Publisher: Image Comics
Writer: Donny Cates
Artwork: Lisandro Estherren, Dee Cunniffe (colours)
Release Date: 19th April 2017
The Bowmans are your typical Texans. With three generations of the same family living in a cabin in a small town, they pretty much keep themselves to themselves, quietly running the local BBQ joint and doing their best to stay out of trouble. Oh, and they’re also Vampires, living on a mixture of cow’s blood and paint thinner to try and keep their blood-sucking urges under control for the rest of their unending lives.
What’s perhaps most interesting about this new Image Comics series is writer Donny Cates’ matter-of-fact delivery of the central premise. Rather than some convoluted, elaborate reveal, the fact that the Bowman family are vampires is explained by the second panel as we quickly move past that to focus on the characters themselves. The interactions between the different family members – siblings Seamus, Greg, Slap and Perry, their father JV and their gruff, wordly uncle Bartlett – feel genuinely authentic throughout, and much like Cates’ work on God Country, it’s the characters rather than the story that really helps this series to resonate.
This first issue does a stellar job of introducing us to Bartlett as he sits on the front porch, knocking back a “Bloodweiser” with his casually mind-reading niece and reminiscing about his time spend at the Alamo and as part of the Civil War. No series works if you don’t care about the people involved, and while we don’t really know all that much about Bartlett thus far, the one thing we do know – the strength of his loyalty towards his family – is more than enough to make us become deeply invested in his story.
When the three brothers head into town to blow off a little steam in a local “titty bar” on Christmas Eve, things rapidly escalate, tearing open some deep-rooted tensions with another local family and painting a massive bullseye on the Bowmans and their vampiric ways in the process.
More than merely a cookie-cutter tale about Vampires, this is very much a story about family, and of one particular family trying their best to bury their past and prove that they’re not the monsters they may be viewed as. It’s about trying to be better than the cards you’re dealt, and – from this first issue, at least – the inherent futility involved in that process.
Visually, Lisando Estherren is a perfect choice to render the gritty, grimy East Texas landscape, and his messy, organic pencils really help to underscore the decades of wear and tear on the character’s faces. There’s a slightly exaggerated quality to his character design that really helps add dynamism to the latter pages of this issue, particularly during the tense, emotive exchange outside the bar that’s likely to serve as the chief catalyst for the remainder of the series. Dee Cunniffe matches the mood of the story perfectly with his remarkably restrained colour palette, painting the night time scenes in dark blues and reds before gradually shifting to oranges and pale reds as morning breaks.
We’re only four months into 2017, and I’m pretty much ready to call this as Donny Cates’ year. With this fantastic new series, as well as his stellar work on God Country (not to mention his upcoming Aftershock Comics series Babyteeth), Cates has cemented his place as one of the hottest writers in comics today, and I absolutely can’t wait to see where he takes this latest series in the months to come.
While at first glance this might look like just another vampire tale, Redneck is actually a story about family and the struggles involved in trying to break an age-old cycle of violence and hatred. It’s also all but guaranteed to sink its teeth into you from the very first page. Highly, highly recommended.
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