Why Red 5’s Keyser Soze Origin Comic is a Bad Idea
Amidst all of the fanfare of movie trailers and Star Wars themed fireworks displays, one Comic Con story almost slipped by unnoticed. Red 5 Comics has announced that it’s partnering with Bad Hat Harry Productions to publish a series of graphic novels based on The Usual Suspects, and they’re kicking things off with an origin story about the film’s mythical villain, Keyser Soze.
I’m not sure anybody asked for an origin story about Keyser Soze.
But let’s backtrack. The Usual Suspects is a 1995 film directed by Bryan Singer, who would go on to direct X-Men and Superman Returns. The movie is best known for netting Kevin Spacey his first Oscar and for one of the more stunning twist endings in Hollywood history (no, it won’t be spoiled here). The comic series is intended to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the film and will be written by Red 5 co-founder Paul Ens (Afterburn, Star Wars: Evasive Action), with Keyser Soze: Scorched Earth #1 set to debut in early 2016.
So why am I skeptical?
Let’s just say that Keyser Soze doesn’t seem like the sort of character that would benefit from overexposure. In The Usual Suspects, Keyser Soze is the enigmatic villain who exists more as monster than man. The rumor is that he’s the most ruthless, violent drug lord alive. In the words of Verbal Kint, Soze is forced to participate in the murder of his family and then:
“He goes after the rest of the mob. He kills their kids. He kills their wives. He kills their parents and their parents’ friends. He burns down the houses they live in and the stores they work in. He kills people that owe them money. And like that he was gone. Underground. Nobody has ever seen him since.”
It’s a great story, and that’s the problem when it comes to the comic. Scorched Earth is a prequel that will explain how Soze built his narcotics empire while Reagan was waging his war on drugs in the 1980s, and while it could be good, it removes the mystique surrounding the character. Soze is so memorable precisely because we don’t know how much of his story true and how much is embellished. He’s the devil, “a spook story that criminals tell their kids at night,” and the ambiguity is the source of his power. It’s frightening to think that a man like Keyser Soze could exist because Keyser Soze could be anything.
Turning Keyser Soze into an ordinary man strips him of that supernatural omnipotence, and The Usual Suspects has been so enduring because it never resolves that central mystery. Even when we know the answers, we still don’t know what happened.
That’s not to say that Scorched Earth will be bad. It just undoes a lot of what made the movie so much fun, which strikes me as a pretty counterproductive idea. Keyser Soze became a legend because we let ourselves believe that a criminal was more than human, and the reality can’t possibly live up to the figure fans have built up in their heads. That sounds like a recipe for disappointment no matter how well the comic is written.