Welcome to Pitch meeting, a monthly column where we propose an IP that is ripe for adaptation and then assign the cast and crew of our dreams. In this post, we introduce an ongoing franchise based on the Reckless series written by Ed Brubaker and illustrated by Sean Phillips.
Who are you calling in a traffic jam? Someone meaner than the animal on your back. Ethan Reckless, not really a PI, not really an idiot. He’s somewhere in the middle, one of the Fallen who wants to take on other heavenly castaways.
The movies are littered with all kinds of die-hard heavyies, guys who push harder than you know they should, but still not as hard as you want them to. Sam Spade. Jake Gittes. Jack Reacher. They have a little hangdog, but when you need them they are there. Their admiration stems from their vicious tenacity. You don’t let go. Ever.
Reckless is a new series of graphic novels by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips and published by Image Comics. It doesn’t play around with individual problems and the long train between them. To date, the series has published two extensive books, each of which is a full story of brutality, chaos, and persistent persecution. The third, Destroy All Monsters, is slated for release in October, and for those who have already grazed out of this gnarled, vicious universe, it’s the most anticipated comic of the year.
And yes, they would make for a hell movie. Or franchise. We’ll get to that in a second.
Together with Steve Epting and a number of other artists, Brubaker made one of the final Captain America runs. He brought no threat to the starry man and brought the paranoia of the Cold War back to a character far removed from these historical events. Plus, Brubaker has revived Cap’s long-dead pal, renamed him The Winter Soldier, and re-explored what it meant for Steve Rogers to fly the flag and what it would take others to follow in his footsteps.
Brubaker’s Captain America is buzzing throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and its most recent entry, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, has once again drawn attention to this groundbreaking superhero work. Attention that seems to burn painfully inside Brubaker. As he explained in a recent interview with Fatman Beyond, the writer receives very little compensation other than a credits note from Marvel Studios, and when images of his Bucky Barnes gleam off movie posters, his heart breaks a little.
Work-for-Hire is a thorny bastard. After a while, many artists withdraw and try to create comics on their own or with a partner like Image, which offers a much friendlier creator contract. Unfortunately, not all of these hopeful people manage to find significant audiences.
Not so with Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. Since Sleeper, their first full collaboration, the writer / artist duo have worked tirelessly to build an easy-to-read universe of criminal comics. From Criminal to Fatal to The Fade Out To Kill or Get Killed, nobody is an idiot. On the contrary, every comic falls into the range of masterpieces that you prefer based on your inclinations.
Now, after twenty years of hammering, Brubaker and Phillips have sharpened their partnership on Reckless. Pulp paperbacks and film noir are anchored in comics. The characters are bastards but always rootable (as in, you’re happy to root them, but yeah, I mean the other one too), especially when compared to the bad guys who wreak havoc with every breath.
Both books focus on the 1980s LA is telling Ethan from the present and highlight the tremendous PI work done without Google and other internet conveniences. Jesus Christ, so much microfiche. Looking back, the reader gets the impression that Mr. Reckless has seen much worse since the events, and the chance of one day explaining these stories in another book will make you tingle. If you think this is bad, just wait. The next story will be worse.
The urge is to adapt the first book first. It would be a good start as it explores Ethan’s past and explains his slip of grace, tumbling out of the FBI into a seedy movie theater where he takes calls and builds his case count. The first Reckless doesn’t give you all the answers regarding his hero’s motivation, but he rounds off his psychology enough by using a job directly tied to his old life.
Don’t worry about the beginning. Or at least let’s get back to that in the sequel. The second ruthless book, Devil’s Friend, was supposed to be the first ruthless movie. The comic starts in the middle of the action. Ethan on the run from some skinheads. They ram him into the area and meet his huddled body with cocked shotguns. The story then jumps back a couple of weeks to explain how our title fool found himself in one of those pickles. It’s an old narrative chestnut, but a Brubaker delivers.
Devil’s Friend reveals how one case from one missing person can lead to another, and how each case is a different animal. Flat feet should make the Scout motto their own – always be prepared. Ethan agrees to track down a local librarian’s sister, and the investigation leads him to Roger Corman’s Hollywood and the B-movie monsters and devils operating far below him. Neo-Nazis, Satanists, and worse – wannabe producers, oh my god.
There is nothing in the reckless acts that distinguishes them from the genre staples. Its unusual nature stems from the storytelling. Brubaker devoured and recorded the best: Hammett, Chandler, Westlake, etc. Your voice spits through his.
Reckless goes to the next level through Sean Phillips. His figure work is based on the recognizable. These are not muscle men or scream queens. It is the sunken ghosts that you see when you wander through the streets of the city or hugging bar stools. They are the lost and the lost to be found.
Too often, comic adaptations resort to plot and character, forgetting the most important aspect of the medium, art. Any reckless adaptation must adapt to Phillips’ characters and style. That means more than casting and costumes. That means he sticks to his disguise, the changes found between them, and his shadows. Perhaps even more important is to deal with Jacob Phillips’ wild color.
The ruthless palette is full of emotion. The lighting and shadows do not match reality. Ruthless adaptation must be thrown out of the window by nature. Gels, gels, gels! We need blue and black, but we also need red, pink, oranges and yellow. I don’t care what the sun does; do what the characters experience. Combine her pain with a red flaming infernal hue, her sorrow with midnight blue and screw whatever time of day it is or where the sun hangs in the sky.
Before you fill a position in Reckless film, you need to pin down the cameraman. Get me PTA’s go-to shooter Robert Elswit. His films play a huge role when it comes to Lewks. He can plop down a pot boiler in his sleep (Skyscraper, Salt, Gigli), but it’s in Inherent Vice, There Will Be Blood, and Punch-Drunk Love that I see Reckless. The colors magically blur and merge in these three films, hitting the actors where they take their characters.
As for the directors, we should trust that a franchise is inevitable. Spin the helmets like you did in the Mission: Impossible films. Give to the devil’s friend Gareth Evans and destroy all monsters Brandon Cronenberg. They are run-and-gun filmmakers who aren’t afraid to make style into substance. They both enjoy good old-fashioned ultra-violence too, make no mistake, Reckless has to hit hard. Think of Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive. The story isn’t wall-to-wall bloodshed, but when the movie turns red, it turns really, really red.
For the bruise in Reckless’ center, we need an actor who’s been through it. But maybe we should cast two actors in the role. One to tell of the distant future and play his best Clint Eastwood voice, and another to deliver the punches and kick the screen.
Could we actually get Clint Eastwood? No no. And we don’t want to. Too on the nose. How about Bruce Dern reckless as the invisible old man? It can be brutal and broken at the same time. And in the role of his young beatable counterpart, Logan Marshall– –green. You saw upgrade. They know he can take a beating and keep ticking.
Inconsiderate on the side, everything is attitude. And a project like this is clearly planted in nostalgia. That’s the pleasure, but that’s the trap too. Be careful where you step.
Inconsiderate doesn’t feel like a wannabe because it doesn’t look like an old comic and it doesn’t strive to be an old comic. The film should follow suit. The insignia are well known, but Elswit and Evans cannot chase the noir. If they chase the colors of Jacob Phillips and the lines of Sean Phillips, the film will find the new. It will be a visual shock to double the beat of the narrative.