An 18 year old Union soldier named Henry Fleming awaits the call to his first taste of battle. There on the battlefield, all the glory and romance of warfare is gone, and the only things that remain are self-doubt and a deep, dark fear. One of the first great realist depictions of warfare, Stephen Crane's classic novel presents the deeply personal psychological struggles of an individual soldier. Through Henry's eye, the American Civil War appears not as a nation at war with itself, but as one man's battle between honor and survival.
This 1895 tale of young soldier Henry Fleming's initial experiences in combat during the Civil War still startles. Artist Vansant captures Fleming's uncertainty and fear quite well, sometimes through effectively understated facial expressions. Yet this adaptation oversimplifies Crane's portrayal of Fleming, ignoring or de-emphasizing the character's other failings: his egotism, his talent for self-justification and the "wild battle madness" underlying much of his later heroism. In Crane's book, Fleming is haunted by his desertion of the dying "tattered man"; in Vansant's version, Fleming forgets him. Though Crane's book is a landmark in realism, the author's symbolic writing turned Fleming's battlefield into a mythic realm. Vansant's conventionally realistic artwork, on the other hand, is more prosaic than Crane's brilliantly descriptive captions. This adaptation faithfully introduces the plot, characters and primary themes of Red Badge to readers unfamiliar with the original book without penetrating the full depths of Crane's masterwork.