This article is part of The Reading List, a monthly column in which we encourage you to take your enthusiasm for a particularly groovy film and direct it into a wide array of extracurricular studies. This one begins with The Old Guard comic series and expands from there.
Before the third issue of The Old Guard comic series was ever published, Skydance Media secured the rights to adapt Greg Rucka and Leandro Fernández’s work for the screen. The concept of four immortal assassins globetrotting from one murderous job to the next while some very mortal scumbag scientists thirst for the key to their genetic code was too delicious an idea to leave imprisoned in one medium. Tired: mopey, unkillable vampires. Wired: angry, unkillable mercenaries.
Now adapted as a feature film for Netflix, Charlize Theron commands these exhausted eternal warriors under the direction of Gina Prince–Bythewood (Beyond the Lights). Joining their ranks are KiKi Layne, Marwan Kenzari, Luca Marinelli, and Matthias Schoenaerts as the perpetual soldiers of fortune forced to bounce between the source material’s mix of bloodthirsty action and gothic melodrama. Done right, The Old Guard is Rambo by way of Bram Stoker.
Currently, there are only two volumes of the Old Guard comic available for you to devour. They lead off this month’s Reading List like the first delectable rounds of a seven-course meal that will take the hungry consumer from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. the next morning. The same cook, Greg Rucka, prepared each dish. Some items on the menu play off each other, blending flavors into a gobsmacking new taste, while the last recommendations act as deserts meant to shock you out of your food coma.
Loosen your belts, and open up.
The Old Guard Comic: Opening Fire
The Netflix film draws most of its inspiration from the first trade paperback collection. Within these five comic books, we meet our squad of immortal soldiers, and their contempt for life makes Anne Rice’s Lestat look positively chipper. They kill for money cuz it’s the only thing they’ve ever been any good at.
Andy (played by Theron in the movie) hails from Ancient Greece, and she’s experienced and seen every kind of possible tragedy. A couple of her cohorts once fought each other on opposing sides during the Crusades, and Booker (Schoenaerts’ role), her closest comrade, discovered his gift after he hanged himself to avoid the Napoleonic Wars. They’ve never known peace.
When one of their routine operations reveals itself to be a ruse — an assault to uncover what separates their biology from the rest of humanity — Andy and her team flee for safe harbor. In the process, they encounter Nile (KiKi Layne in the movie) and encourage her to ditch her family and accept her new place among the everlasting. Through her introduction, the reader receives most of The Old Guard‘s exposition. It’s rarely clunky, mostly weird, and it highlights the awful presence of circular history.
People can’t stop being terrible to each other. The Old Guard are numb by their experience. Nile maintains hope. Is that a strength or the foolish behavior of a child?
The Old Guard Comic: Force Multiplied
The second volume of The Old Guard is unfinished, and the fifth and final issue should arrive in July with the trade paperback collection expected in September. If you’re like me, you can’t wait, and the digital monthlies are only one-click away from consumption.
The previous storyline was all set-up. Now we can have some fun. Or, in a series where fun is just an appetizer for further destruction, we can have some scrumptious emotional sadism.
Before Andy found comfort in her current comrades, there was Noriko. They were lovers who sailed the endless ocean until Noriko washed into the sea, where she spent centuries drowning over and over and over again. During that time, a hate grew inside her, and when Noriko finally pulled herself from the depths, she made revenge her armor.
When you have characters who cannot die, the violence they bestow on each other tends to take on an added layer of anger and absurdism. They know the torment they commit upon each other won’t end them, but it will hurt like hell. Noriko is mad, and she will make sure that Andy will feel every ounce of her rage. Rucka and Fernández take pleasure in their misery.
Changing gears, Stumptown shares very little in common with The Old Guard other than its writer, Greg Rucka. Well, this comic was also recently adapted into series, starring Cobie Smulders as the Portland P.I., and it is certainly caked in genre influence but of the hardboiled noir and ’80s TV variety. Imagine Raymond Chandler begrudgingly writing for Simon & Simon or Magnum P.I.
Dex Parios would be a helluva investigator if not for her gambling habit. She’s practically broke when the head of a local casino operation offers to clear her debt in exchange for locating her missing granddaughter. With few options, Dex takes the case and — you guessed it — finds herself tumbling down a rabbit hole of corruption and villainy.
Gotham Central: In the Line of Duty
Many have attempted to blend a ’40s noir aesthetic to Batman, but few ever succeed. Greg Rucka, thanks in large part to his collaboration with artist Michael Lark, does just that with Gotham Central. Of course, Batman only pops in here and there as this series is more interested in the day-to-day operations of one of the most corrupt police departments in the most corrupt city in America.
The first volume of the series follows a handful of tough cops, some less bad than others, as they struggle with their fragile egos as the Dark Knight’s clean-up crew. When Mister Freeze murders one of them, they can’t sit around and wait for the Caped Crusader to deliver his special brand of justice. This time vengeance belongs to them.
Sticking to Gotham City, Batwoman: Elegy represents the very best of superhero comics. The trappings may look a little familiar — same town, same bat ears — but the vibe feels unlike any other Bat-book, especially when compared to others published around the same period. Greg Rucka never feared playing with the spandex types, and he’s donned Bruce Wayne’s cowl on several occasions, but with Batwoman he ditches the gloomy billionaire psyche for Kathy Kane’s righteous rebel.
Batwoman: Elegy is a surreal fantasy adventure that pits Kane against her Joker, the nutty wannabe Alice inspired by the worst interpretations of Lewis Carroll’s classic work. The art by J.H. Williams is rapturous and easy to get lost in, as he spins panels in abnormal ways, but only to accentuate the oddity of the villains at work against Batwoman. The Bat-Family is massive, and sometimes keeping track of all the Robins is challenging enough, but Rucka proves with Kathy Kane that one more is never a bad thing if the narrative can carve out a unique psychological playground.
This series is also not quite complete (the collection will release in November), but now’s your time to jump on board the monthly issues or pre-order the hardcover. Greg Rucka takes some of his indie Stumptown P.I. badassery and applies it to Superman’s wife, Lois Lane, and once you’ve read this series, hopefully, you’ll never describe her in such a dismissive fashion ever again. Lois Lane is not to be wife’d. Superman already knows this, and now it’s time for you and DC Comics to grant her the respect she deserves.
Pay no attention to the subpar adaptation starring Kate Beckinsale. Whiteout is a visually arresting (tip your hat to artist Steve Lieber) and haunting tale of a tarnished U.S. Marshall dumped in Antarctica after her anger led to the killing of a suspect in her custody. What was exile quickly transforms into the most important case of her pathetic career when they discover the body of a scientist frozen outside the station.
Whiteout is one of those stone-cold Murder She Wrote whodunnits, where the clues come fast and furious and you’re looking to solve the crime before our heroine does. Good luck with that cuz it’s a wild one. The comic is an early tale from Greg Rucka, and he would only gel better with his collaborators in the future (see the comics above), but the guessing-game and raw energy of Whiteout can’t be topped.