If there’s one thing comic fans hate, it’s when movie adaptations change the source material so much, that the final product becomes so disassociated from the original.
It’s a feeling shared by novelist and comic book writer Greg Rucka, of Whiteout fame, as well as his indelible runs on Batman and Wonder Woman, whose works, including the upcoming The Old Guard, is slowly being adapted as live-action vehicles.
“I think we have seen in particular in the last 10 to 15 years certainly in the American comics market, a lot of people who never had any interest in making a comic suddenly deciding that that was the thing they needed to do because they had a great idea for a movie,” Rucka said in a press interview for The Old Guard.
“And that annoys me enormously. I don’t like feeling that the art form is being prostituted in service to something else.”
And as a screenwriter for the upcoming adaptation, which stars superstar Charlize Theron in the lead as an immortal warrior leading a group of ever-living soldiers, hence the title, he knew of the responsibility and pressure on his new role.
Along with the comic co-creator and illustrator, Leandro Fernandez, the duo never intended for the series to have a live-action adaptation. He and Fernandez created the comic simply because they had a story to tell through the medium of comic books.
“I also wrote the screenplay that they made a movie of, but that was secondary to what Leandro and I started in the beginning,” Rucka elaborated.
“We didn’t start at the beginning going ‘We’re making a movie, we’re just going to dress it up as a comic.’ We wanted to tell the story we wanted to tell as a comic, then Skydance and Netflix came along and said, ‘We like this as a movie’.
Thankfully, the immense success of comic book movies, most notably from Disney’s Marvel Comics franchise, has helped shaped the level of expectation and quality of a new crop of adaptations. In fact, TV adaptations, including the more recent Amazon series The Boys and HBO’s Watchmen, have shown that under the right creative force, such adaptations can be appreciated and recognised as forms of art.
“Comics have been there the whole time, it’s like Hollywood only discovered them recently.”
That being said, Rucka himself is aware of why the trend in comic-to-film adaptations are on the rise. But just because one understands the reason for something, doesn’t mean one has to fully accept it.
“I understand why so many comic properties are being turned into film and television now. It’s because it’s a template document, it gives you an idea of what [a film] can look like and what it can be. That makes it very easy to sell in an industry where it takes a lot of money to make [a film], so you have an idea of what you are going to get. I understand how we got there, I just don’t like seeing individuals exploited for [Hollywood’s] own use.”
And just because he’s writing the adaptation to a comic he created doesn’t mean he has to be a slave to his story. Yes, there are slight changes to the comic, including the addition of a new yet familiar character.
Audiences will be able to see Quinn, who isn’t a new character, but a new version of an existing Japanese character. Since the actress in the role is Vietnamese, he made some changes as the team didn’t feel it was appropriate to get her to act as a Japanese character.
As Rucka mentioned, Leandro and he never started The Old Guard with the intention of it being made into a movie, but the limited series, which has two chapters to it, caught the sights of production studio Skydance Media and streaming giant Netflix in 2017, the challenge was on how to best adapt it, and who to star in it. Fast forward three years, and now the release for the film on Netflix is soon upon us, with the film set to release on 10 July 2020.
The Old Guard follows a group of mercenaries who are in fact centuries-old immortals who can’t die. They are well… literally old guards as the title suggests. The group are all but impervious to death, with the ability to heal from any wound such as a small stab to the chest, or even a blast that blows half of someone’s head off.
In the words of a popular knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, “‘Tis just a flesh wound.”
Having worked on Wonder Woman, another immortal character and now, The Old Guard, what is it about immortality that fascinates the writer?
According to Rucka, he’s noticed that there has been an increasingly unhealthy fascination with death, and the notion of attaining immortality and not dying, but there isn’t enough conversation around the ethics of fighting back death and the repercussions of attempting to do so.
“You know, and there’s no secret about it, we’ve got several multi-billionaires running around the planet right now, and they fully do not intend to ever die. They are looking for ways to live forever, and the idea of some of these guys living forever terrifies me. It’s scary,” explains Rucka.
“Death is part of the natural order and if we are going to say, ‘Well, we are going to beat back death itself.’ Okay, but that brings with it a whole bunch of other questions and those questions have to be addressed. Who’s going to get that? Who gets the right to live forever? Right, who gets immortality? Who gets longevity? Is it only for the rich? ‘Cause when it happens, it’s only going to be for the rich first. We got to ask these questions.”
So the questions are being asked by Rucka and Leandro through their comic series, with the rich Steve Merrick capturing the Old Guards after learning of their secret, with hopes of figuring out their secret to immortality.
Fortunately, the immortals, led by a supposedly seven thousand year old warrior, Andy (Charlize Theron), are ready to fight for both their freedom and their erm, immortal lives.
According to Rucka, the idea for The Old Guard comes from ghost stories of soldiers who don’t die, coupled with the idea of a strong warrior woman who couldn’t die.
“The ghost stories of soldiers who don’t die, they’re there in almost every military culture. And that ghost story sort of mythology sort of joined up with this idea I had for this woman who was so inconceivably old because she couldn’t die and who herself was a warrior and the most dangerous warrior the world has ever seen simply because she had 7000 years of experience,” explained Rucka
The Old Guard is the second feature film Rucka had worked on, having also written the screenplay for the 2008 direct-to-DVD anthology film Batman: Gotham Knight. But this is special as it marks the first time he’s been involved in the development of a film so deeply. It’s also the first film of his to premiere directly on Netflix instead of movie theatres, unlike many other comic book-to-film adaptations, which is a notion that Rucka is more than happy with.
“I remember getting a call saying, ‘So it’s going to be on Netflix’, and there’s this pregnant pause as if they were expecting me to go, ‘Oh, no, you promised me a movie theatre’, and my response was ‘Great!’, Rucka said.
He continued, “Again there was this pause and ‘You don’t have a problem with that?’, and I said ‘Why would I have a problem with that?’, and the guy said it’s because some people think it’s not the same but I say it’s better.”
“Netflix is in something like 138 million homes worldwide, 138 million people will get to see our movie. Holy mackerel, that would be unbelievable.”
For those that will be watching the movie, both Leandro and Rucka hope that audiences leave the movie wanting to start on the comic book series that it is based on.
“I would love for people to come away from this movie having loved it and being so excited by it that they want to see the original material, that they actually want to see the work that Leandro did, the work that Daniela Miwa did in colouring this book.”
“I am very proud of the comic and I would love for people to be able to experience that.”
You can catch the live-action adaptation of The Old Guard on Netflix on 10 July 2020.