By Andrew A. Smith
Scripps Howard News Service
The new movie Red,
starring Bruce Willis, is based on a comic-book miniseries. A very, very short miniseries, which is probably why the movie adds so many new characters, which are now starring in their own comics. From comics to movies to comics again – it’s the new circle of life.
The original Red
was just an obscure, three-issue, stand-alone miniseries published by Homage, a DC Comics adult-readers imprint, in 2003-04. Written by Warren Ellis and drawn by Cully Hamner, Red
is so short that it had to be collected with another Ellis mini (Tokyo Storm Warning
) to fill out a trade paperback.
Like most Ellis stories, Red
had plenty of over-the-top violence, tempered by dry wit and the blackest of humor. It starred Paul Moses, a retired, ex-CIA “wetworks” operative, who is suddenly targeted for assassination by a new administration eager to bury his role in U.S. foreign policy. Moses may be old and inactive, but he has lost none of his mad skilz, and goes from “green” status to “red,” hunting those who want to see him dead. Violent (but witty) encounters ensue, with readers treated to flashbacks from Moses’s career, making Red
a short anthology.
Too short, so Red
the movie has added three more retired ex-spies to flesh out the story to 111 minutes, including the stoic Joe (Morgan Freeman), the paranoid Marvin (John Malkovitch) and the icy Victoria (Helen Mirren). Moses (whose first name is inexplicably changed to Frank for the movie) brings along a civilian love interest, Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), to serve as the audience’s POV character.
As noted, Joe, Marvin and Victoria weren’t in the original Red
. But now they – and Frank – have one-shot prequels from DC imprint WildStorm ($3.99 each). Red, "Joe"
is set in Moscow in 1981, where Joe is a handler who decides which of his agents to sacrifice for the greater good. Red, "Victoria
" (Buenos Aires, 1982) explores the single time the MI6 assassin fell in love, with a man who becomes important in the movie. Red, "Marvin"
(New York, 1987) explains the origin of the character’s psychosis, while he avoids being terminated by Frank. And Red, "Frank
" (Cairo, 1997) follows our anti-hero on an assassination assignment while mentoring a young spook.
These are straightforward, professional stories, and will undoubtedly enhance the movie-going experience. But, unfortunately, none are by Ellis. Relentless ultra-violence can only entertain for so long, and without Ellis’s sardonic snark it’s hard to sympathize with these ruthless, remorseless killers.
Oh, well. At least the new trade paperback ($14.95) is all-Red
now, as it includes a Red: Prequel Special
($4.99), starring Frank, that I haven’t seen yet. Count on the other four prequels to get the TPB treatment if the movie’s a hit.
Another oddity crossing my desk is The Art of Drew Struzan
(Titan Books, $34.95), a coffee-table art book about a man who has recently retired from the business of painting movie posters. That’s not an aspect of movies many of us think about, and it’s a profession that’s largely dying out. (According to director Frank Darabont, who writes the introduction, the blame goes to Photoshop.)
This book demonstrates what a tremendous loss that is. Struzan’s uncanny ability to capture the essence of a movie in a single scene and to reflect an actor’s personality is astounding. And with this peek behind the curtain, you see he had to do it numerous times for each movie, with each image just as delightful – and as fully rendered – as the last. If you want an idea what’s in this book, think of the posters you saw for Back to the Future, Blade Runner
or Raiders of the Lost Ark.
I’ll bet those images are easy to summon to the mind’s eye – which is a testament to just how awesome Struzan and his breed were.
A third unusual item is The Music of DC Comics: 75th Anniversary Collection
Mostly the 31 tracks are intros to various cartoons, with the familiar, stentorian voice of Ted Knight (the obnoxious anchorman Ted Baxter on The Mary Tyler Moore Show
) introducing various Super Friends. Interesting once, but the novelty wears off fast.
Skip over those, and listen to the good stuff. I wish they’d included more of the cooler movie, cartoon and TV themes instead of all those idiotic intros, but what is there is (barely) sufficient for the $15, and as familiar as an old family friend.
Contact Andrew A. Smith of the Memphis Commercial Appeal at