"Mask of the Red Panda" #1 from Gregg Taylor and Dean Kotz is an astoundingly dense and extremely pleasing book that delivers Golden Age pulp tropes through tight writing and phenomenal art. The Red Panda is a creation that originated in radio serials podcasted from 2009 and has gone on to have novels based on the character and now gets its own 3 issue miniseries from Monkeybrain Comics. This issue is a brilliantly-executed jumping on point, which kickstarts a story about mystical beasts tracking down their quarry.
This issue is a $0.99 download for 32 pages of sequential story. This alone should get you through the electronic door for a purchase. Gregg Taylor has written this character and his world for years, but in this superbly executed issue, he makes everything new for the many readers who will not be familiar. The issue might feel a touch too much like introduction instead of the meat of the tale but considering the amount of ground covered this is a great jumping in point.
In the bio at the back of the issue, artist Dean Kotz says he was influenced by a bunch of '70s horror comics and the likes of Williamson, Colan and Wrightson. This influence absolutely shows in the best ways as Kotz layers his world with creepy creatures as the plot kicks off and then he dials it back a little for superheroic pulp fun. The tense parts look incredibly scary and the high heroics are flat out fun. The costume designs for the Red Panda and his sidekick/driver The Flying Squirrel look beautiful as well as functional.
There is a smoothness to Kotz’s art that makes this world come alive and Taylor’s dialogue polishes off the job extremely well. This feels like "His Girl Friday" with domino masks and mystical crime scenes. The back and forth between our two leads is liquid in how it flows and the mystery brought forth here is gripping in every way. For a long read, these pages luxuriously build up world and character beats that inform the audience and add richness to the experience.
"Mask of the Red Panda" is a phenomenal throwback to old pulp classics that doesn’t feel like an overt homage or pastiche, this is simply the real deal. While the other superheroic crime book from Monkeybrain, "Masks & Mobsters," borrows a film noir aesthetic, "Mask of the Red Panda" is very much a pulp delight in the vein of a Saturday matinee serial. This book does just about everything right from art, dialogue, plot, genre sensibility, and amazing price point for density of story. This is yet another breakout hit, in yet another distinct genre, for Monkeybrain Comics. "Mask of the Red Panda" is quite simply a must read.