Pipeline: "The Old Guard" Comic

old-guard
(Photo: Image Comics)

Because I'm a comics hipster, I remember enjoying "The Old Guard" as it came out a few years back: Four nearly-immortals are joined by a new immortal, when their cover is blown and they have to fight for their lives.

A follow-up mini-series was promised, but everything went quiet.

At last now, a second mini-series has appeared, thanks to the bigger transmedia/multimedia/something-media world news that Netflix is making a movie based on the original mini-series. The movie is coming out this week, as a matter of fact -- July 10th. The collected edition of the new mini-series is due in September, if all goes according to plan. I'm looking forward to reading it that way.

I just finished re-reading the first trade paperback and watching the trailer. It looks like the movie is following the comic book pretty closely. There are differences, but they're completely cosmetic. Conversations happen in different locations, immortal people get hurt in slightly different ways, etc.

I'm excited by how faithful it looks to the comic, otherwise. It looks like they're even spending the money to fit in the flashbacks to episodes of Dan Carlin's Hardcore History Starring Greg Rucka's Characters.

Let's Talk Comics Biz

I'm a comics purist. I like the comics first. The movies are occasional fun distractions, but the comics always come first.

The problem with that is that the comics industry -- the Direct Market portion of it, at least -- is so horribly weak and helpless that it only survives via the tall dollars of Hollywood. Period. End of story. Don't believe me? Look at any new publisher in comics from the past twenty years and ask what their business plans were -- they're all counting on Hollywood to pay their bills. If they don't, they burn out. See CrossGen for a good example.

Without movie and tv licensing, the Direct Market comics industry is dead in the water, and all of its talent moves on to designing greeting cards, storyboards, and video games. The writers write for video games, animation, or the Amazon Kindle, just as soon as they learn how to write prose.

It's almost impossible to look at any new comic from the past decade or two without thinking about what the Hollywood implications of its every decision are. Mark Millar's entire career -- and all of his personal wealth -- are built on this career plan.

Comics To Film

And while I respect Greg Rucka greatly as a writer, the cynical corner of my brain read "The Old Guard" this week with that filter: How does this become a movie?

The answer is, "Pretty easily." This book works well as a comic book, but the bones of it are strong enough to rearrange some pieces to turn a five issue series into a three act movie. You can see the first and second act turns pretty easily.

I enjoyed the comic book on its own. It doesn't read as a blatant pitch document. The characters aren't drawn in the likeness of actors the artist thinks should start in the movie. It isn't predicated on some hot button issue of the day that Hollywood might be looking for. It stands well on its own.

"The Old Guard" is a meditation on near immortality and the downsides of living a very long life. Rucka thinks about it in a couple different directions that you probably haven't thought of before. There's an emotional intelligence at work in his script that really personalizes the movie and makes you think.

It's backed up by some flashback sequences to a variety of historical places that makes for an interesting looking comic. Leandro Fernandez does a remarkable job in setting those places up to look as authentic as you might think they should. I'm not an expert on Napoleon's army or Australian penal colonies of the mid-19th century. But I believed everything I saw on the page. I'm sure his high contrast, strongly silhouetted style helps cover up some detail that we might otherwise nit-pick on, but it's OK.

This is all wrapped up under the guide of a good ol' fashioned super violent guns a-blazin' action movie. Gun and run. When people can't die, the violence increases. The lack of consequences means more bold moves. There are a series of set pieces in this comic series that makes each of those moments unique. It's a globe trotting adventure, but not so crazy that there aren't ways to make it work without blowing even one of Netflix's budgets.

The dialogue is a great combination of military preciseness and quick one-liners. Rucka keeps the characters unique -- it's a team of immortals, but they all come at their situation from a different angle. There are bonds and fights between them to different degrees, all of which makes for interesting scenes.

While the series is heavy with big questions about the meaning of life and a lot of blood coming out of the firefights and more, there's a great sense of dark humor strewn throughout the book. The little one-liners that pack the biggest punches aren't based on random attempts at catch phrases, either, but a character-based reaction to an event, or a glimpse into someone's thought patterns in a given moment.

Leandro Fernandez's art from The Old Guard v1, written by Greg Rucka
(Photo: Leandro Fernandez, Daniela Miwa)

Leandro Fernandez's art has its moments of splashy brilliance and gleefully embraces the concepts of the story. His firefights are spectacularly crazy quick cuts to jarring turn of violence, but he also pulls off some nice character moments throughout the book, taking characters out of his characteristic heavy shadows just far enough to see the extreme expressions on their face.

The coloring from Daniela Miwa is not at all what you might expect. It's filled with bold solid colors, brightly lit rooms and monochromatic locations that take Fernandez's art and complement it with a flatter coloring style to go along with his very open style of art.

In the end, all of these great traits of the comic book should transfer over to the movie very easily. There's not a moment for the book to get boring. I'm sure an hour and a half movie can do the same, particularly with all the ammunition (pun intended) Rucka and Fernandez gave Hollywood with this raw material. The locations, the story beats, the characters, the one-liners, and the continuously rising tension are all the kinds of things a Hollywood screenwriter would give their eye teeth to be handed on a silver platter.

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I'm looking forward to watching the movie this weekend, but I'm super happy with the comic book I just read. I'm looking forward to the second one soon enough...

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