More Than One Shade Of RED
by Cully Hamner — DC Comics/DC Entertainment
August 02, 2011 – 00:00
The most interesting thing, to me, about seeing writer Warren Ellis’ and my RED adapted into another medium was the process of the interpretation itself. The original 3-issue comic book—yes, I know the current Hollywood-favored parlance is “graphic novel,” but I guess I’m old-fashioned that way—was a stripped-down, simple piece of revenge fiction about a supposedly obsolete human weapon, or as Warren has put it, "unexploded ordinance of the twentieth century." It was violent and humorless, as it was intended to be. The film was extrapolated into a pretty different story with a much more lighthearted tone.
The most overt thing that survived the translation was the opening scene featuring Bruce Willis’ retired agent character, Frank Moses (Paul Moses in the comic). Now, the beats of the sequence survive: Moses is alone and lonely, marking time in his retirement, when he is suddenly attacked by what’s called a “wet team”—assassins who expect to get bloody. Moses dispatches them like the professional killer he’s always been, gathers supplies, and escapes into the night to…
What, exactly? In our comic, it’s simply to exact revenge, which Moses does with cold efficiency before finally committing what is essentially suicide. In the movie, it’s to protect the woman he loves, reassemble his old team, and discover the reason for the attack. These are wildly different results from what is essentially the same scene.
But let’s look at that opening scene again. As I said, the beats are all still there, but the subtext is very different. Paul Moses lives affluently in a Frank Lloyd Wright house filled with trophies of his world travels, and is haunted every night by the people he’s killed and the choices he’s made. The only friendship he allows himself—with Sally, his CIA handler— is at a distance because he doesn’t feel he can trust himself around normal people. As I said, his response to the attempt on his life is one of retribution.
Frank Moses, on the other hand, lives on a government pension in a blue collar house in a friendly neighborhood. He is not haunted. In fact, he’s rather stoic—except for a puppy-ish crush on his CIA handler, Sarah, whom he only knows from long, flirty converstations on the phone. When he escapes from his attempted assassination, it’s mainly to protect her.
Definitely not what Warren and I had in mind. But valid? Of course it is.