Over two years ago I reviewed a sci-fi comic series called RED DOG created and written by film director Rob Cohen. My criticism with the series was the lack of diversity in the cast of characters. Two years later, RED DOG: THE COMPLETE GRAPHIC NOVEL TP is finally out for the masses to consume. Now that the complete series is here, how does it hold up? Does the series gain any other characters besides adults and aliens? What are the titular dogs capable of? Is the series worth checking out? In short, yes.  RED DOG exceeds my expectations, surprises, and ultimately features a satisfying conclusion.

RED DOG #1 Review – A Boy And His (Robot) Dog

 

A Coming of Age Story about Family

RED DOG explores the relationship between man and man’s best friend, the dog. In this case, it comes in the form of a boy — Kyle–and his titular bionic dog, Red. Kyle is the only boy on planet Kirawan, a planet that is rich with a mineral called Imperium. What appears to be a simple story about a boy who lives in a colony quickly becomes a bigger plot about getting to know the world.

Eventually, Kyle gains five additional robot dogs of various breeds, courtesy of his uncle, Jake. One day, as Kyle is tilling the fields with the dogs, Red goes out into the world beyond the dome (the humans’ colony). Thus, the core of RED DOG’s tale is Kyle’s love of Red and the lengths that he goes to get his dog back. As someone who’s never had a dog but can relate to the desperate search for someone, RED DOG makes readers care about Kyle’s plight.

 

 

 

RED DOG
Image courtesy of 451 Media Group

However, there’s more to RED DOG than Kyle and his robot pooch companions. Because Kyle looks remarkably similar to his deceased brother, Timothy, Kyle is special to his Uncle Jake. Jake is the robotics engineer that makes Kyle’s canine family. In fact, Kyle’s unique position as the only boy on the colony plays a vital role in the story because RED DOG also explores artificial intelligence and robotics. RED DOG is a coming of age story that explores what family means. It goes to show it doesn’t matter whether one is a human or a robot; what makes Kyle human is his willingness to risk his life for Red and befriend the Wani. This is what it means for a robot boy to come of age.

RED DOG #2 Review: Five Dogs, One Boy

 

How RED DOG explores War, Peace, and Colonialism

One of the things that RED DOG does well is how it maturely explores themes of war, peace, and colonialism. Humans are in conflict with the Kira; the Kira are in conflict with humans and the Wani; the Wani helped humans create The Dome. All these elements come together as Kirawan’s major players drive the plot forward. However, unlike humanity’s long history with slavery, the humans in RED DOG live separate from the Kira and the Wani in an agricultural society.

 

Between Planets and Industries: RED DOG Interview with Rob Cohen

 

Here, humans are not superior to the Kira and Wani because of Kirawan’s harsh environment and lack of water. It’s only when Kyle goes on his search for Red that we learn about Kirawan’s world as Kyle unintentionally makes contact with dangerous creatures and the natives. Ultimately, Kyle becomes the thread that finally stops the conflict between the humans, Wani, and Kira. Thus, Kyle becomes an ambassador for peace.

Furthermore, Cohen and Atkins choose to humanize the aliens as we learn about the Kira and Wani’s societies. The Kira are spartan in nature, love bloodshed as entertainment, and speak a foreign language. However, the Kira are also in need of food because they cannot eat machines such as Red. Conversely, the Wani can fly and possess water that is vital to the humans’ survival. In addition to this, we learn that Kirawan’s name comes from the Kira who discovered the planet first. Nonetheless, both alien species have compassionate characters such as Princess Merrah and Queen Salamat who want to end the conflict.

