Posted tagged ‘Warren Ellis’

Review: Planetary

October 29, 2009

Well it took a decade for a mere 30 issues (counting the 3 specials) to come out, but the wait was worth it.  Warren Ellis and John Cassaday’s Planetary is one of the key comics of the last decade and unquestionably a must read for any fan of the medium.
What makes the book such a standout is the two levels the story works on.  On its surface this is an adventure book about 3 adventurers dedicated to their catchphrase “it’s a strange world, let’s keep it that way”.  To do so the team of “mystery archaeologists travels the world finding wonders and trying to save them from the 4, a group dedicated to hording those treasures for themselves.

This is where Planetary goes from being a merely good comic to something special.  The four are clearly patterned on the Fantastic Four, who if you know your comics history, launched Marvel’s dominance of the comic stands.  The FF are explorers at heart, a quartet that goes into the unknown in order to define it.  In this book, Ellis instead portrays them as the death of the heroic age that came before them.  An age in which the pulp heroes sought out the same sorts of wonders, but soley to have the experience, and not to define them and limit their capacity for evoking a sense of wonder.

Ellis then combines this analysis of pulp history with his archaeologists to turn the comic into a tribute what was lost.  Up until the end when Ellis starts wraping up the story every issue serves as a meditation on a different part of that history.  There are issues dedicated to Doc Savage, Japanese Kaiju, the Justice League, and big dumb object s.f. tales (think Rendezvous with Rama), plus many more.  Ellis is always respectful of these inspirations, and Cassaday’s art, which made him a superstar, is the perfect compliment for it.

Just an incredible book.

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Review: Frankenstein’s Womb

August 22, 2009

Frankenstein’s Womb is the latest in Warren Ellis’ occasional line of Apparat comics from Avatar.  The central premise behind these books is what would comics have been like had pulp traditions besides masked vigilantes become the dominant genre in the form?  They’ve also consistantly been his best work over the last few years (Crecy may actually be his greatest work ever).

So, now he’s essentially written an Alan Moore comic (think From Hell but focusing on Frankenstein instead of Jack the Ripper).  Within the fairly short tale Ellis manages to explore the origins of the Frankenstein story, the history of both Mary Shelley and her closest relations, and how all of these things tie together to lay the groundwork for the modern world.  

It’s a fascinating read, on a number of levels.  It doesn’t quite read like an Ellis book, or something published by Avatar for that matter.  It’s also far more readable than any of its peers (which may only include From Hell and Alice In Sunderland, not to sleight the achievements of either of those works).  Definitely recommended.

Review: Freakangels Vol.2

May 4, 2009

Freakangels is Warren Ellis’ latest experiment with the comics form (for prior examples see Fell and Global Frequency).  This time around he’s playing with webcomics, publishing the series in weekly, six page, chunks with an eye towards collecting them in trade.  For the most part this works quite well, although the pacing, with its rapid scene changes takes a little getting used to.

The quality of the actual story depends a great deal on the reader’s exposure to other of Ellis’ books.  For him it’s fairly derivative actually, taking the century babies concept from his work for Wildstorm and combining it with the civil engineering focus of much of his science-fiction output.  Don’t get me wrong it’s very good, but Ellis does have a tendancy to repeat himself sometimes.  For those who have not read him before, this makes a great introduction to his work, actually it’s maybe the best book for that purpose.  But for the die hard Ellis fans, he’s done better.

Review: Freak Angels

November 21, 2008

Freak Angels is Warren Ellis’ latest effort to play with the format of comics.  His done this sort of thing quite successfully in the past, particularly with Fell, a comic designed to be more affordable by making the story denser.  This time around the experiment is to produce a 6-page weekly webcomic that will read equally well in those small chunks as it will in a collected edition.

From the structural standpoint the book is a huge success.  The story largely accomplishes this task by switching between the dozen or so lead characters every few pages.  The characters are all strong and unique enough (although many are fairly typical for an Ellis book) to support this sort of narrative whiplash without losing the reader.

