VYPER: Crimson Dawn, written and illustrated by Dan Butcher, is based on a show from the nineties and is set in the eighties. It feels a lot like a comic from those eras. Which, ultimately, turns out to be both a blessing and a curse. It stars Sloane Viperini and Maria Lopez, with backup from Connie Devereaux. These three work for the American government. The graphic novel is set-up like an episode from the tv show itself. It focuses on the three protagonists going undercover at a beauty pageant. Set during the height of the Cold War, the antagonists are aptly Soviets hellbent on destruction. Sloane and Maria have to stop them from setting off a nuclear bomb and blowing up a city. The simplicity of the plot is refreshing in a way and undoubtedly nostalgic for some.
The art style is well-rendered and fully in color, making it feel like plastic. Something about the shading makes the figures look overly shiny in a way that human skin isn’t. The character designs follow standard comic book ideals, with large muscular men and well-endowed women. VYPER: Crimson Dawn doesn’t make attempts to come across as anything other than a recreation of an old tv show. This includes the stylistic decisions and the panel-to-panel shots. The characters have over-exaggerated facial expressions that also feel lifted from a different era. Visually, the most successful parts of this comic are the action sequences. Butcher clearly puts a lot of effort into them and they’re very distinct.
It’s hard to pinpoint an exact area where this graphic novel struggles. The women are over-sexualized and the Russians are propagandistic caricatures. But Butcher is self-aware enough to put an introduction addressing some of this in the comic. It’s hard to differentiate what’s being carried over from the original show and what’s Butcher’s own invention. This story acts as an homage to an old series, and in doing so, it carries over flaws that stem from the original. In my opinion, these flaws are far too emphasized and detract somewhat from readers’ enjoyment. It’s hard to take something seriously that flashes a woman’s chest for multiple panels. This seems to be for no reason other than fanservice and the dated milieu this story operates within.
Despite these considerable disadvantages, VYPER: Crimson Dawn succeeds at telling a focused narrative. It doesn’t fall into the pitfalls that many stories do; it keeps the world within the comic mostly contained to the immediate surroundings. Butcher handles Maria well as a character. Her presence in contrast to Sloane’s – who’s a womanizer – is necessary for this story to work. She’s just as important to the action as Sloane, and thinking of her as the main character honestly makes the comic better in my opinion. Connie also gets handled pretty well, though this is partially because she doesn’t participate in the action. Of the three central characters, she has the “guy in the chair” role. She’s also in the highest position of authority. This does count for something.
VYPER: Crimson Dawn isn’t very deep. But it doesn’t have to be. It tells a precise, entertaining story.