Pencils and Colors by Terry Dodson
Inks by Rachel Dodson
Letters by Clayton Cowles
Red One starts from the conceit that America's neighbors from across The Pond are a far more liberated lot. Or maybe that was just the 70s. At any rate those silly Americans are kind of childish for still believing in superheroes. Why, they even make movies about them. Something has to be done about that for the sake of world peace. The central premise of the series is absurd and over-the-top, but I'm not entirely sure from this premiere if it's meant to work as a parody or a homage, or some clumsy marriage of both.
The art team of Terry and Rachel Dodson seem to be playing it straight, effortlessly capturing the kitschy and cheesecake atmosphere of the decade like this comic was just one more exploitative action adventure film. The colors acquire a washed out, nostalgic glow when the setting moves to 1977 Southern California, imbuing the place with a certain dated glamour.
Where the comic disappoints is in the dialogue, which is clunky and unrealistic. This may have something to do with translating the script from writer Xavier Dorison, but it sometimes feels like an over-earnest imitation of the informal speech patterns of Americans. What Hollywood starlet vents her frustration at her critics by screaming "I'm going to smash their peasant heads in!"? This is exacerbated by half the word balloons being crowded by too much text. This again may be a translation issue, but it results in some very slapdash lettering which could have been solved by rearranging the word balloons.
The comic's protagonist Vera Yelnikov could be described as a Rule 63-inspired, Soviet-era version of James Bond. She's a bombshell drawn by the very people who used to draw Wonder Woman during Gail Simone's run. Which is to say that Vera's clearly meant to be ogled by the reader. But she's no vacuous sex symbol, but her country's top operative. Smart, capable, and supremely athletic to the point of being possibly a super soldier. Vera's a free spirit involved in a polyamorous relationship with an expecting couple, plus a few other hanger-ons. She has no problem inducting complete strangers into the Mile High Club, but stops at sleeping with her superiors at the Kremlin.
For all of these reasons, Vera is sent to infiltrate America Society in order to play the part of a superhero. A costumed vigilante called The Carpenter has been murdering disreputable Hollywood types. The party bosses are so worried that his activities will inspire a new wave of puritanism, which in turn reignite the Cold War. So they assign Vera to pretend to masquerade as another American do-gooder so she can provide a more rational counterpoint.
Needless to say, the story is a not-so-subtle commentary on the connection between violence, sexual repression, and religious extremism, not to mention the rising tide of social and political conservatism that would come to dominate the 80s. And it panders to the view that Americans are somewhat naive in their idealism, making them a tad suggestible to things like men and women in tights. At the same time, there's an admiration for that very naïveté that comes across in Dodsons' love for portraying the Californian landscape and in their portrayal of a fresh-faced Vera as an innocent abroad.