How the Art Reinforces the Sci-Fi Setting

Rob Atkins adds a movie-like quality to the story of RED DOG with his art. In fact, Atkins panels feel dynamic because the action constantly moves forward.  This gives the story a consistent sense of urgency. Initially, when Atkins introduces us to Kyle in issue 1, Kyle calls out to Red in a wheat field. However, when Red leaps out of the field, he makes a clumsy appearance. It’s only then that Atkins establishes the relationship between Red and Kyle when Atkins shows Red’s bionic face. The introduction to Kyle and Red calls to mind planet Tatooine from STAR WARS: EPISODE IV A NEW HOPE. Much like Luke Skywalker lives a simple life with R2-D2 and C3PO, Kyle lives a simple life with Red and his his other robotic canines.

In contrast, Alex Cormack brilliantly captures Kirawan’s creatures and the Wani in issues 3-6. For instance, Cormack illustrates the Kira with a strong sense of weight that commands attention. Secondly, Cormack renders the world of RED DOG with a tremendous amount of detail such as King Suwita’s regal clothes and horns in issue 4. As a result of Cormack’s attention to detail, every major and minor character makes Kirawan feel lived-in. Thirdly, Cormack draws characters with great expressions that captures the moment. For example, Salamat’s beaming smile in issue 6 as she looks at the Harmons embrace is a fantastic scene. John Rauch beautifully captures Kirawan’s earthy, reddish colors and contrasts it bright colors such as the radiant green Wani in issue 6. Overall, Rauch complements both artists’ illustrations quite well.

 

 

RED DOG
Image courtesy of 451 Media Group

 

Exploring What It Means to be Human

Because RED DOG is very much a sci-fi comic book series, Cohen explores what it means to be human. Indeed there’s no better vehicle to explore the question than through the lens of Kyle’s narration. Initially, Kyle comes off as the token child with great expectations. However, there’s more than meets the eye as the creators slowly reveal that Kyle possesses characteristics that are beyond human limits. For example, Kyle is not a bigot because he bonds with Salamat after rescuing her in issue 4. In issue 1, Kyle works for Mrs. Burden who has a bigoted views of Kirawan’s native children. Mrs. Burden says of the natives, “They’re disgusting bugs. They’re lower than animals. They have no feelings.”  Conversely, Kyle challenges Mrs. Burden’s views and says, “I’ve never met one to ask. Have you?” Mrs. Burden changes the subject but we see that Kyle is not judgmental and views the natives as equals.

Kyle Harmon: Human or Robot?

However, what Kyle is unaware of is that because he is bonded with the robot dogs, he is also a robot. Unlike the late Stephen Hawking’s warning about the perils of A.I., RED DOG presents a hopeful depiction of robots. Kyle suffers a near mortal wound in the end of issue 4. Salamat pulls the spear out of Kyle and reveals his robot innards. Hank and Barbara explain that Timothy passed away two years prior to a lifelong illness and were so distraught that Hank, Jake, and others took Timothy’s DNA and brain to make Kyle with love. Therefore, with A.I., Cohen suggests that humans can overcome mortality because Kyle shows abilities that extends the limits of humans. As a result of this revelation, we see that Kyle loves Red and his family just like a human boy does.

RED DOG
Image courtesy of 451 Media Group

At its core, what makes an A.I. different from humans? Cohen and Atkins say that what matters is what’s inside one’s heart and mind. Because Kyle risks his life for Red and makes new friends, compassion is what it means to be human. Furthermore, what it means to be human is to be curious and have an open mind to other cultures. Overall, it’s an uplifting message that inspires hope in the future of humanity. 

A Revisit Worth Reading Through

Overall, RED DOG succeeds in its ability to tell a compelling tale that tackles big social issues and fundamental questions. Unlike our world, RED DOG manages to resolve its plot with a hopeful future that leads to peace. Dominican-American writer Junot Díaz once said of the sci-fi genre “If it wasn’t for the history of colonialism and imperialism, Star Wars doesn’t make sense. If it wasn’t for the extermination of so many Indigenous First Nations, most of what we call science fiction’s contact stories doesn’t make sense.” One of the great things about the sci-fi genre is that creators dare to tackle the human condition and deep rooted systemic issues such as bigotry and colonialism. RED DOG succeeds in the sci-fi genre in spades.

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