Review – Red Room: The Antisocial Network Vol 1 TP (Fantagraphics)

Publisher: Fantagraphics
Writer/Artist: Ed Piskor
Release Date: 12th October 2021

Live streaming murder for entertainment and donations, ‘Red Rooms’ are thriving in the shadowy recesses of the internet. Shrouded in the anonymity afforded them by the Dark Web and their cryptocurrency-funded backers, Red Rooms are impossible to trace, and as the perpetrators take on rockstar status with their ever increasing number of followers, the combined efforts of international law enforcement seem further and further from being able to identify and stop them.

I was lucky enough to read this series as each issue came out, but I made a conscious decision not to get my thoughts down on paper until I got my hands on the collected first volume. The reasoning behind this is that honestly, there is just so much to unpack and frankly it’s taken me this long to get over these first four issues!

I love all things horror. I am also a huge true crime fan. As an example, I recently sat and read Robert Cullen’s The Killer Department, which is the story of the hunt for Andrei Chikalito, one of the most disturbing and horrifying serial killers of all time. It was an incredibly harrowing experience, but this is what I do to relax.  It’s also pretty much the exact same way I felt when I got to the end of the first volume of Red Room.

I’m not going to sugar coat it… this is not a series for the faint of heart. I consider myself quite hardened and jaded, but there are moments here where even I had to stop and compose myself. I mean how do you try to process a scene where a brutally tortured man has his tongue pulled out through his empty eye socket?

Ed Piskor is a genius; he’s warped and deranged and should probably be locked up for his own safety, but he is a genius. As I’ve subtly suggested, you need to have a strong constitution to read this, but I was still left at the end of each issue eager to get the next one in my hands, and to be able to deliver that level of stomach-churningly disturbing shit consistently while leaving the reader eager for the next instalment is a skill in itself.

The Dark Web is a complete mystery to me. I’m aware it exists and that unspeakably dodgy shit happens there, but that’s as far as my knowledge goes, and I have no intention of ever expanding my knowledge. Without that rather specific knowledge, the nearest I can come to describing the impact of Red Room is a combination of the 2005 film Hostel and some of the darker seedier video nasties of the ’70s and ’80s. This is a series that will make your flesh crawl. It is disturbing, unsettling, and might make you puke in your mouth a little. I can also think of more than a few people for whom this would be right up their respective alleys.

Each of the four issues we’ve been given so far can be taken as a standalone story. However, there is also some incredibly skillful world building going on here. There are threads connecting threads and characters and situations being introduced that are clearly a set up for future story lines and plot devices. Blood, guts, gore and horror aside, I think that Piskor really has a great grasp of the serial killer mentality (and we should all be just a little bit worried about that), and I get the feeling that he’s read some of the same books that I have. There’s a lot of John Douglas, Mark Olshaker. and Robert K Ressler on my shelves, and if you just take the behaviours and motivations of the killers in this series in isolation it’s clear that Piskor hasn’t just read these books but most importantly he’s understood them, which is a completely different level.

Making the killers motivations more believable, makes them so much more interesting, and even when things are massively outrageously over the top, there’s always something believable in the background to keep you in the moment. For instance, our main antagonists, Mistress Pentagram and her siblings, are utterly terrifying, a mixture of those sadistic Deep South “gentry” you find in horror movies mixed with an S&M murder cult, with an almost religious control of their followers.

I’m not sure you can use the word protagonist in conjunction with anyone that we meet in this series, but for me I guess, Davis Fairfield and Raina Dukes would be about as close as you’d get, while being at completely opposite ends of the spectrum. Fairfield is a failing father and a grieving widow, the latter tipping him from a curious Red Room devotee to a full-blown killer in his own right. His actions catch the attention of Mistress Pentagram, who sets out to make him the best possible version of himself. Ironically, the support of Madam Pentagram finally allows him to be the father he always wanted to be.  Dukes on the other hand is a victim of one of the Red Room killers, the infamous “Donna Butcher”, who brutally murdered Raina’s father for the entertainment of her fans. Over the course of this tale, we see her devolve into exactly the thing she despises as she seeks her revenge.

The artwork throughout the series so far is just superb, with the horrors that we are subjected to panel by panel. I think a more “realistic” approach would have made it too hard to get through the first issue never mind the rest of the series. Piskor’s artwork is almost hypnotic in its grotesqueries, and you’ll likely find yourself dwelling far longer on some of these sights than can be good for you just because they are so amazingly well illustrated.

There are so many characters and story threads that we have had just the smallest glimpses of, such as the enigmatic “Poker Face”, that I can only imagine (and hope) that there are going to be many, many more issues of Red Room to come.  Simply put, this is far and away one of my favourite series of the year and I can’t wait to see more issues in the future and to see it go from strength to strength.

Rating: 5/5.

The writer of this piece was: Mark Scott
Mark Tweets from @macoy_comicgeek ‏

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