Alasdair Stuart writes for Bleeding Cool:
I love podcasting, especially fiction podcasting, which is fortunate given a couple of the things I do when I'm not writing here. I listen to a lot of stuff too, which you have to if you want to keep current, including fiction by the likes of Scott Sigler and JC Hutchins, shows like Toasted Cake and The Leviathan Chronicles and non-fiction like The Infinite Monkeycage and Mysterious Universe. It's an amazing, diverse, almost universally free, array of audio that's constantly shifting and changing and learning how to do new things. Or, on occasion, old things done in a new way.
Which brings us to Decoder Ring Theatre.
Decoder Ring don't just embrace the idea of the old radio adventure serials they live it, combining classic style characters with a love of the shape and form of old radio drama and a wonderful, dry sense of humor. Their work has included the splendidly brutal Deck Gibson, Far Reach Commander, the two fisted hard boiled noir of Black Jack Justice and the adventures of their very own mystery man, The Red Panda. Now, the Red Panda has stepped across to comics, thanks to Monkeybrain and he's at least as much fun in print as he is on the air. As for who he is, well, why don't I let the comic tell you that?
1.Anything Can Happen In The Next Few Pages
Eccentric millionaire, two-fisted chauffeur sidekick, excitement, adventure, really wild things. We're in classic Mysteryman territory straight away, and the series revels in the opportunity that provides to play with old toys in a new, fun way. Plus, August Fenwick has a lot more fun than Bruce Wayne, Lamont Cranston and, I'd argue, Britt Reid. I figure Stark could give him a run for his money though. But just think of the cross-temporal poker game opportunities…
2.Men are from Science, Women are from Punching
One of the really fun things about the series is this exact element of their relationship; Panda is…kind of a nerd. He's a terrifyingly physically gifted nerd with a huge talent for armed and unarmed combat but he's a nerd, all too ready to be carried off into the ether of deductive science. Kit on the other hand has never met a problem she couldn't beat a solution out of and is charmingly grouchy about August's occasional reluctance to go down that road. The female character as asskicker isn't an entirely new trope but I've rarely seen it done better than it is here.
3.Watching The Detectives
I love the angles on this page, emphasizing the skewed, odd world that Panda and Flying Squirrel inhabit. Also, this is rock solid detection and deductive thinking as Panda applies the science we saw earlier in the issue and finds…something very odd. It's a neat scene that progresses character, plot and moves our heroes out of their comfort zone, all at the same time.
4.'So that's what that feels like.'
The gentle way the pair mess with one another is one of the most endearing elements of the show, and it's great to see it carried over here. It neatly cuts the tension without undermining it and subtly emphasizes that these two love their work. And messing with each other.
5.Someone To Watch Over Me
There's something impossibly sweet about this moment. Look at how proper, and professional Kit is and how much the set of her shoulders tells us about her mood. That's the problem with being a sidekick; you're always by their side never in front of them. Romantic angst done sweetly and with real emotion, in two basically identical panels. Just brilliant.
6.Science and Progress
After having dinner with old friend, and fellow mystery man, the Stranger, it becomes clear to the Panda that this is not a normal case and…it bothers him. This is really smart, clever writing, the idea that Panda doesn't even consider the possibility of being scared but is all too willing to accept this may be a fight he doesn't understand. It's a fascinating approach to take at a fascinating time in the development of the western world, the opposing schools of science and superstition gearing up for yet another clash.The Panda, especially in this case, is exactly where any good hero should be; in the middle.
Mask of the Red Panda is the best book I read this week, hands down. It's plot heavy, character-driven, looks beautiful and is fun in a way some comics just forget to be. Welcome to the funny pages, Panda. Get comfy, you'll be here a while.
Mask of the Red Panda Issue 1 is out now from Monkeybrain Comics. It's written by Gregg Taylor, illustrated by Dean Kotz and costs a buck. What are you waiting for?