Sex, Religion, Heroes, Fame, and the Cold War: ‘Red One’ Review
In Red One, the Soviet Union sends a bombshell Russian soldier to infiltrate American society under the guise of a "real-life superhero." Her stated mission is to dissuade Cold War Americans from looking for Commies in every corner, but her true calling may be to help them take ownership of their sexuality. With the hook it has, Red One could go in so many different directions: paranoid spy thriller, over-the-top action comic, political drama. Instead, the new book by Xavier Dorison, Terry Dodson, and Rachel Dodsontakes a route you never would have expected: a satirical look at America's obsession with sex, religion, heroes, and fame.
In 1977 America, an evangelical group led by the puritanical Jacky Core is growing in popularity on an anti-filth, anti-Communism platform. At the same time, a vigilante called the Carpenter further galvanizes the extreme right-wing by murdering enemies of righteousness. To counteract the rising wave of jingoism and avoid more Cold War hostility, the USSR sends Vera Yelnikov to pretend to be a different superhero in order to distract Americans from anti-Communist pursuits. And Vera Yelnikov is... pretty distracting.
In this first issue, it feels very much like Dorison and the Dodsons are exploring the differences between American and European attitudes on sexuality. In 1977 America, sex and sexualized celebrities are simultaneously celebrated and vilified: the story opens with a starlet getting murdered by the Carpenter after the premiere and celebration of her controversial film, and there's a growing segment of the population who believe that sexuality should be punished.
Vera, on the other hand, is refreshingly sex-positive, especially for a super-soldier from a dictatorship. She's in a polyamorous three-way relationship (with a few other ways thrown in here or there) with a man and another woman; she teases the boy soldiers; she refuses to sleep with her superiors but joins the mile-high club with a man she just met because it will ease her anxiety about flying. Now, with a cover identity working for a porn producer, Red One looks set to continue in the sexual adventures of Vera and Red One's impact on American ideals.
Red One is an interesting mix of slick action, cheesecake pinups, and genuinely intriguing social commentary. Thanks to the typically sensuous ladies of the Dodsons, it may at first seem like it has too much in common with other gratuitously sexy comics, but it has a wit and depth that the rest aren't even aware they lack.