Spoiler warning: This review covers The Red Ten#8 and contains some spoilers.
The Red Ten #8
Writer: Tyler James
Artist: Cesar Feliciano
The Red Ten is an elegant adaption of And Then There Were None by novelist Agatha Christie. The premise is simple and effective: a group of people are stranded on an island, each of them with a deadly secret. Tyler James and Cesar Feliciano have cleverly chosen to explore this premise with a cast of superhero archetypes. By doing so, they’re making a statement on the moral state of the world, since superheroes are traditionally portrayed as moral guardians.
This series isn’t so much a deconstruction of the superhero genre as an examination of morality and justice. It raises questions about where justice ends and vengeance begins, and whether or not someone can truly make amends for their past sins. As noted above, each character has a secret, and this secret is being used against them by an unknown opponent. Often their secrets tie into what motivated them to become superheroes in the first place. Some of these heroes are despicable, but others are merely flawed men and women who made bad choices.
Unfortunately, the murderer thinks in absolutes, not shades of grey. The island becomes the setting for a deadly game of cat and mouse as, one after another, the teammates are eliminated.
Issue #8 has been highly anticipated by readers and critics alike. Having worked as an illustrator and animator, my sympathies tend to lie with the creative team rather than the expectant fans. Producing independent comics on a set schedule can be very challenging, especially if you seek to match the industry standard. It’s very impressive that ComixTribe continues to produce quality work without the scale of resources available to mainstream publishers.
Cesar Feliciano is a solid artist who has proven himself equal to the task of bringing this complex tale to life. There are one or two minor issues with proportions in the early pages and some slight discrepancies when it comes to character consistency. However, this isn’t a reflection on the artist’s abilities. Rather, I believe it’s probably a result of trying to meet a certain deadline without the luxury of being able to work on this project full-time. This is a reality faced by many independent writers and artists. The errors are minor and don’t detract from the overall quality of the art.
The action scenes are dynamic with strong line-work that’s reminiscent of Crisis-era DC Comics. Feliciano has a gift for crafting iconic characters and scenes. The level of detail in the backgrounds remains impressive. Feliciano manages to summon up whatever the script requires, be it a lush island background or a grim prison cell. The ambiance is another strong point. At times, this issue veers into the realm of horror, and Feliciano’s use of shadows manages to evoke a suitably creepy atmosphere.
Tyler James structures this comic quite differently from the rest of the series. Previously each issue revealed a character’s fatal flaw or secret and then had the antagonist exploit it, leading to the victim’s demise. Issue #8 focuses more on revelations and laying the foundation for the series’ upcoming conclusion.
The writer paces the comic well, carefully building the suspense to the point where the final action scene almost feels like a relief. By the time we get to it, our nerves have been wound as tight as piano wire.
I was struck by the humanity in this comic, the balance between suspense and human – or in this case, superhuman – emotion. It’s a testament to the writer’s skill that we can still feel sympathy for Justice America. This issue focuses on his guilt over his fallen team mates. It’s wrenching to read and makes it difficult to root for the murderer.
Moral ambiguity lies at the heart of this series. The central thrust of The Red Ten is that there are no true heroes. Each superhero has done terrible things, but as a team they’ve made the world a better place. Some of them feel genuine remorse for their actions while others feel nothing.
The big question, though, is not whether they’re good or bad people but whether the antagonist is any better than them. By choosing to play both judge, jury, and executioner, their murderer has proven herself to be as amoral as any of her victims.