Danny: The Red Wing feels like the first full-on sci-fi comic I’ve read in a good long while. I mean, a lot of comics have sci-fi elements (you can pretty much look at any of Jonathan Hickman’s other recent work), but very few of them actually bring in the milieu of the genre, with helmets and sci-fighter pilots.
Nick: Europe does, for whatever reason, seem to be more receptive to this kind of thing, with Moebius, Heavy Metal and 2000 AD all looming large.
Danny: I assume these comics happen all the time in France. Here, not so much.
Nick: But there’s still a very American throughline here, with The Red Wing reading like a cross between Battlestar Galactica and The Time Machine. I say that it’s an American throughline because the heart of this story is the connection between family and rugged independence. The story centers around two young cadets who we learn are the children of two iconic pilots from the early era of the Red Wings. That aspect makes The Red Wing similar to Battlestar Galactica and its themes of living up to legacies and staying true to your family above all other connections
Danny: As such, the plot jumps back and forth between the book’s present with the sons and the past with the fathers, which is a great idea because it gives us time battles (?) instead of forcing us to wait through time pilot school along with the cadets.
Nick: The beginning throws you right into that action, too, with minimal set-up. You’re tricked into thinking the pilots you’re viewing at the beginning are the main characters until one of them is hit, causing his time shield to be disrupted and leading to his accelerated aging and eventual disintegration into dust. That panel blew me away for its economy of storytelling and just for the sheer brutality of it.
Danny: Which is a brilliant page. Even if you don’t connect with the characters yet in The Red Wing, you can appreciate the insane layouts that Hickman and Nick Pitarra come up with.
Nick: It’s the kind of image that hooks you in completely. I’ll admit I was a bit wary of Nick Pitarra’s art up until that moment because I thought he just didn’t have the kind of meticulous detail I expected this book to have.
Nick: But with that page, he silences that minor complaint by treating us to some full-on 2000 AD style darkness and mindfuckery. The look on that pilot’s face alone sells it for me, as it’s in between awe and resignation.
Danny: Pitarra’s art isn’t my favorite art ever, but I think he’s quite good. He strikes me as one of those artists who’d draw an Avatar book with Warren Ellis. In which case he’d be one of his better artists, but not quite his best. But the way he totally nails that rapid aging layout on Page 7 immediately makes him one to watch.
Danny: Such a great sequence, simultaneously fucked up and hilarious. Looking at Pitarra’s blog, his sketches have a very Frank Quitely vibe to them, which I definitely get from that page.
Nick: My problem with Pitarra is mainly that I find his work a little lifeless. Rachelle Rosenberg’s coloring also tends to make his work feel very muted, which is unfortunate because I feel like this is exactly the kind of book that should be bursting with color.
Danny: On the “trick” note, I love that the cover is a broken helmet. I really hope that’s a signal that Hickman’s really going to continue to play with our sci-fi expectations. And, since this is a crazy time travel thing, I’m almost positive he will.
Nick: I, too, loved the iconic cover. But I have a weakness for minimalism like that, with just the simple image and the swaths of white space.
Danny: On a somewhat related note, look at this variant cover for #1 by Dustin Weaver:
Nick: That cover is so freaking awesome.
Danny: But yeah, a lot of the book is steel corridor sci-fi coloring, though you get glimpses of lovely blues, greens and reds in the first scene. Maybe Butcher Baker and Infinite Vacation used up all the colors. BREAKING: Image Comics is out of colors!
Nick: Butcher Baker probably broke the entire quota system. Bringing up the rest of Image is a nice way to segue into something I wanted to discuss, which is the fact that Image is in some ways sparking a kind of sci-fi renaissance of sorts. Outside of The Red Wing there’s the aforementioned Infinite Vacation, and to a certain extent Nick Spencer’s breakout series Morning Glories, as well as Nonplayer.
Danny: I was actually thinking about that when we started this review. Image has really been running the gamut of sci-fi lately.
Nick: What I find especially interesting about all of those titles being published by Image is the way they all deal with escape through alternate or manipulated timelines/realities. When you get down to it, they all share this basic idea of not accepting your current reality. Here in The Red Wing it manifests as a son’s refusal to believe that his father died merely because there’s a tiny chance that he could have survived where others have not. In Nonplayer, it’s a gamer refusing to live in the real world. And in Infinite Vacation, it’s all about a slacker guy vacationing in the him of other realities and ignoring the responsibilities and truth of his own reality.
