After contemplating shooting a target instead of investigating him, an elite four member NYPD Task Force quickly realizes they are better at murder than any of them could’ve thought.
“It’s not like your blind. You know you’ve taken this giant Godamned step, outside the law, outside everything. You start to see how you could lose touch with life, with regular life, the way regular people live it.”
What makes Garth Ennis’ latest criminal endeavor so enthralling isn’t the tired ground of good cops gone bad. It’s the subtly in this story, the way Eddie’s wife’s unkempt rose garden reflects his withering marriage, it’s an uncared for dog after its owner is blasted to pieces, it’s the remarks of an aging police chief who’s ready to retire but must step ever so delicately around corruption rumors; and throughout, it’s the perfectly layered sense of old Irish fortitude that still pervades the NYPD.
Red Team has something few comics in this genre do, an appeal to a wider audience. This book (7 issues in total) can and should be handed to a non-comic book fan who likes a good crime story, a good cop story, any fan of NCIS or its multitude of television clones. It’s a dialogue driven narrative that forces the reader to see not only the possible merit in killing criminals, but also how things can go exactly as planned and why sometimes, that’s the worst thing that could happen.
Led by Duke and George, two battle hardened warhorses, Red Team is one of many NYPD task forces, made up of elite detectives who inspect the worst of crimes. Clinton Days is a Teflon scumbag who, despite an intensive two year investigation, successfully manipulated the legal system to slip from the noose and stay free on NYC’s mean streets. Moved by frustration, by anger, by the imbalance the scales of justice place on the accuser, Red Team contemplates the unthinkable. They will murder Days. They will decide his sentence.
The striking thing about this book is how intricately the characters know their world, and how easily Ennis is able to convey that minutia with limited words and a flowing storyline. All four members are well aware of the power vacuum they will create on the streets if Days is gone. They are aware of how easily this all could slip from their control. They set up rules. No speeches. Only the worst. Nothing inside their current jurisdiction. They are conscious of not only doing what they perceive as the right thing, but also of how getting caught is as simple as the wrong word to the wrong punk.
What’s more, they discover early on, they are really good at this. The city has taught them well. They know the best way to commit murder, and once learnt, the only thing holding them back is the loose moral constraints they seem begrudgingly tethered to.
From the slow boil first issues, through the moral arguments of pedophile priests and accidental manslaughters of its middle acts, straight through to the fantastic and well earned climax, Red Team makes no excuses and does not lean on righteousness. What they are doing is wrong and they are willing to go straight to hell to get the job done.
This level of moral fortitude is exactly what is missing from other good crooked cop storylines. Vic Mackey’s enthralling run against the department in The Shield was thrilling for sure, but his cocksure attitude and conviction of his actions are nowhere to be found in the murky Hudson waters of Red Team. There’s no fooling this team about how deplorable their measures are. They just know they pulled the short straw to get it done.
Craig Cermak’s art though is really what makes this comic so exceptional. Script-notes are included in most of the issues, and it becomes hard to count the number of wordless panels Ennis assigned to his artist, with plain direction such as: [Trudy in the interrogation room again, rolling her eyes in derision. Not impressed] or [She leans her head on one hand, looking wearily at us]. Not only is Cermak successful in his adoption of Ennis’ vision, his set direction and character placement helps a heavy dialogue comic effortlessly flow.
Suggest this for a friend. Give it to your uncle who always loved those Pacino movies but has never picked up a comic. This is the kind of book that makes your job easy when someone insists comics can’t be engaging and gripping and disturbing and all the other adjectives this medium is sometimes excluded from because of Batman’s popularity. Red Team gets in the muck of cops and robbers. Don’t be afraid to stay with them until they try and get clean again.
Review by JJ Sinisi
J. J. Sinisi is a professional out of New York but spends what little free time he has strolling dark alleyways creating crime fiction. His work has appeared at Spelk Fiction, Yellow Mama, Spinetingler Magazine, Near to the Knuckle, Dead Guns Press, All Due Respect, Thuglit, Dark Corners, Shotgun Honey, The Flash Fiction Offensive, Heater, and he received an honorable mention in Glimmer Train’s Family Matters Short Story contest.