Obscure Comic of the Month is a monthly feature which takes a detailed look at a little known entry from my personal comic book collection. Some will be from major publishers, others self published projects, Original Graphic Novels, issues and Manga. What they'll all have in common though, is that I've rarely, if ever, seen anybody talk about them.
Red Warrior: Assassin for the Thieves World by Jeff Amano and Andy MacDonald – Image Comics 2006
Contains Major Spoilers
Agent Tolik Kalinchenko convinces Elena – a Russian Mafiya leader's daughter – to seduce an old flame that may be connected to a secret combat system called “Bespredel” (Russian for “without limits”). Elena risks her life for her country, Mother Russia, the world, but most of all, for Tolik. In a race against the clock, Tolik must destroy Bespredel's Red Warriors in time to save Elena, who has been discovered as an informant. But when war has no limits, where can love hide?
Red Warrior was another book that I picked up on the cheap from Worlds Apart Liverpool when I was at University. It was in the bargain bin for about two pounds, and it's cover not only had a skull but also a HAMMER AND AK SYMBOL! How could I possibly turn that down?
Unfortunately, Red Warrior never lives up to it's cover. The story is a mash up of serious espionage and more fantastical super hero elements, about a covert team of Russians working in the US. As a premise, that's real fertile ground to build something unique and stand out from the crowd. Unfortunately, Red Warrior foregoes any opportunity to build upon those unique areas and instead chooses to give us something far more generic.
The story, for what it's worth, is not particularly complex. Tolik, a Russian spy with superpowers, is tasked with seducing a mobster's daughter for his agency's war against the Russian Mafiya. Elena, falling hard for Tolik, has to do the same to another mobster, in order to get the names of those involved in the secret Red Warrior program.
Tolik oversteps his authority and gets reassigned to Texas, where he comes across the creator of the Red Warrior program. In a “shocking twist,” Tolik is revealed to have been a Red Warrior all along. He kills his creator, heads back to New York, only to find that his boss has been wounded and Elena killed. With her dying breath she gives him the names, and the story ends with him setting off on a path of revenge.
As stories go, a simple narrative is no bad thing, it gives plenty of room for scene setting and world building. If Red Warrior has one sin though, it's that it decides to tell the audience absolutely nothing. The whole nature of Tolik's organisation is barely discussed, the superpowers are poorly defined and the actual stakes in their war against the Mafiya are unclear.
Is Tolik's organisation affiliated in any way with US services? Are superpowers common knowledge? Are the Mafiya a foreign crime family or have they integrated into American society? We never find out. All the way through, Red Warrior takes no time to fill in any of the gaps. There isn't even an American character in this American set story. They're all either Mafiya this, or Spetsnaz that, and we never get any real sense anything that sets them apart.
This lack of clarity kills the story dead. The reader has no concept of the stakes whatsoever. Without establishing the specifics of what the powers of a Red Warrior are, it ultimately renders the twist meaningless. We spend so little time getting to know Elena that we have no emotional investment in the race against time. We're never given a reason to root for Tolik, nor boo the Mafiya, nothing is established, no themes are reinforced.
But what's more frustrating is how Red Warrior squanders such a promising premise. The story could have given us a taste of what the life of a Russian immigrant in the US must actually be like. Or it could have explored what place the new Russia has on the world stage. Hell, it could have at least been an interesting take on a spy drama with the introduction of superpowers, but their relevance to the plot is completely superfluous and is barely featured in the actual story.
Instead, Red Warrior is more interested in telling us it's generic spy tale full of generic stock characters and tropes. It's so generic that you could erase all mention of the characters being Russian and it wouldn't change the plot one iota.
I haven't talked about Andy MacDonald's art yet and that's because there's not really that much to say. It's serviceable, but he's not really given much to do and his art doesn't really elevate the source material much. His scrappy, gritty art style works well enough for the spy stuff but doesn't do much for the action scenes.
So Red Warrior is a generic spy story that doesn't live up to it's promise, but that's not quite the end of it. See, once our story is concluded, we're treated to an article by Kat Amano about Mixed Martial Arts, followed by a bunch of adverts for Judo training and the like. Not what I expected to find in the back of an Image graphic novel about Russian spies.
See I think... and I've looked, but found nothing online to verify this... but I think Red Warrior is supposed to be some kind of MMA spin-off. There's a big deal made in the text about Tolik knowing all these different kinds of martial arts, and the fight scenes, sparse though they are, look as though they might be influenced by actual techniques.
It's like Charles Atlas never left us.
If this is true, then it's all the more damning for Red Warrior. When it comes to spin-off's you can get away with a throwaway plot if you're just there for some themed action, but if Red Warrior is indeed some kind of MMA comic, then it's a bad one at that. The fights are few and far between and lack any focus on the moves. It's not an action comic, it's an espionage comic. An odd fit if it's supposed to have an MMA connection.
Ultimately, if you're a fan of spy comics, I can't really recommend Red Warrior, go and read Greg Rucka's Queen and Country instead. If you like MMA, well I can't really recommend it either. Red Warrior isn't bad, but it so generic you'd be hard pressed to remember the comic mere hours after reading it.
Jack Harvey 2015. Red Warrior (c) 2006 Image Comics and Beckett Entertainment Partners LLC, Jeff Amano and Andy MacDonald. Images used under Fair Use.