Danny: And with Morning Glories it’s hard to tell yet what Spencer’s up to, but there is a lot of crazy timeline stuff going on nonetheless.
Nick: There is some escape in that series as well, albeit in a more mental form, but yes, there is also the hinted at alternate timeline/reality/future weirdness. Hickman is particularly suited for this kind of exploration, though, as it’s the mentality that he has brought to his Fantastic Four work, returning that book to his sci-fi bend. And both The Red Wing and Fantastic Four/FF are built around this notion of hope against all odds when it comes to family.
Danny: Nearly all of Hickman’s work is about big sci-fi ideas. It’s like he can’t write a small-scale book. Instead, every new Jonathan Hickman comic feels like it’s the most important thing in the world to him. I have yet to see the guy rest on his laurels, which makes him one of the most exciting writers working today.
Nick: It’s refreshing, isn’t it? You and I have talked before about how with pop comics there is occasionally this urge amongst writers to scale back because smaller stories are deemed somehow more important
And then you’ve got people like Joe Casey, Matt Fraction and now Jonathan Hickman and Nick Spencer just driving full bore all the time. Surprisingly none of these guys have really sacrificed characterization for that kind of scope. All of their stories are extremely character-driven.
Danny: Exactly. Despite all the crazy hi
gh concepts of Red Wing, the story is just as much tied to these two kids stepping into their dads’ shoes.
Nick: With the added bonus of dinosaurs and aliens
Danny: Especially once we start following one of those dads. One of whom seems to have crash landed in a Rick Remender comic, complete with castaway beard and Tony Moore-style look of horror.
Nick: Yeah, that moment was reminiscent of Fear Agent in the best possible way.
Danny: There’s an old pulpy adventure element that I totally didn’t expect, which offsets the slick sci-fi “present” of the book quite nicely.
Nick: I imagine what we’ll get treated to next is the two generations heading towards each other through time and I can’t wait to see that in action.
Danny: That would be awesome.
Nick: I do wonder about how these aliens entered the picture. Did we steal the time travel technology from them? Did they steal it from us? Did we both simultaneously discover it and decide to go after each other’s pasts?
Danny: I love Pitarra’s designs for the alien technology. Lots of tentacles and weird shapes, which gives a stark contrast to the humans’ boxy X-Wing type planes.
Nick: It’s another level of H.G. Wells referencing, a play on the Martians from War of the Worlds in some ways
Danny: It’s a little bit Wells, a little bit Matrix.
Those circular alien ships remind me of the giant robots tending to the fields of human pods in the first Matrix film.
Nick: Well, The Matrix ripped most of its stuff off from The Tripods Trilogy.
Nick: Yeah, I loved those books as a kid and when I saw The Matrix for the first time I was pretty confused. Obviously they made it more stylish and adult but most of the big ideas from The Matrix are lifted from it. Honestly not fanboy nitpicking there, guys, go read the Wiki and you’ll see what I mean. And I still love that first Matrix film because in a lot of ways it improved on the idea. All good art is stolen anyway.
Danny: Indeed. You can pretty much always look at a work and see the different threads that make it up. Red Wing included, of course. That’s part of the fun.
THE BIG SCORE
I can’t wait to see where the series goes next because I suspect it’s only going to get better.
Within a few pages my feelings skyrocketed from curiosity to straight-up excitement for this series.
I’m also a really big fan of helmets.
Nick: You and your headgear obsession.
Danny: You can probably blame Scott Summers and the Rocketeer for that.
Nick: Haha, you can’t blame Scott Summers for everything, Danny!
Danny: B-but… he made me the man I am today! Boring until the right writer comes along.
Danny Djeljosevic is a comic book writer, award-winning filmmaker (assuming you have absolutely no follow-up questions), film/music critic for Spectrum Culture and Co-Managing Editor of Comics Bulletin. Follow him on Twitter as @djeljosevic or find him somewhere in San Diego, often wearing a hat. Read his newest comic, “Sgt. Death and his Metachromatic Men,” over at Champion City Comics.
When he’s not writing about the cape and spandex set, Nick Hanover is a book, film and music critic for Spectrum Culture and a staff writer for No Tofu Magazine. He also translates for “Partytime” Lukash’s Panel Panopticon.