Dying in Florida is a great American nightmare.
It’s the crux of Flannery O’ Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard To find,” a ghoulish morsel of a story about a bossy grandmother’s aversion to the Sunshine State and the murderer it harbors. “I wouldn’t take my children in any direction with a criminal like that aloose in it,” she insists. “I couldn’t answer to my conscience if I did.”
While the unnamed grandmother in O’Connor’s story was talking about a very specific murderer known as the Misfit, she could’ve been easily referring to the characters in Redlands, an addictive, caustic comic book about a horrific little town in Florida.
Writer Jordie Bellaire and artist Vanessa R. Del Rey’s story reveals itself in the chewed-up town of Redlands, Florida, circa 1977. The town is rotting from the inside out. The men in charge of the police force are crooked, some of them racist, and they’ve tilted everything in their favor.
Now, a coven of witches wants to hear what it sounds like when powerful men have their necks snapped.
Redlands, now on its seventh issue (the first six have been collected in a trade paperback), is about a trio of witches seeking to recreate the titular town into something better by flexing their immense power, oftentimes violently. And Redlands does not flinch in the tendon-curling horror of that power: Del Rey’s art is gruesome and grisly — decapitation tends to be that way — but there’s a sophisticated elegance to it, as Del Rey elevates images of body horror, demons, and Satan into something chillingly mythical.
Fighting misogyny and racism with violent magic is an ostensible power fantasy. In these times especially, when we can’t seem to escape the news that the world is full of bad people, predominantly men, who violate women in shadows and are never punished, there’s something queasily poignant about reclaiming that violence and creating new institutions (or covens, if you will) to fight back.
But there’s something wilder going on in Redlands, too.
Redlands has yet to make entirely clear why these witches have specifically chosen this Floridian enclave, or what exactly drives them (sex? power? immortality? sex, power, and immortality?), nor do we really know what kind of rulers they’ll be. So while there’s something inherently satisfying in seeing the gruesome and terrifying befall the people, predominantly men, who deserve it, it’s a punishment the witches are not in complete control of; the coven is just a small taste of the wickedness in Redlands’s suffocating world.
In later issues, as we get to know what makes the witches tick, we see glimmers of their humanity, and inevitably their own vulnerability, too. In Redlands, there are beings, both human and inhuman, who are looking for their own kind of justice and retribution, and seeking to dispense their own kind of horror upon the world. Suffice to say, most of them don’t have the same moral baseline the witches do.
With each issue, Bellaire and Del Rey unfurl the bloody bits of the coven’s past, taking readers on a seductive ride into the horrifying witches’ den. Throw in the natural horrors of their vision of Redlands, Florida, and it makes for a perfect comic book read this Halloween season.