19 Aug 2009

From The Vaults: RED #1-3

While we spend a great deal of time engrossed in the current crop of comic books, let us not forget those fantastic tales from the past that still sit in amongst our collections but are always worth revisiting...

RED #1-3

By Matt C

With the recent news that Bruce Willis and Morgan Freeman are set to star in the movie adaptation of this three-issue series by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner I thought I’d hoik out my copies and give it another read through. Originally released under the since abandoned imprint of Homage Comics for Wildstorm in 2003, Red was one of a number of short series Ellis penned for the company around the same time (see also the likes of Reload and Tokyo Storm Warning). Back then it stood out as possibly the strongest of the batch: a smart and exciting burst of action and gunplay. Looking at it again now it still holds up well, a simple but perfectly executed (pun intended!) premise that, once it gets going, rolls along with an unstoppable momentum.

The plot boils down to this: the newly appointed director of the CIA is shown super-classified evidence of what now-retired agent Paul Moses did in the name of the US of A. Appalled by what he sees he immediately orders Moses’ elimination. It’s no surprise that, when some elite agents attempt to take him out, the man described as “the best killer on Earth” is none too happy. Dispatching his would-be assassins with ease, he leaves behind his current life (which involves wrestling with his demons in solitude) to begin his journey to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia.

It’s hardly an original premise, seeing a former assassin forced out of retirement, and there are certainly shades of Jason Bourne as the highly-trained government operative turns on his former employers, but Ellis handles it with his usual flare, knowing when to have his characters flesh themselves out with insightful dialogue and when to make way for the action. Cully Hamner – currently providing visuals for the Question backup in Detective – does a sterling job with these sequences, framing the shots brilliantly to give the illusion of movement and conveying the emotions of the characters convincingly when required.

It’s a rather brisk read (I read the whole thing in 20 minutes, and I’m no speed reader!) and the narrative is pretty slender, with not time spend on superfluous subplots, which means any movie version would require substantial padding to sustain a two-hour running time. On top of that, there’s quite a heavy nihilistic streak running through it that I’d be very surprised to see in a major Hollywood movie starring Bruce Wills. Of course, I’m more than happy to be proven wrong – Willis is often underrated as an actor, and if he can lose the smirk for long enough he just might be convincing playing Paul Moses. My gut tells me the tone will be very different from how Ellis intended though.

The comic itself isn’t classic Ellis but it is a very good example of how he can bang out an idea simply and effectively, getting to his point quickly with minimal fuss while also creating a potent comic book reading experience. Red may not be in the same league as the likes of Planetary or Transmetropolitan but it’s a solid thriller that sees the writer in fine form.


Justin Giampaoli said...

Hi Matt,

Great look back at RED!

Did you ever read DOWN from Ellis, Tony Harris, and Hamner? It bugged me that they switched artists mid-stream, but I always thought this was a great (dark) little overlooked gem of a book.


Matt Clark said...

Thanks Justin. I do (vaguely) remember reading Down when it came out..... I seem to recall thinking it was a bit brief and over too quickly, but I'm not sure I still have copies of the series to verify this!