Note: RetroFix is a new column here at P:R, where we team up writers and artists to redesign and reimagine public domain heroes and villains. In this first post, Vito Delsante and I take on 1942 Holyoke Publishing hero, The Red Cross. – Dean Trippe
Who Was The Red Cross?
Dr. Peter Hall was an army captain and doctor who fought the Axis powers in occupied France, and later in the Pacific, as the heroic Red Cross. Red Cross had no powers, but ably used his firearms and fists. His costume was usually red and blue with an “Rx” symbol on his chest.
Why The Red Cross?
Vito: The Red Cross (not to be confused with Captain Red Cross) is pretty typical, when it comes to the super heroes in the Golden Age: A non-powered, masked doctor who fought Nazis and…that’s it! When you look at Golden Age heroes, especially the ones in the public domain, you find a lot of characters–doctors, lawyers, cops, or average Joes–that had had it up to there with Hitler and decided to put on colorful tights and do something about it. Dr. Hall, here, had an edge. As a medic, he was more than likely already in the European Theater when the war was in full swing. For me, his appeal lies in the doctor half of him, not the Army half. He’s a man in the middle of a brutal war, torn between his duties as a soldier and a physician.
Dean: Yeah, I already like this guy a lot. The double duties of doctoring and soldiering should make him pretty interesting.
[Read on below for our costume and character discussion, as well as my initial sketch and final redesign! - D.T.]
Dean: I’ve got a glimmer of an idea for the costume. I think it’s going to be mostly red, because he has this image of himself covered in the blood of ongoing conflicts he’s had no part in deciding. He feels like his costume was chosen for him. And it may be mostly red paint, covering his bare torso, arms, and face, except for the negative space cross in the center of his chest.
Vito: That’s a pretty modern take. Very Vertigo. It’s reminiscent of Dysart’s new Unknown Soldier. It’s very much in line with what I feel would be the natural progression of the character had he survived the thirteen month publishing life he ultimately had.
Dean: I kind of think of him working against the U.S. forces at times when they make mistakes, and against terrorists and resistance fighters when they endanger civilians, but being a more neutral observer in the conflict than either side. As a superhero, he’s kinda like Dexter meets House meets The Spirit.
Vito: Bingo! That’s a great nutshell. That also brings to mind the Hippocratic Oath. He will defend life and heal, but also, he won’t suffer injustice. I think we can take this to another level, thematically. When he was created, it was cut and dry who the bad guys were. Today, it’s not as easy to identify who the villains are. Modern warfare is a difficult nut to crack because the enemy isn’t always physically represented; sometimes, it’s an idea (like terrorism).
Dean: Hall’s pissed about civilian deaths and cheap tactics no matter who causes them. And he hates landmines and war robots. He’d like the warbots if they were used against other robots. But that ain’t the case. (Okay this is mostly me talking now…)
Vito: “Warbots” makes me smile inside! Ok, my concept of the Red Cross is that it’s a field commission given to a soldier (a medic, to be specific) that has displayed great courage in battle…sort of like a medal, but this honor gets a costume and some cool weapons. More on that in second. I think Red Cross could be a legacy character (i.e., there were many Red Crosses throughout the history of modern warfare), which is why I want to set the backstory in Iraq. We’re going to be bringing Dr. Hall to the modern era, so instead of a World War 2 soldier, we’re going to be looking at a Gulf War vet…maybe even a soldier in the current Iraq/Afghanistan conflict. This makes the idea a little less Golden Age, which is fine since some of the qualities of the original costume (the Rx on his chest, the jodhpurs) are a little outdated.
Vito: Dean, you had a great idea when you said, “Dexter meets House meets The Spirit.” To me, that’s a great encapsulation of what the character could be. In my head, that gives the character the flexibility to be three things; a medic, a crime fighter and a soldier. Red Cross could conceivably go on special missions where he is purely a doctor…his costume would be inspirational to those he’s trying to heal. He could be tracking down terrorists…now, it’s a matter of practicality. So, there’s a lot of wiggle room for his actual look. In line with the Hippocratic Oath that I mentioned above, maybe he doesn’t use weapons? I mean, he’s not a pacifist, but he only uses the tools of his trade to heal, not harm. He’s a rescuer. He’s like the medical version of Charlton’s Peacemaker.
Dean: Hey, you know, to make the red paint costume idea make more sense and give RC something of a superpower, maybe the red paint is some sort of super-armor that was being developed that happens to work for him, maybe because of a rare childhood illness he’d survived? It’d just give him a level of protection on his missions, but also, make his decision to leave the negative space cross on his chest, a deliberate act, wanting people to know he is there only for aid, and also as recognition that he may not be doing the right thing interfering, and that it would be wrong to become virtually immortal. Fully armored, he’d be no better than the bomb-dropping drones piloted by people safe and sound in Arizona. He has to maintain objectivity, and acknowledgment of mortal danger is a part of that. I’m really liking this guy.
Vito: Here’s a Who’s Who style rundown I put together:
Real Name: Peter Hall, MD
Superhero Alias: Red Cross
Occupation: Doctor, Army Medic
Place of Birth: Cincinnati, OH
Citizenship: United States of America
Marital Status: Single
Weight: 200 lbs.
Brief History: Dr. Peter Hall left his practice to join the army when he learned his childhood friend had died on active duty in Afghanistan, not in combat, but from complications during surgery. In his short military career, Peter saved many lives with his deft hands and earned many medals, but unknown to his colleagues, the never-ending warfare, remote-piloted drones, and needless civilian deaths affected Dr. Hall’s belief in the “just war.” His nightmares were filled with visions of himself covered in the blood of America’s conflicts. Using his military medical credentials, Hall gained access to secret Department of Defense research into next-gen armor prototype to protect American soldiers from harm.
Peter planned to make the information available to everyone, to increase the safety and durability of all mankind. Unfortunately, the prototype had to be bonded to the user’s DNA, and hadn’t yet worked for anyone. Hall acquired the prototype, a gunmetal gray sludge of nanobots, and found that his physiology, subtly altered by a rare contagion he was exposed to as a child, and the specific treatments he underwent to cure them, worked with the prototype. It turned bright red when activated by Peter’s DNA, recalling his nightmare imagery.
Peter covered himself from head to toe in the red armor, and began running his own rogue ops to save military and civilian lives outside the lines of normal engagement. But he left a red cross shape blank in the center of his chest for two reasons: First, he chose an internationally recognized symbol of aid and neutrality, in order to counter his otherwise frightening appearance. Second, his hatred of landmines and war robots lead him to be extremely wary of the loss of perspective in combat theatres when the threat mortal danger is removed. In Peter’s mind, covering his entire body in the nanobot armor would have made him into a warbot himself. As the Red Cross, Peter battles gun-runners and warlords, rescues wrongly targeted civilians, and delivers medicine and other supplies to villagers by night.
Dean: Here’s my first sketch of our Red Cross. Just a quick one to get the idea across. Action shot next!
Vito: That is such a strong image, I don’t think we need to change anything! The red is really bold and in tune with what you said about the blood covering him (and it sends a very strong message). What I like most is how that red not only affects the white cross on his chest (because it’s an open area and is actually his flesh), but how his hands, the gloved hands of a healer, contrast with that red. It’s a great start, Dean. And goodness, the blood red is in his hair! That’s so great!
Dean: So his costume is the red armor paint, the negative space on his chest, some army gear, and his latex medical gloves. I think we’re done here.
Vito: Now THIS is a character I want to read! And WRITE! Awesome design, Dean!