Required Reading is DoomRocket’s love chest, opened twice monthly to champion a book we just can’t seem to get enough of. This week Arpad recommends the first collected edition of ‘Redlands’, out April 4 from Image Comics.

Cover to 'Redlands' TPB. Art by Vanesa Del Rey and Jordie Bellaire/Image Comics

Cover to ‘Redlands’ TPB. Art by Vanesa Del Rey and Jordie Bellaire/Image Comics

By Arpad Okay. A visceral reaction to our world given shape, transmuted into a complicated, turbulent, but coherent serial tale, is a triumph against the odds. Redlands is such a victory, hewn from raw emotion by master storytellers. Jordie Bellaire, Vanesa Del Rey, and Clayton Cowles have created a 21st century Carnival of Souls: high art catharsis by industry veterans, an inexplicable mystery rooted in humanity’s darkness, just as destined for cult status.

How can you sum up Redlands? An ever-shifting story of witches, demons, murderers, ghosts, magic, and molestation. Each step forward into the tale clarifies and obfuscates. When a coven takes over a redneck town via mass murder, the impact radius of twisted lives is vast. At the center of Redlands’ mystery are two women. Bridget: “I believe in a woman’s mission to challenge all those who stand in the way of her absolute freedom and power.” Nancy: “I’m just some ghost that none of you bothered to look for.” Both have a past, a web stretching back through time made up of the lives they’ve touched. Bring them together and each point where their lives connect becomes a crossroads on fire.

Each successive issue reveals to the reader that there is far more going on in the shadows than previously suspected. You can parse out the clues if you read it close, but don’t expect answers; they aren’t coming. Redlands isn’t about what you think. It’s about what you feel.

The emotions driving Redlands, however, are crystal clear. It’s rage and it’s lust, combined into passion. Beauty and blight. The rail on which the story rides is the creative team’s collective disgust and vitriol against the world of men. Our world. Redlands is a monstrous daydream that takes a hammer to the chains of the patriarchy, and then the patriarchs.

This mingling of revulsion and the erotic is balanced perfectly by the artwork of Vanesa Del Rey. She knows how to eke evil out of the shadows and off the page. A single panel, a child’s mask shed, and what’s behind — all horns and claws and long teeth, this static nightmare image has more potency than all the jump scares in the world. Del Rey shows equal talent in arousal, fervent and real, and knows how to depict tangible, authentic pain. Redlands is the fragility of the human body. Under the pen of Vanesa Del Rey, its bruises ache, its wounds swell and weep.

Jordie Bellaire colors to the mood her writing invokes: after dark. The true blacks are reserved for the ocean of darkness with the witches, the basement prison in the house built by men. The tone of Redlands, Florida, and points continental isn’t an absolute umbra. Bellaire’s magic touch paints a world in which our eyes have adjusted to the night, are open to the available light. Her brew is the murk in which monsters dwell.

This is the theme the reader is obliged to suss out, to identify the true evils within a city of fiends. Ostensibly the witches who take over Redlands do so to protect it, to cleanse it. From what? From men. That’s not the existential question. Even at the sisters’ worst, men outdo them. Mutilation, murder, monsters, it all pales in comparison to the depravity within the mind of man and in the world he’s created.

The open-ended question is, do the witches succeed? They are in bed with sex traffickers. The town they’ve founded is a magnet for monstrosity, a debt paid in blood to demons. Yet in my heart I believe it is better than the alternative. Their actions, no matter how harrowing, speak directly to my antipathy towards the toxic, despotic creature that is American masculinity. These questions aren’t for the witches to answer. They’re for me. Why am I cool with witches massacring men when I am appalled by men ravaging women? What made the world come to the point where one feels justified because of the other? What am I going to do about it?

Image Comics/$9.99

Written by Jordie Bellaire.

Art by Vanesa Del Rey.

Colors by Jordie Bellaire.

Letters by Clayton Cowles.

‘Redlands Vol. 1’ TP hits stores April 4.