The story itself isn’t bad either, although very little happens in this first collection.  Due to the nature of the story the first volume is almost entirely given over to introductory material, and there’s a lot of it to get through.  Besides all the characters (many of whom have to be established as having psychic powers or advanced engineering skills) there’s a fairly complex world to introduce.  To paraphrase the series blurb, the book is about what happens 6 years after the world ended.  Ellis does all this work almost seemlessly, but the book does end feeling like the story is just getting under way.  Fortunately if you’re impatient for volume 2, there is the webcomic.

Review: Aetheric Mechanics

October 29, 2008

Aetheric Mechanics is the latest book to come out of Warren Ellis’ Apparat line.  The Apparat books are Ellis’ latest attempt to address his now famous line regarding the dominance of the superhero genre in comics “it’s like every bookstore in the planet having ninety percent of its shelves filled by nurse novels.”  The main conceipt of these books is that they are written as if a different genre grew to dominate the field and had been given the chance to evolve properly over the last 50 or so years.

This time out it’s a Sherlock Holmes mystery with some touches of Sax Rohmer thrown in.  It’s a clever story in which the master detective is forced to confront his own place in the world, and Ellis does a masterful job of updating the genre.  And it’s amazing how detailed a world Ellis can create in a story that’s only 48 pages long, although much of that credit must go to the art team of Gianluca Pagliarani and Chris Dreier.  I particularly like the sense of history apparent in all the military vehicals in the story, you can clearly see that all the modern technological marvels of the story are refitted relics underneath.

This isn’t quite up there with the last Apparat book (the brilliant Crecy), but it still does a great job of progressing the line and is highly recommended.

RA: Politics for Geeks

September 13, 2008

I’ve been aching to put together some recomendation lists for awhile now, and as it’s an election year I figured this would be a good one to start of with.  So my top 10 political stories for geeks:

10) Iron Council, the most political novel from New Weird proponent and former Socialist party candidate China Mieville.

9) Sam & Max: Abe Lincoln Must Die, Telltale games has done an amazing job by bring back Sam & Max to adventure games.  This episode is the highlight of it to date, thanks in large part to seeing the homicidal rabbit-like Max debate the Lincoln Memorial.  Right now it’s also available as a free trial to advertise the other 9 episodes.

8 ) Howard the Duck, the best satire of life in the 70’s comics ever produced.  Of particular note here are issues 7-9 in which Howard is nominated as the Presidential candidate for the All Night Party, only to lose when some lurid photographs of him get released.

7) V for Vendetta, forget Watchmen, V is Alan Moore’s masterpiece.  A searing blast of anarchy aimed squarely at Margaret Thatcher that didn’t lose any of it’s power when translated into a movie focused on Bush’s America instead.  Both the movie and the original are well worth checking out.

6) DMZ, Brian Wood’s chronicle of the second U.S. civil war (centered in New York City) is Vertigo’s best book (once 100 Bullets ends in a few months) and is by far the most relevant comic currently on the stands.

5) Futurama: A Head In the Polls, always a show with a slight politicla bent to it (Al Gore’s daughter was one of the writers after all), Futurama went all it for this episode in which the Planet Express team explore a political convention, watch the debates between Jack Johnson and John Jackson, and ultimately allow for the second coming of Richard Nixon.  One of my favorite episodes if only for the Hypnotoad.

4) Wag the Dog, Barry Levinson and David Mamet’s brilliant tale of a staged war used to distract the public from a scandal involving the incumbant President.  Some great performances from Dustin Hoffman, Robert DeNiro and William H. Macy help to sell my favorite political film.

3) The Onion, still the best source for print satire of current events.

2) Battlestar Galactica, a continually surprising, Peabody Award winning space opera, that has proven to be the most relevant show on tv.  The writers excel at playing devil’s advicates.  Positing a world in which the heroes have no choice but to rig elections, commit terrorist bombings, hold secret military tribunals and criminalize abortions (they have gone on the record as actually being fairly liberal).  Now if it’ll just come back to wrap up the final season.

1) Transmetropolitan, the book that first put Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson on the map.  An epic chronicling how the press brings about the rise and fall of a President.  Besides the politics it is also one of the great works of futurism and a scathing attack on the failures of the press.  I’ve reread the entire thing at least half a dozen times now and I fully plan on doing so again in the near future.