With Hollywood turning more of its attention to the world of graphic novels for inspiration, I’ll cast the spotlight on a new comic book each week that has the potential to pack a theater or keep you glued to your television screens. At the end of some “Adapt This” columns, you’ll also find thoughts from the industry’s top comic creators about the books they’d like to see make the jump from page to screen.
This Week’s Book: Rodd Racer by Toby Cypress
The Premise: In a dark, dirty city of the future, the “Thunder Alley Rally” is the biggest event of a generation. Rodd Racer must outrun the greatest racers in the world and a dangerous assassin in order to win the race and save his own life and the life of the woman he loves.
The Pitch: A good adaptation of Rodd Racer will combine the high-octane action of the “Fast and the Furious” movies with the steampunk-noir style of “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow,” flavored with a dash of the Eastern-cinema-meets-classic-Western fusion that Quentin Tarantino does so well.
At its heart, Rodd Racer is a throwback to classic 1950s and ’60s crime stories, with its hero perpetually covered in bandages and backed into a corner by his dealings with the more clear-cut bad guys. He simply wants to do right by the owman he loves and get out from under the bad guys’ thumb — but he’ll have to take an even bigger risk in order to win his freedom. Much like Donald Westlake’s popular thief, Parker, Rodd Racer finds himself having to stay one step ahead of the mob in order to pull off his redemption scheme.
At just around 60 pages, Cypress’ story will need some padding to reach standard feature-film length — a condition that should appeal to studios and production teams craving the freedom to shape a story in their own way. There’s quite a bit of implied background material that Cypress doesn’t touch on in the comic, so there’s ample room to expand the narrative and build a unique world around its cast.
Rather than offering a future filled with jet packs and hoverboards, the setting for Rodd Racer is more of a steampunk retro-future, with zeppelins filling the skies and races conducted in nitro-fueled, old-school stock cars. Cypress’ future-world is ruled by vintage visions of the future mixed with actual, modern-age technology (hence the earlier “Sky Captain” reference) — something that should be fairly easy to pull off without drowning the story in special effects. This isn’t “Speed Racer,” after all.
The story’s small cast of characters allows ample opportunity for actors to make the roles their own, and the brevity of the source material leaves more than enough room to expand the narrative and otherwise develop the story into a more well-rounded movie experience.
The tough-guy lead in Rodd Racer is the sort of role someone like Tom Hardy would be a great fit for, combining equal parts action, drama, and the ability to make a grease-stained undershirt and a bandaged nose seem like the coolest look in the world. There’s also room for a strong female lead in Rodd Racer’s nemesis, the assassin nicknamed Drag’On. Tack on Rodd’s garage-jockey girlfriend and the weasel-like mob boss putting the pressure on Rodd, and there are more than a few meaty casting opportunities in a Rodd Racer adaptation.
Of course, even after all of these other elements are settled, the real focus of a “Rodd Racer” movie should be the race itself. If the film’s director can capture anything close to the sort of tense, edge-of-your-seat race experience found in films like “Ronin” or the more flashy, unbelievable physics of the “Fast and the Furious” films or “The Transporter,” there’s great fun to be had in “Rodd Racer.”
The Closing Argument: Many of the car-racing films to hit theaters lately have gelled into a very similar, very tired cinematic experience. An adaptation of Rodd Racer puts a new spin on the genre, but doesn’t take it so far off-base that the audience can no longer connect with it (a la “Speed Racer”). Rodd Racer is a character-driven story at its most basic level, set against a fast-paced race in a stylized retro-urban landscape. It could be just the sort of fresh perspective on gritty racing stories that Hollywood needs.