The phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover” is surprisingly apt with the return/reboot of the “Secret Service” with “Kingsman: The Red Diamond.”
Written by Rob Williams
Illustrated by Simon Fraser
Colored by Gary Caldwell
Lettered by Peter Doherty
Kingsman: The Golden Circle (starring Channing Tatum and Colin Firth)is in cinemas in September, and we’re launching the sequel to the hit comic book series by MARK MILLAR and DAVE GIBBONS with KINGSMAN: THE RED DIAMOND. Working-class super-spy Eggsy follows in his mentor’s footsteps but is still rough around the edges for a Kingsman agent. Rejected by his high school crush and hot on the heels of a rescue mission to save Prince Phillip, he embarks on an international terror plot in a story that starts where James Bond draws the line. ROB WILLIAMS (Suicide Squad, Action Comics) and SIMON FRASER take the helm for this stunning six-issue miniseries.
I’m someone who doesn’t care much for Mark Millar. “Kingsman: The Red Diamond” however appears to be one of my favorite kinds of Millar joints: the Millar Adjacent. Without the creator’s direct involvement, beyond Stan Lee style branding, some of that creators worse tendencies can be managed and his manic energies focused into something more interesting. Current “Suicide Squad” writer Rob Williams is set to script this follow up to an obscure series that spawned a hit movie. In that mixture of popularity and obscurity, “Red Diamond” finds itself in a potentially fraught position where it tries to be and please everyone but cannot fully commit to doing those duties.
“Kingsman: The Red Diamond” appears to be the kind of comic a certain kind of reader would irrationally discount. No, it isn’t because the series is being published under the Millarworld banner (that would be a highly rational reason). This James Bond like continuation of the 2012 Mark Millar/Dave Gibbons comic is trying to look like its more popular filmic cousin, the Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman film, Kingsman: The Secret Service. The main cover by Frank Quitely is literally a drawing of Taron Egerton as Eggsy.
This certain kind of reader would hate to see the saintly source material being forced to fit into the aesthetic box of some spin-off media. Of course, that one-way view of artistic license has never been true with comics from the very start. So many of what we now consider to be foundational aspects of the Superman mythos were first created not in comics but his radio show The Adventures of Superman. The same goes for characters like Batman. Multi-media properties never have a fixed state, instead their nature is all about generating or referencing the idealized version never the “true” one (if such a thing could ever actually exist). Besides, if there was anyone you expected not to try and synergize their progenitor properties to the maximum it would be Mark Millar. Matthew Vaughn is now listed as a co-creator along with Millar and Gibbons, his name even appearing front and center on retitled “Kingsman: The Secret Service” reprints. This comic in a lot of ways is situated to be for people like my Dad who loves the movie, and never read a comic in their life, despite watching the rise of the superhero genre and comic book movies in general.
With all of this textual interplay “Red Diamond” finds itself is a couple of rough spots. Interior artist Simon Fraser doesn’t try to recreate the Egerton Eggsy, and primarily creates a slicker version of Gibbons’s art work. Which, on a visual level creates some dissonance as this Eggsy doesn’t really look like the handsome late-20s charmer from the cover. He looks like an bland maybe 30-something, which makes some of the age related dynamics of the issue ring hollow. By no means is this “fellow kids” levels awkward, but there is something of a can’t let go of being a football star in high school vibe. If Fraser had committed to drawing Eggsy with a jawline more akin to Egerton the visual disconnect wouldn’t have been so pronounced.
The start to “Red Diamond” is like its lead on a visual and thematic level in the words of Sir Giles “an orphan of two worlds . . . at home in neither.” Rob Williams and Simon Fraser setup plenty of visual ques and references to the film, but there doesn’t seem to be much of a point to the reference beyond establishing for the reader that this comic you are reading is like that other thing you like. Now, to be fair, this could also be a matter of first issue requirements, those ques go a long way in establishing a world and the kind of thing you’d find in any competent first chapter to a story.Continued below
Perhaps most disappointing is how this first issue deals with class, in franchise defined by the motto of “manners maketh man.” It is a motto that defies the material environment that connotes class signifiers and instead speaks to personal attitude being the defining marker or character. “Red Diamond” #1 feels like a rejection of this mindset, or like Eggsy orphans it away, unable to fit it into the current cultural hegemony. Everyone around Eggsy cannot seem to escape their material signifiers of class. Prince Philip spouts off at his savior for growing up south of the Thames. Eggsy Mom (or is it Mum?) quickly moves back to South London over perceived slights. An old school friend mocks him for playing at being upper crust with his posh suit and fancy car. These moments read very true to Mark Millar, someone able to access an interesting thematic motif but never expand it enough to offer real commentary. Hopefully Williams gets to that next step as the series progresses.
Despite its rough spots, “Red Diamond” is still a fun Roger Moore by way of Brosnan spy comic. Simon Fraser creates dynamic page layouts for the opening Prince Philip related action sequence. Fraser fills pages of action with overlapping and angular panels that emphasize expressive points of view. The paneling zigs and zags with the action making for a surprisingly natural reading experience, the soft left curve Fraser creates as Eggsy catches Prince Philip is beautiful. There’s an effective sequence with the series mysterious Bond Villain, that gets at the referential black humor of the film. For all the potentially fraught aspects of the comic, there isn’t really anything else like it at the moment. It may not the most coherent product, “Red Diamond” is certainly aiming towards a wide audience.
Final Verdict: 7.0 – “Red Diamond” feels like one in the rough at the start. There is potential, but maybe I’m not the audience for the book either.