In a time period where many writers seem to be oscillating between superhero epics and psychological dramas that make us think about real-life issues, the good-old fashioned detective yarn seems to be few and far between. Last Stop on the Red Line is a welcome return to the good old days when these gritty who-dun-its used to be commonplace, in the spirit of Vertigo classics like Hellblazer.
The story begins with a nondescript scene of two young friends riding a subway train, engaging in some shenanigans; both are about to get off when they are almost dragged back on mysteriously by some presence — though they manage to get away just in the nick of time. The two seem to realize they have escaped with their life. Back on the train, a scene plays out where some sort of supernatural, grotesque looking being is disguised as a homeless man, and eventually he reveals himself to the sole remaining passenger before strangling her. We then cut over to a weird, otherworldly scene of a mustachioed man diving into what looks like the same monster, only to appear in an open field.
Meanwhile, police have descended on the train and the investigation is led by the no-nonsense Detective Torres, who is frustrated with the bureaucracy of her employer. She runs into the homeless, mustachioed man from earlier; as it turns out, he helped out her daughter who is unable to speak in the park/field, and she is insistent on repaying him with a free dinner at her place. The homeless man, named Yusef, hesitates before ultimately agreeing to take her up on the offer. We get an interesting series of exchanges between Torres, Yusef, and her family, before Yusef is unceremoniously asked to leave by Torres’ husband.
The rest of the book is dedicated to showing the rest of Yusef’s life at the shelter he resides at, where he make it clear that he is suffering from some sort of demons, but his peers seem to dismiss his comments as indicative of too much drinking. While the group is a colorful bunch, Yusef decides he wants to be alone and heads off to a church, where he has an exchange with an unseen figure, before drifting off once again into the dreamscape that he was in previously. The issue ends with another murder occurring on the train, where this time, the monster strikes again disguised as an innocent-looking old lady who ends up preying on another young girl, while we cut to Yusef who is once again in some sort of a otherworldly plane as this is happening
Paul Maybury, the author of this comic, certainly raises a lot of questions right out the gate with this first issue. Is Yusef our villain? If so, how does he end up on the train when he is physically elsewhere in both murders? What history does he have previously with Detective Torres, and what is her motivation in arguably coming onto him? The fact that so many of these inquiries are raised in the first issue bodes well for future issues.
At the same time, the comic disappoints with how it seems to lean into to hard-to-believe-in-2019 reductionist characterization. Namely, it stretches reason to try and understand why Torres would invite a hulking homeless man into her home with her kids. The scene where Yusef is invited into her bedroom and followed by her undressing while “accidentally” forgetting to close her bathroom door is a little hard to understand; I doubt most folks in an unhappy marriage would go this far even if they felt like cheating on their spouses. I also didn’t feel too much of a connection to the rest of the characters in the shelter, they seemed to have little connection to the main story and it felt like we spent a bit too much time with them.
I really liked the art on this issue by Sam Lotfi and John Rauch. In some scenes, you can see the almost Disney-esque vibe they give the characters in their appearance (especially in the eyes), but when you combine this with the supernatural elements, i.e. where the monster appears or when Yusuf is in his dream world, the juxtaposition becomes really effective and the reader feels motivated to work to figure out what is going on. The lighting is quite versatile and varied and the reader can clearly tell when the scene takes place at night, when it’s dark outside, and when we are indoors – many art teams fail at setting and in this comic, the work on this front seems effortless.
Last Stop on the Red Line starts off competently enough – although it makes some very questionable narrative decisions. The overall journey is compelling and the art is fantastic and creepy to match the intended mood. I’m looking forward to seeing how the mysteries raised in this first installment are solved in future issues.