardless of what we do is one of the heavier concepts that the series lays down, though it is not fully explored within the series.
Yet this rebellion is not a violent one. In fact, it's the small acts of love and tenderness that forms the greatest resistance to the devil's whims. While they have a passing interest in the man that supposedly “fathered” them, when he comes to ask favors of them, they try to shrug him off, showing that they've far outgrown their roles as his coven of wronged women. Their bonds have been with one another and not with him. Alice's lover and ‘Ro's child take precedence in their hearts, while Brigette is possessed and on her own quest of vengeance. This infuriates him, leading to the final issue being a monologue during which he attempts to reassert his control over them. Yet, it's clear even as he speaks over the events of their lives that he has become hopelessly alienated from them.
Redlands is one of those many comic series that ended way too soon, but there's always a chance for more volumes and the creative team has certainly stayed busy in the meantime. The set-up could sustain many more issues to come, so here's hoping we haven't seen the end of this story.
Still, as it stands, Redlands is a unique examination of characters that operate almost entirely outside of our world's morality. By imagining creatures that are not beholden to man's laws, who take vengeance as it is earned and don't question the righteousness, they are haunting and terrifying, but in some ways, for the women who have suffered from the violence of the patriarchy over centuries, they also manage to come across as a little bit heroic, too.