Released today by IDW, Red Light Properties chronicles the adventures of the titular company, a Miami-based business dedicated to cleaning houses of any “lingering spirits and psychic disturbances.” In other words, a real-estate mash-up of Ghostbusters and The Sixth Sense, with liberal doses of The Exorcist and Real Genius thrown in for good measure. Due in part to Florida’s disproportionate amount of elderly residents, it seems like the state is lousy with properties where people died. The ick factor of living in these houses, apartments, and retirement communities makes them a tough sell for realtors. Which is where the Red Light Properties business comes in.They clear the houses of ghosts and then make bank.
A four-person operation, RLP consists of so-called “phenomenologist” Jude Tobin, his long-suffering real estate broker wife Cecilia, spunky mortgage loan officer Rhoda, and office assistant/gopher/babysitter/ghost photographer Zoya. Although mostly dysfunctional when working in tandem, each of the characters utilizes their unique ability to keep the company afloat. Well, barely anyway. Throughout the story, money is a constant worry. Clearly this a book that aims to capture the zeitgeist of post-housing bubble collapse America. But does it succeed?
The first thing you notice about Red Light Properties is how unusual it looks. It was entirely produced on Goldman’s computer by creating and utilzing digital sets for the book’s photorealistic backgrounds and crafting illustrations based on reference photos of actors. With the exception of some unfortunate automobile renderings that look straight out of Batman: Digital Justice, this approach towards storytelling is mostly visually enthralling. During the sequences that depict Jude’s trips either by drug or shamanistic influence, Goldman unleashes huge psychedelic splash panels that are reminiscent of Bill Sienkiewicz at the height of his creative powers. Given that Goldman comes from a film school background, it’s unsurprising that RLP looks so cinematic. The visual fluidity of the work combined with its seemingly TV-ready plot and open-ended storytelling make this a natural to expand into other mediums. (Note to casting directors: Judah Friedlander was born to play Jude).
As the story opens, we get an in-depth introduction as to how the company was formed and how it functions. From the start, some things are apparent: Jude and Cecilia’s marriage is falling apart, their problems exacerbated by the former’s tendency to seem detached from his loved ones, including his young son Arturo. The schlubby Jude views his ability to see dead people as a curse and feels, like he repeatedly states, that he is “broken.” In an attempt to shield himself from the damaged and dead that seem to infiltrate his every moment, he reads Kem Nunn’s surf fiction classic Tapping the Source, abuses pain killers that lessen his ability, and occasionally converses with his dead father — much to his deceased elder’s chagrin. (You’ll be hard-pressed not to think of Zaphod Beeblebrox contacting his great grandfather in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe). He finds a kindred spirit in Zoya, a character whose carefully revealed depth slyly implodes any thought that she is just another Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Like Jude, Zoya can also see the dead, albeit only when she is looking through the lens of her digital camera. It’s a contrivance to be sure, but one that sets up the book’s most touching and human scene in which Zoya reminds Jude that their shared gift allows them both to a chance to stare at a “hall of mirrors into history.” Despite perpetually wearing rose-colored glasses, it never occurs to Jude to look at the bright side of life until Zoya opens him up to that possibility. It’s subtle touches like these that stay with you hours after you finishing reading the book.
While the Zoya/Jude relationship helps flesh out their characters, the same can’t be said about the other figures who populate the book. Cecilia is an unsympathetic wife and mother whose understandable disgust with her spouse never quite justifies her over-the-top dramatics. Rhoda is a little more than a punchline that seems ripped from an especially tired installment of The Golden Girls. And the less said about a shaman character who makes his debut towards the end of the book the better. Yet despite these issues and the largely expositional nature of the plot, Red Light Properties is riveting. This is squarely due to the unbridled creativity of its creator. There’s a lot of potential to be mined here, and when the book occasionally fumbles, it is quickly able to course correct soon enough. Ultimately, this is just the first chapter in a much larger story that Goldman is trying to tell (the second volume, Underwater, will be released this summer). Those willing to be patient with it, and can give in to its at-time overwhelming Daniel Pinchbeck-ian vibe and some characterization missteps, will find much pleasure to be discovered here. It’s a slow burn and coming down from it will leave you feeling buzzed.