Hailed as one of American literature's most influential works, The Red Badge of Courage has a young recruit facing the trials and cruelties of war. Stephen Crane's 1895 novel is set in the American Civil War. Private Henry Fleming flees from battle and his battalion, considering all lost. Stumbling upon injured soldiers, he feels the shame of deserting and of not possessing the "red badge of courage", the wounds of war. But later when Henry rejoins his regiment and is ordered into a hopeless battle, he finds a chance to finally prove his courage as a man.
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.