The Comic You Should Be Reading This Week: ‘Red Team’ #1

There were a lot of great books this week: Great Pacific had its fourth, twisty issue and we’ll have an interview with Joe Harris about the book later today; the first issue of Snapshot sets up what looks to be something a lot more complicated (and troubling) than its initial premise would indicate; Green Arrow #17 gives that book a fresh start. All of these are highly recommended.

Red Team is the best this week, though, because it does something we never thought it would do: Namely, restore some faith in Garth Ennis.

Ennis has written several classic books: Preacher, Hitman, and his work on the Max version of The Punisher all spring to mind.

But with a lot of his more recent work, Ennis has trended towards self-parody. In Preacher, the gore and gross situations worked in the context of the book, especially since there was a larger point to it. In books like, say, Ninjettes or The Boys, the sex and violence tended to be for its own sake, or for shock value, and it just got tiresome. When you can peg everything that you’ll find in a book not because of the concept or the plot, but because of the name on the cover, that’s a problem.

Red Team, however, is defined by its restraint. The book itself is serious: The plot follows four police officers who’ve finally had enough of a local criminal mastermind, and go to the other side of the law, murdering him in cold blood. There’s no people obsessed with fetish porn, no weirdly scarred horrors, no exploding heads. There’s not even any gore, really.

Instead it’s a look at how just, righteous people can, ever so subtly, and then not so subtly, lose their way. The fundamental point of the book is that laws don’t exist to be inconvenient, and it actually ties in with Ennis’ favorite subject: Namely, that people who think they get to decide what’s right are vastly more dangerous than criminals who know they’re monsters.

Craig Cermak’s art is solid, but he’s mostly being asked to keep it restrained; the book is very script-focused and heavy on the dialogue, but Cermak does get to play with layout in a few places. One hopes Ennis will give Cermak some room to show off later in the series. Adriano Lucas actually does a good, subtle job with the coloring, bringing out texture in Cermak’s art.

Overall, it’s a noir story with a lot of potential, from a writer we’d thought had lost the concept of restraint. If you like crime stories or hard-edged noir, check it out.