Pullbox Reviews: John Carpenter’s Tales of Science Fiction: Redhead #3 – Just a head poppin’ good time!

What do you do with a girl like Marnie- who involuntarily kills anyone who steps into her personal space? Do you try to cure her? Imprison her? Weaponize her? Marnie, meanwhile, desperately wants to stop killing innocent (and not-so-innocent) people, which means a mad scramble through a police blockade and into the only empty areas left in San Diego… which aren’t as empty as Marnie thinks…

Chances are, you know someone a lot like Marnie Young. Probably (hopefully) not the involuntarily killing people part… just in general. A receptionist for an architectural firm in sunny California, she has a wide circle of friends on social media (most of whom she’s never actually met), she’s well liked at work (so long as she’s behind her reception desk… otherwise few even know who she is), and she has a cat (who, Marnie is fairly certain, in the case of her untimely death would eat her corpse without even waiting for it to cool).

How does such a painfully average person wind up on the run from the police & the CDC? That part happened pretty quickly and without much by way of warning, as soon as people started dying- pretty spectacularly, I have to add- when they stepped across an invisible boundary that surrounds her & is getting bigger by the day. What started out at three feet, then expanded to around nine feet, and is currently sitting at about thirty-four feet has complicated things for Marnie, beyond the telling of it. Her only apparent ally is the mysterious voice on the phone, the ingeniously nicknamed (by Marnie) “Infectious Disease Guy”, who seems to be trying to lead her safely away from danger… or possibly closer to it?

I realize that, in general, I tend to be pretty positive in my reviews. I get a lot of comics sent my way, & I focus mainly on the good ones rather than talk down about a title that might not have worked for me, personally. There are enough crap flingers (I believe the kids these days are calling them “trolls”) in the world, & I just choose not to participate by following my grandma’s advice… “If you can’t say something nice, keep yer trap shut” (love & miss you, meemaw). So to put this particular title into perspective on my sliding scale of awesome, it’s a stand out among stand outs.

Narrated in the voice of Marnie Young, victim of circumstance and harbinger of doom, writer Duane Swierczynski gives readers a front row seat to the worst couple of days in the young lady’s life. Often near panicked & occasionally laugh out loud hilarious, Marnie is doing her very best not to wipe out half of San Diego. Swierczynski does an outstanding job of making Marnie a wholly relatable character, as well as an entertaining one. It’s a pretty fine line to walk, as I’d have to think that the average person would be nothing but tears & F-bombs if something even remotely comparable were to happen to them. Marnie does drop her fair share of (insert expletive here), but she manages to keep putting one foot in front of the other. And despite everything she’s seen & experienced (just think about your response to being surrounded by exploding heads everywhere you go), Marnie still worries about the deaths she’s caused in her flight through the city.

As well as being an interesting character to follow along on her misadventure, Marnie breaks her share of rules just to keep us on our toes. Swierczynski is going with a first-person perspective in his narrative boxes as Marnie herself tells her story. Simple enough & not all that uncommon, but in what I thought was a hilarious & engaging storytelling ploy on Swierczynski’s part, she at one point talks directly to the readers. Truly believing that she’s about to be killed in the second issue, Marnie apologizes to anyone who may have pre-ordered all five issues of the series… and even suggests that they may be able to get at least a partial refund if they were to go to their local comic shop to plead their case. It’s a great bit that caught me off guard and got me wondering: Is this some kind of foreshadowing? Is Marnie really killing anyone who gets too close to her? Is Swierczynski just having a bit of fun with his readers? We’re all just gonna have to continue on with the series to find that out.

Now this would be where I generally say some nice things about the artistic team & all of the pretty pictures. Instead, I’m going to rant excessively about how friggin amaze-balls the art for Redhead is! In what looks like a blend of traditional & digital techniques, Jason Felix has elevated the act of illustrating a comicbook and produced something that’s right at the cusp of photo-realism. Please understand, I have nothing but the highest respect for anyone able to kick out 24 pages of visual content consistently enough to fill out a monthly title. That respect multiplies when the work done is this damn good. I’ve seen artists able to render figures and backgrounds this well, so long as they were standing still. Felix ups the ante by having the skill to put bodies in motion, giving the entire setting a dynamic look. The action never just sits on the page and leaves it up to the reader to fill in the flow. I realize that Felix is working off of photo references… there’s no other way I can conceive that he could convey so many distinctive facial features & expressions… & if I’m wrong I will publicly apologize to the man, but the presentation is just so damn smooth here. In my humble opinion, there’s a very good chance that “Jason Felix” is actually a pseudonym for some kind of Artificial Intelligence using comicbooks to weaken humanity & pave the way for our machine overlords.

And then there’s the lettering… Janice Chiang is doing more than just setting type for Swierczynski’s script. If she had anything to do with the sound effects (not always the case, I’ve recently discovered, depending on the artist involved), not to mention the gratuitous sampling of graffiti present in issue #3, her contribution to Redhead goes a long way toward setting the tone of the story. I’ve mentioned it in the past, as my tens of readers can attest, but it’s always worth repeating: The letterer is the unsung hero of comics and their work goes largely unnoticed, especially if they’re doing it well. Word balloons hanging out in the middle of a panel can interrupt the action on the page, break down the mood an artist is working toward, and just annoy a reader in general. If you’re not sure about what bad lettering looks like, it’s because you’re fortunate enough not to have run across it.

Fans of this type of anthology series, with stories told in five issue arcs, aren’t going to take this much convincing, but I often get excited when I’m putting up a review for a book I really like. And I don’t know if it’s been stated, but I really, really like this book. Redhead is telling a story that may do better in a single sitting binge (ie: trade paperback), but it’s a great story nonetheless. I may revisit John Carpenter’s Tales of Science Fiction: Redhead for review in a month with the fourth issue comes out, but as it stands now I find very little here that isn’t rave worthy.

Final Score: 13 (in layman’s terms, “whoa…”)

(Note: I didn’t have any sample pages from issue 3 available to include for review, but I had to show you something! So here are some pages from issue 2… enjoy)

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