RED [The Comic]

Posted: 08/24/2010 in Comics, Review, Review [Other]
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I told myself that I wouldn’t read RED until after the movie came out, although I’m not entirely why I did that because I almost always read the comic first. Either way, the point is pretty much moot because as Ellis said, they had to make changes and my LCS had a moving sale that put it into my hands at a thirty percent discount. It’s actually a little bit funny that they’re calling the movie an adaptation of the comic because even from just the trailer, it’s obvious that nothing more than the basic premise has survived the translation. Not that this is even remotely a bad thing, in fact it’s brilliant. For once, someone in Hollywood correctly identified what just would not work and replaced it with something that could stand on it’s own merits.

Despite what Ellis himself has said about the difference in tone, for some reason I was still expecting to wade into something with sensibilities much closer to the film. I was kind of shocked to find out that even Helen Mirren’s character is original to the film because she seems like exactly the kind of character that would populate one of his many worlds. Enough about the movie, though. RED stood on it’s own two legs for quite a while before it got tapped for an adaptation even if it virtually disappeared under the weight of his higher profile work at Wildstorm, say nothing about his flood of material for Avatar or wildly popular bits and bobs at Marvel.

RED is- to be incredibly unfair to Ellis and Hamner- their We3. It doesn’t have the visionary layouts or the debilitating emotional power, but there’s an incredible velocity and intensity to it that invites no other possible comparison. Hamner is an incredibly underrated artist who ought to mentioned in the same breath as Phillip Bond and Cameron Stewart both for the similarity of style and dedication to storytelling over posing. (He’s mentioned in interviews that much of his storytelling sensibilities come from TV writing, which goes a long way to explaining why he and Leverage‘s John Rogers were such a dream team on Blue Beetle.) Much like Quitely’s work on We3, Hamner takes a very streamlined, minimalist approach to RED which both ratchets up the intensity of the action and pushes the pace to the absolute limit. It’s a bit of a disconcerting experience reading such a tight, compact narrative in an era so marked by decompressed storytelling but it’s also refreshing in it’s own way. It makes a lot of sense that Hollywood people would tap RED for production because the look and feel of it is entirely recognizable to them.

It takes a lot more than mimicking genre tropes and popular camera angles to make a comic truly cinematic. Among other things, one of the most important is the ability to capture the key moments from the right angle and ration both the textual and visual in a way that both keeps the reader engaged and pushes the plot forward, and that’s where RED really shines. It may be a simple, break-neck paced narrative but it’s also very easy to see where it fits in the Ellis canon; along with the bulk of his Wildstorm work such as Desolation Jones and Global Frequency concerns itself with what he refers to as “the unexploded bombs of the 20th century.” The broad strokes of the thesis of Crooked Little Vein and the changing face of America can start to be seen in some of the puddles of blook in RED. One of the many great things about Ellis as a writer is that even when he’s stripping his work clean of his trademark political allegories and incendiary opinions, he leaves breadcrumbs behind that remind us that he at his loosest is still beyond the grasp of many of his contemporaries at their tightest.

Maybe Ellis wrote RED to remind us that he does comics because he wants to and not because he has to. RED makes it so abundantly clear that he has a mastery of visual storytelling, that you’ll wonder why he hasn’t decamped to Hollywood. Then again, he’s got fuck all for comics coming out in 2010 as he labors on an ever growing list of secret projects so one day soon RED may stand out in his bibliography as the moment when he saw eye to eye with Hollywood and for once they didn’t blink and shit themselves.


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