5 out of 5
Pulpy perfection. Establishing the genre’s atmosphere is relatively easy, I’d say – a trench-coated hero with a domino mask; some cackling villains; a 30s setting with helpful police and journos – but actually populating that atmosphere with characters and plots that are (insert whichever adjective you’re going for, here – fun / scary / exciting / etc.), and then being able to pull that off consistently… well, that’s something else.
The initial Red Panda comic outing was already a good time, but it was a first foray outside of recorded shows from creator Gregg Taylor, and so the comic book pants were a little baggy in places, tight in others. For the followup issues – Mask of the Red Panda – the pants are now comfortably snug: narrowing the focus down to mini two-part arcs, the five stories across these ten books gives us glimpses of the various science and fantasy villains – and dutiful Panda assistants – that have populated chronologically later Panda tales. Gregg’s foreknowledge of all of these characters lends the adventures a wonderfully organic sense of pacing and patter, with Dean Kotz’s art an exciting blend of precision characterization and energizingly frenetic linework. There’s also the cute back and forth between our hero and his driver / sidekick, The Flying Squirrel, which is also instantly lived-in and rich because of how much history Taylor has been able to build between the two elsewhere.
The result is an amazingly enjoyable, fun time, with excerpts from a Red Panda book that damningly make you want to read that, too, and fun text interviews / intros to some of the characters that have crossed over from radio to comics and the actors who have voiced them. You could view this as padding; for me, it just underlined how sincere Gregg is with his love for this character and the pulp style, and how much his acting troupe similarly care for the world. That dedication is undeniably beguiling, making we want to fully immerse myself in Red Panda stuff going forward…