Seeing "Red (Spike)" with Cahn

What do you get when you combine the rapid fire banter of '80s action flicks like "Tango & Cash," the modern action of the Bourne films and just the right amount of science? The five issue miniseries "Red Spike" from Image Comics and Benaroya Publishing, of course. Written by Jeff Cahn with interior art by Salvador Navarrow and covers by Mark Texeira, the May-shipping series follows a pair of super soldiers named Matt Cutler and Greg Dane who have undergone intense training as well as a surgery to help them control their body's natural output of adrenaline.

"Red Spike is the name of both the covert program and the adrenaline system that's installed in the two cadets, Matt and Greg," Cahn told CBR News. "Basically, after they pass training they have this system installed in their body with chips in their brain and on their adrenal glands which are by your kidneys. Basically, it allows your brain to tell this regulator on your adrenal gland that you need more adrenaline. So it allows you to up your adrenaline production and then distribute it. If you're in a scenario where you're having your fight or flight response engaged, then it allows you to maximize your adrenaline for an extended period of time. Essentially, these guys can think themselves into an adrenaline frenzy when they need to. It allows them to be stronger and faster and be awake longer should they need to be."

Unlike many other super soldiers seen in movies and comics, the "Red Spike" soldiers aren't just lucky individuals chosen for their enthusiasm or ability to kill, they must be at the top of their respective military branches, become experts in the ways of black ops espionage and pass the physical tests necessary to have the system surgically implanted. The tests have produced only two viable candidates in Matt and Greg. While both superior physical specimens, the pair differ greatly when it comes to personality.

"Matt is definitely more of the straight edge guy," Cahn said. "He would be the white hat of the group and Greg would be the black hat. I look at [Matt] more as someone who does this for all the right reasons, a good kid who had kind of a rough upbringing when he lost his father and things like that, but he has a good head on his shoulders and is really trying to make the most of not only himself but also positively impact the world around him. Greg is sort of the darker impulses of not only people but also what someone who has this system is. As we move later in the series, especially in #2, you learn a lot about Greg's past and you see where a lot of his anger comes from and then the system only serves to maximize that."

Their personal differences don't stop Matt and Greg from getting along in the field though. In fact, they share a competitive but friendly relationship that stops short of becoming a full-blown bromance because, as Cahn pointed out, in the regular world their paths would only cross if Matt was a cop who arrested Greg. While both characters are important to different aspects of the story, Matt was the first dreamt up by Cahn in the development stage.

"The main character, Matt, was one we had been working on for a while," Cahn remembered. "We had a couple different ideas for the story that we had been playing around with that I had written treatments of, trying to figure out that story for this character and this technology. Ultimately when we decided to go into production on the comic, this story with Matt and Greg was the one we decided on because I thought it was a good origin story so you can learn where everyone comes from and the genesis of the program. I really like having the two guys so they can play off of each other and we can see the effects of this power on different personality types and seeing how you can have too much of a good thing if you're angry or lean more towards the dark side."

Greg's temper isn't the only problem facing him in the inaugural "Red Spike" miniseries, though, he will also be dealing with malfunctions in his Red Spike implants that have widespread effects on the program and the story.

"That's what drives a lot of the miniseries," Cahn said. "That idea of technology and the limits of it and the limits of the human body and mind and how they interact. The fact that Greg has trouble with his system is a huge part of the story. That idea was one that we had played with in other contexts because that's the really interesting theme that's ever present in this world; how people and their technology interact. This is going to an extreme with the technology being in your body and used for warfare, which is an extreme human even."

Lest readers think all the talk of hormones and technology might distance them from the material, "Red Spike" keeps the technology just detailed enough to understand without getting too heavy on the jargon.

"That's sort of an ever present problem with something like this, how to set it up so it's believable and everyone understands what's going on but without getting too bogged down in the science of it all and the 15 syllable words for neurological chemicals and things like that," Cahn said. "Those are scenes I would write and then toy with and rewrite. When dealing with something like this, sometimes the less they say, the more believable it is because once you get people thinking too hard about it, there might be certain things that don't make sense."

Cahn promised that believability is not a problem with "Red Spike" because, after digging through piles of research material, he invented a super soldier system that could theoretically exist in our world, assuming some black ops surgeons figured out a way to surgically implant those attachments. However, the writer also looked to comic books and various movies for inspiration as well.

"I guess in some ways ['80s action movies] were [influential on "Red Spike"] and in some ways you try to do something new," Cahn explained. "I definitely like the way the 'Bourne' trilogy has kicked the ball forward as far as the realism and the grittiness. At the same time it's hard to get away from the zeitgeist that's been established with movies like 'Universal Soldier.' Some of those tropes have been established because they work. The audience is expecting a certain degree of that, so you have to respect that and, but at the same time you have to do something surprising and something new with it to keep their interest. I tried to draw elements that I like from the more campy '80s and early '90s action movies and the realistic, grittier mid-2000s movies."

"Red Spike" #1 debuts May 4, 2011 from Image Comics for only a dollar.

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