Joe Lansdale and Sam Glanzman’s Red Range, released soon by new IDW imprint It’s Alive, earns its subtitle of “A Wild Western Adventure.” This is a thrilling, violent and very strange thrill ride with a heroic vigilante, some thoroughly evil KKK members and… a bunch of dinosaurs.
Dinosaurs, I hear you mumble. Dinosaurs? In a Western?
Of course there are dinosaurs in this everything-but-the -kitchen-sink story.
Our hero in this story is Red Mask, a kind of twist on the great American myth of the Lone Ranger. He’s the bravest, most straight-shooting hero in the classic American West, a tough-as-nails vigilante who fights the evil of the Klan. He has a vested interest in fighting that evil because he himself is black. In fact, Red Mask becomes a hero because he was nearly killed by the Klan: “So I stole some red cloth from Klan members, a horse. And I became Red Mask. And I swore revenge.
And revenge he seeks, often in bloodly, ultraviolent scenes that highlight writer Lansdale’s modern intensity and show veteran artist Glanzman’s obvious glee at being able to take the kid gloves off when depicting violence. Nobody can complain about evil Klan members getting their heads shot off, and the sheer amount of gore in Red Range approaches that of a Tarantino movie.
This is a deeply dark tale that truly sets a clear line between good and evil. On the very first page readers witness Klan members sticking sharp sticks into the eyes of a black man, quickly followed by a fiery castration of the same man. There is no question these Klan members are as evil as can be, with depraved joy on their faces when committing these violent acts and a kind of drooling, almost subhuman satisfaction at the rightness of their actions. One of the key villains even has a hydrocephalic head, like Zippy the Pinhead, which further emphasizes his evil.
Nobody loves Klan members, and the contrast between good black sheriff and evil Klan is the heart of this story, but the monotone banality and thorough evil of these Klan members becomes a bit exhausting. They’re like the Nazis in Indiana Jones movies or Stormtroopers in Star Wars flicks – so thoroughly evil that they become a bit dull. When the hydrocephalic man meets his ultimate fate, it should have visceral power but instead falls a bit flat.
That said, this book is an awesomely weird thrill-ride that actually made me giggle a little bit when the dinosaurs made the scene. Lansdale’s tale sticks in the mind as a kind of mash-up of Lone Ranger with Edgar Rice Burrough’s Lost World stuff, with an unpredictability and energy that kept me turning the pages so I could quickly continue to drink in its transcendent oddness.
Glanzman’s art is plush and detailed. He stays true to his character designs like the master that he is, and he shows himself a master of drawing almost anything from horses to rabid dogs to waterfalls and, of course, dinosaurs. He does a wonderful job of establishing these oddball settings. Colorists Jorge Blanco and Jok make feel real with smart use of earth tones and deep shading to emphasize the horror of this story.
Red Range is an oddball graphic novel. It’s part heroic adventure tale, part horror story, part lost world yarn. Ultimately, though, this book is a unique and delightful piece of comic art. Resurrected from a 1999 small press publication, this reissue is long overdue.