RED: The Comics Connection

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The thriller RED opens in movie theaters this Friday; it doesn’t seem to be widely known that it’s based on comic books, and in turn has new comics based on it. The original version of RED was a three-issue miniseries by writer Warren Ellis and artist Cully Hamner, released in 2003-2004. (The initial paperback collection paired it with another, unrelated three-issue miniseries Ellis wrote around the same time, Tokyo Storm Warning.) It’s a morally bleak, brutally violent little story, in which the CIA decides to eliminate a retired assassin named Paul Moses who once worked for the agency, and he responds by killing everyone in the path between himself and the people who’ve ordered him taken out.

At a panel at New York Comic-Con last weekend, Hamner talked a bit about the original series: since Paul Moses is almost constantly in motion, Hamner designed the covers to the series to have three panels of action on each one, with an all-red color scheme on the first, yellow on the second and green on the third. (The ad campaign for the movie riffs on Hamner’s design for the comics.) Hamner also mentioned that RED was the last time he worked with a hand-letterer, John Costanza, before the current comics-industry standard of digital lettering took over.

RED the movie is significantly different: it’s apparently something of a comedy, the main protagonist is renamed Frank Moses (he’s played by Bruce Willis), and he’s one of a group of four assassins brought out of retirement. Ellis has noted that RED, as he wrote it, is roughly short-story length, with only four significant characters, and therefore had to be expanded to be a film; he also commented that “if you don’t want to see a film with Helen Mirren with a sniper rifle, I’m not sure I want to know you.”

But the movie is now also feeding back into comics. Last month, WildStorm published four one-shot comics, set in the movie’s continuity, all by different writers and artists, devoted to Frank and three of the new major characters introduced by the movie: Joe, Marvin and Victoria. Ellis wasn’t involved with them, but Hamner drew the covers for all four. RED screenwriters Erich and Jon Hoeber respectively wrote the Marvin and Victoria specials, the latter of which was drawn by the remarkable David Hahn; Gregory Noveck, the executive producer of RED, wrote the Frank special. Next week sees the slightly delayed release of a fifth one-shot, RED: Eyes Only, written and drawn by Hamner, which is a prequel to the original miniseries (the lead character is a not-yet-bald Paul Moses). And now you know.

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