The Red Wing #1
“Learning to Fly”
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Nick Pitarra
Colors: Rachelle Rosenberg
Cover artists: Pitarra (regular)/Dustin Weaver (variant)
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.50 US
Oh, how I’ve longed to see that stark, white background/cover design, with the words “www.pronea.com” printed on the back cover under a small crest. Writer Jonathan Hickman has made a strong impression in the past couple of years with his work at Marvel, but even his best work with the super-hero publisher pales in comparison with the creator-owned work published by Image that first solidified his reputation in the industry. I’m thrilled that he’s returned to it with this new project. Marvel clearly values Hickman and has its own imprint for creator-owned comics (Icon), but it’s encouraging to see the writer stick with the one who brung ‘im, so to speak. There’s a fairly straightforward idea at the heart of this science-fiction story — time travel as a means to wage war — but Hickman dresses it up nicely with some smart dialogue. But what makes the story worth reading isn’t the convincing, cool science speak or jaunts into the past, but rather a simple story about one person’s struggle with the conflicting emotions of grief and hope.
The world is at war, and the latest leap forward in technology — time travel — has been incorporated into fighters piloted by only the best and brightest. The first take on these temporal attack crafts falls short of expectations, as it’s discovered in battle that they lack the proper shielding to protect the pilots from the ravages of time. Years later, the development of the TAC II, which boasts the proper shielding, sparks a recruitment drive for new pilots, and among the rookies are the two sons of TAC I pilots who were lost on a mission long ago. The two friends begin their studies and training, but one — Dominic Dorne — continues to hold onto the hope that his father somehow survived that mission and remains stranded in the past. Unfortunately, all of the science and experts tell him there’s no such hope to be had.
Artist Nick Pitarra is a real find. At first, I thought his work was clearly and fully inspired by the style of Frank (We3, Batman and Robin) Quitely, and there’s definitely that level of detail to be found here. But there’s also a slightly softer look in the characters’ faces, which put me in mind of the work of Moritat (Elephantmen, The Spirit). There’s a wholly European feel to his efforts. His art looks like the sort of thing one might have found in a story from an old issue of Heavy Metal from the 1980s. The level of detail is sharp, but I like the emotive nature of the characters’ faces even more. The designs for the sci-fi elements are striking as well, especially the antagonist machines in the first act. Rachelle Rosenberg’s colors also contribute a great deal to the storytelling. She establishes a sullen mood throughout the second act, which focuses on Dominic and his desperate quest for answers about his father’s fate.
Like many of Hickman’s other projects, the dialogue is complex. He drops the reader into the middle of a world s/he doesn’t understand, in extreme, impossible circumstances, so it can be dizzying. It’s not a slow immersion; it’s a leap into the deep end of the pool. But slowly, the technical points of the future society, the conflict and the science don’t seem quite so overwhelming, and the real meaning of the story begins to emerge. Let me be clear — I’m not saying the script is inaccessible. I’m saying it offers the reader a challenge, one that adds to the experience and one that’s definitely worth taking on.
Now while Hickman’s script has its complexities and we’re never really told who the enemy is in this war through time, the story at the heart of The Red Wing is quite simple. It’s about a kid who misses his dad. One could argue that Dom’s refusal to let go of the tiniest glimmer of hope, to accept his loss and grief, demonstrates a flaw, a lack of maturity. But by the end of the issue, Hickman provides the reader with the justification the audience needs to get on Dom’s side, to hope along with him. 8/10
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