The second installment of Red Team, the new crime-thriller series from Garth Ennis and Craig Cermak opens with a mirroring scene from the first issue: the interrogation of the eponymous team after it’s all gone wrong. This time it’s Detective Trudy Groux in the spotlight, debriefing us on how a straight-edged group of police officers decided to step outside the law and commit heinous murder in the face of denied justice.
Grounded human drama has long been a well-honed skill of Garth Ennis’, and in this issue finds itself at home on a rooftop scene of the four cops laying the groundwork and rules for their extrajudicial punishment. Seeing Eddie slowly being convinced to come on board twists a sense of impending dread, as it’s already known that the operation fails to go unnoticed. Eddie’s fellow officers innocently play off him, allowing him to make suggestions or make him feel like an important caveat was his idea all along.
But there’s no malice to what Trudy, George or Duke are doing. They need Eddie on board to justify their actions to themselves. And rather than being a poor fool duped into the conspiracy, Eddy feels like he’s playing along coyly to assuage his own doubts about the legitimacy of their actions. While they all consciously embrace the consequences and subjectivity of their actions in murdering criminals, their deeper tight grip to the moral stance they took is rooted firm in believing themselves to be right. This moral complexity forges real characterization rather than one-not archetypes of “the Gung-Ho One”, “the Voice of Reason”, etc.
The assuredness of the characters in the beginning plays off very well with the much more grim view Trudy provides us in the issue, and Eddie in the previous, as they recount it in hindsight, assumedly after it’s all gone wrong. The ever-looming tension it provides the flashbacks gives weight to every word and action, as you find yourself watching for the signs of their downfall. The intimate nature of the interrogations, wherein only the interviewee is visible lends an air of confidentiality. The sole subject and fixed viewpoint puts the reader in the interviewer’s position. By reading the dialogue we’re asking the questions and by turning the pages we’re pushing for answers.
Cermak’s art is of course a major part of what makes such an approach work. The casualness or tension of the character’s body language communicates their thoughts better than any monologue could. The subtlety of a raised eyebrow or a drag of a cigarette keeps the reader’s focus. You can’t help but feel like a detective yourself, looking for clues and signs in the suspect’s mannerisms.
This invitation to embrace the role in the comic binds us stronger to the narrative. Details of the story become pieces of evidence we’re hanging on to, slowly assembling the case. Hints of a possible romance between Trudy and Eddie amidst his strained marriage feels like it could either be proof of the inevitable failings of the Red Team, or a red herring distracting us from the heart of the issue. Combined with the team’s second rule “Never Make It Personal”, which Trudy deemed “impossible” to uphold one can’t help but formulate the means and motives for what inevitably led to the protagonists in custody.
The occasional page or two felt relatively dialogue and exposition heavy, but given the over-all satisfying density, pacing and volume of material in the comic it’s quite forgivable. These pages are loaded with quite a lot of developments, characterization and set-ups for things to come.
Ennis and Cermak continue to deliver on the promise of a crime-thriller, so as long as it remains thrilling I remain reading. That’s my rule.