Skybound’s “Redneck” series about Southern vampires and the ties that bind digs deep into fangs and family with bloody brilliance.
Blood is thicker than water, or so the aged adage goes …
… And sometimes, that’s still a little thicker than one originally imagined.
It can certainly get complicated, but the subject of blood – that binding agent that holds a family together over time – pumps through the heart of Skybound Comics’ monthly series Redneck. Here, blood is both the figurative, primordial ooze that holds writer Donny Cates’ and artist Lisandro Estherren’s Southern-fried bloodsucker saga together.
But fret not. The series is also laced with its share of literal blood. You’ll find footprints in the dirt, overflowing with the stuff. You’ll glimpse rivulets of it, searching for its way back to the host from which it shot into the night sky like a hot spring.
Crimson, thick, warm, and sticky. So sticky that the series’ characters will find it significantly difficult to avoid it, just as readers will find Redneck impossible to ignore.
Blood: perhaps it’s as indissoluble as family ties.
The series’ first volume – entitled “Deep in the Heart” – introduces readers to the downhome yet deadly bloodthirsty family of vampires known as the Bowmans.
Their brood is now generations deep, self-exiled into the wooded byways of a Southern community, where they’ve protected themselves from the possibility of violence and the deadlier threat of the wrath of locals, who took great pleasure in hunting vampires for years.
Now, the Bowmans operate a quaint BBQ joint, subsisting on cows’ blood and otherwise keeping to themselves, opting to feed the humans that surround them instead of electing to eat them.
But when some of the younger Bowmans head into town on Christmas Eve to get up to the Devil’s work, the night ends with one of them dead, leaving the rest of the Clan with the duty of piecing together the evening’s dizzying events.
The night’s lost moments suddenly rekindle the age-old feud between the Bowmans and the Landrys, the religious family led by the local Father of the parish himself.
The Bowmans find themselves staring down the business end of wooden stakes and certain doom as fear, hatred, and decades of bad blood threaten to penetrate the very soil upon which they stand.
The communal rivalry on display in Redneck is not unlike that of the historically popular Hatfields & McCoys: one may not be able to pinpoint the precise origins of the dissension, but one certainly understands that no salve is going to cure it any time soon, and Cates resurrects that seemingly ancient conflict with profound effect.
So over the course of the graphic novel’s first volume – collecting the series’ first six issues – the Bowmans will need to make use of everything within their arsenal to survive the days ahead: the help of their human familiars, the murderous skills they’ve honed over the years, even their own patience, which is about to be tested like never before.
In a race against the winter setting sun, time may finally be running out for a family that has been threatened by the dawn for too long. It will take more than JV and Bartlett and the familiars to hold back the rest of the Clan.
Once provoked, they won’t hunt & peck for their intended prey – they’ll simply slaughter the town entirely out of familial vengeance.
But despite the promise of flesh-tearing doom & gloom that inevitably lies in wait for the series’ cast, writer Cates appears to be right at home, rolling around in the mud & muck of these backwoods sticks.
Certainly, he’s no stranger to flexing his literary muscles as he does with Reckless.
He’s chronicled the adventures of the Asgardian Thor for Marvel Comics with similar themes of the importance of family, friends, and retribution. He’s grappled with concepts of inclusiveness, the magnetic power of the past, and the peace for which everyone searches as the writer of Hulk’s exploits on Planet Hulk for the same publisher.
And what a perfect stage upon which to ruminate upon the complexities of family, generational wisdom, and legacy.
Led by the patriarchal JV, the Bowman Clan has managed to fly like bats beneath the radar of those who would otherwise exterminate them. Instead of terror, they now seek a quiet truce with human citizens, one that some of the teenage vampires (despite being 60 years of human age) and even little Perry (with her involuntary ability to read others’ thoughts) remain incapable of understanding.
And then, high in the rafters of the Bowman home, sits Grandpa, who may have more answers than the family bargained for.
He comes from a perspective that some of them would find particularly unique, and if little Perry keeps sticking her vampiric, youthful nose where it doesn’t belong, she might grow something more akin to a conscience than fangs.
To be sure, she and the rest of the Bowmans will discover that the only thing harder than killing a vampire is keeping all of the family skeletons conveniently tucked away in the closet, especially when the Bowmans have been running out of storage space for too long.
What’s wickedly wonderful about Redneck is that this schism that seems to separate each Bowman from the other is as natural as the differences that divide a family’s grandparents from their grandchildren, even parents from their next of kin. Time is a great differentiator when it comes to recognizing right from wrong and truth from deceit.
But what can readers make of those discrepancies when a family’s members are separated by an ocean of time in which wars were fought, loves were lost, and the world changed – so much, as a matter of fact, that it seems to be repeating itself, like the ramblings of an infirm old man?
Only time will tell.
And in this way, Cates has settled upon the perfect vehicle to explore those different insights.
What ideologies can define us when we’re separated by 30 or more decades of experience is one thing.
But how one responds to an elder or a successor when the age difference spans for more than a century certainly becomes a compelling notion upon which to chew, and Redneck has much to chew on, absolutely promising that it will do so.
But with this series, Cates has also concocted a deliciously murky stew that blends some of the most mouth-watering elements of genre storytelling, including the windswept, dusty philosophies of Garth Ennis’ Preacher; the complicated genealogical trees of Jason Aaron’s Southern Bastards; and even the contemporary, gravel-voiced monsters of Kathryn Bigelow’s 1987 film Near Dark.
And yet, in so doing, he manages to shove into the veins of this series a shocking infusion that sets Redneck apart from many of its predecessors.
We’ll call that life-saving elixir the artwork of Lisandro Estherren, whose dirty sketches are only matched by the tough grit demonstrated by the series’ many rough personalities.
The coupling is a perfect fit – reminiscent of graphic novel teams like Vertigo’s war-painted Scalped or the short-lived Western Loveless.
If the creator-owned output of the past two decades has been any indication, then Cates and Estherren will stick together until the bloodied conclusion of this tale of ego, split decisions, and resilience.
For readers with a strong stomach for elements such as those, they’re the perfect staples of any closely-knit family – dysfunctional or otherwise – especially here.
And like the blood that Redneck intends to spill over time, readers can stick their faith to that much. Or at least pour another glass of the good stuff while they wait for the next book’s chapter to drop:
Slowly, like the mud that many will die in. Or, more slowly, like blood, which Redneck owes its life.
Perhaps it’s not that complicated after all.