Writer & Artist: Ed Piskor.
Warning: Potential Spoilers Imminent
Red Room: The Antisocial Network is a connected anthology series that revolves around Dark Web “kill rooms,” where viewers pay cryptocurrency to watch people get brutalized and murdered. These rooms are untraceable and represent a growing industry worth billions of dollars, much to the annoyance of the federal government. This week, Ed Piskor and Fantagraphics explore a new aspect of this brutal narrative tapestry in Red Room #3, a brilliant dive into why these Red Rooms are damn secure.
Levee Turks is our main character in this week’s entry. Turks was imprisoned for running a Dark Web drug emporium, but his true sentence came from the encryption software he created to run his business. Co-opted by the Red Room industry, this software is unbreakable and maintains anonymity. Turks leverages his freedom in exchange for helping the Feds break his encryption. He has been imprisoned for so long that he barely has any knowledge of what Red Rooms even are, but by the end of the issue he is committed to ending their horrors after seeing only one stream. This is contrasted by our discovery that Turks’ partner, Rita, is already a hooked participant in the Red Room viewership.
Piskor’s writing is as pulp as it gets. My favorite line from this particular issue exemplifies this. A buzzcut Fed in shades points a finger and utters the beautiful phrase “Don’t $#@% with Uncle Sam!” This line denotes the profane world we are experiencing. Every character maintains a careful balance of realism and caricature, their character traits dialed up to 11 so that interactions are extremely — and grotesquely — impactful. The realism of these characters comes through in their interactions with those close to them, exuding humanity and heart; however, the caricature comes in through hyperbolic cursing and exaggerated sexuality, which serve as minor landmarks indicating darker aspects of humanity. These darker recesses of the human mind pale in comparison to the Red Rooms themselves, but solidify the theme of this series, that being the malevolence hidden in the human mind.
These intense moments are enhanced with Piskor’s art, an homage to Chester Gould's Dick Tracy seen through the lens of Underground Comix. Emboldened jawlines and consistently clenched teeth help create a tension filled world that I simply couldn’t look away from. The duotone approach — images comprised of two colors that aren’t black and white — gives this title a classic underground feel that is complemented by erratic pencil work on the panel borders.
I am not usually one for gratuitous violence, so it’s a good thing nothing in this series is gratuitous (or uncalled for). Every violence-filled panel serves the purpose of exposing the depravity of every character involved, every drop of blood a reference to malevolent character traits. Piskor isn’t putting violence on a pedestal. Instead, he’s using it as a flashlight to peer into the dark abyss of the human imagination. Piskor credits Stephen King's Danse Macabre as an inspiration for this series. Another work comes to mind from King when I think about Piskor's approach to violence and evil in these pages. King's essay "Why We Crave Horror Movies" perfectly explains why such vile depictions are necessary and even interesting:
"[Horror], like the sick joke, has a dirty job to do. It deliberately appeals to all that is worst in us. It is morbidity unchained, our most base instincts let free, our nastiest fantasies realized . . . and it all happens, fittingly enough, in the dark... For myself, I like to see the most aggressive of them – Dawn of the Dead, for instance – as lifting a trap door in the civilized forebrain and throwing a basket of raw meat to the hungry alligators swimming around in that subterranean river beneath. Why bother? Because it keeps them from getting out, man. It keeps them down there and me up here. It was Lennon and McCartney who said that all you need is love, and I would agree with that. As long as you keep the gators fed."
Ed Piskor merely wants to help you feed your gator, so PLEASE pick this book up when it releases on July 28th. Pick it up at your LOCAL COMIC BOOK SHOP or straight from the Fantagraphics website. Do the same with issues #1 and #2 of these series. I’d also recommend picking up some other instances of Piskor’s work (namely Hip Hop Family Tree) on Comixology! Grab yourself some Dick Tracy too while you’re at it. If you liked this review, it would tickle me pink if you sought out our review of the previous issues of this series on the POP website (thank me later).