Red One #1
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 enlightened and liberated lot. Or maybe that was just the 70s. At any rate those silly but highly dangerous Yanks 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 debut 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 atmosphere and cheesecake aspects of the decade like this comic was the script of 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 from the script of writer Xavier Dorison, but it sometimes feels like an over-earnest imitation of the informal speech patterns of most 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 resizing or rearranging the balloons.
The comic's protagonist Vera Yelnikov could be described as a Rule 63-inspired, Soviet-era version of James Bond meets Captain America. She's a bombshell drawn by the very people who used to draw Wonder Woman during Allan Heinberg's aborted run. Which is to say that Vera's clearly meant to be ogled by the reader. But she's no vacuous sex symbol, she's the 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 co-workers and superiors at the Kremlin.
For all of these reasons, Vera is sent to infiltrate American Society in order to play the part of a superhero. A costumed vigilante called The Carpenter has been murdering disreputable Hollywood types. This has the party bosses worried that such criminal behavior might inspire a new wave of puritanism, which in turn could reignite the Cold War. So they assign Vera to masquerade as another local 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 Reagan-era America in the 80s. And it panders to the view that Americans on the whole 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 recreating the seductive Californian milieu and in their portrayal of a fresh-faced Vera as an innocent abroad.