Sunday, October 09, 2005

Warren Ellis Weekend

I get my comics once a month (with occasional trips to pick up certain other comics). So I tend to read a lot in one sitting. And when I do I sometimes set the Warren Ellis stuff aside to read one after the other. Because, you know, I need to overload on fascinating tidbits of information and people saying things like "Bring me something to have sex with," and "I am a doctor. I am also a person with fantastic psychosis,".

This weekend I had no fewer than five Ellis titles to read.

The titles were:

Desolation Jones Issue 3
Jack Cross Issue 2
Fell Issue 2
JLA Classified Issue 12
Ultimate Secret Issue 3

The third issue of Desolation Jones could have been titled Porn Careers for Dummies. Jones, still searching for missing Hitler sex tapes, has been put on the scent of some former evil government people who are now running a porn studio. He watches the studio carefully and takes a chance to talk to one of their porn stars. She describes the life of a porn star in jaded detail. After talking to her Jones goes and beats up one of the porn guys and makes sure he realizes that if Jones doesn't get the Hitler sex tapes back then he, Jones, will kill him and fuck his skull. Jones then goes home and gets hit on the head with a crowbar.

I'm really enjoying Desolation Jones. I like infodumps. I read Michael Crichton books for his research on whatever his topic is. I liked the parts of the Da Vinci Code that talked about codes and Leonardo's painting and the hidden things in them. I like good historical fiction that gives you the flavor of a time and place. So Desolation Jones is just my cuppa. Each issue has had a nice little chunk of infodumping that makes me smile with glee.

It also has art by J.H. Williams III, a man I think is one of the greatest artists working in comics today. The way Williams has been working Jones' psychotic flashes into the art has been wonderful. And I love his page composition. And his line.

Jack Cross is one of Ellis' Government Spook With a Soul comics. See Red. See Reload. See Desolation Jones. See Strange Kiss. Ellis really loves looking at the way being a Secret Agent Man fucks with your mind. Jack Cross cries in bathrooms and cuts himself. And then he gets up and shoots someone's fingers off some more. I don't know that I'll get this series after the first arc is over. It's not badly written- and I do appreciate the way that Ellis is willing to say "Look, just because you're wrapped in patriotic fervor it doesn't mean that your government has stopped doing the evil, awful things it has always done." The art is kinda pedestrian. And the story isn't gripping me. So I'm still giving it a go, but it's losing ground fast.

I'm loving the hell out of Fell. And I'm loving it for its leanness. Ellis has given himself 16 pages to tell a stand-alone story. So he has to get in and out fast. He's chosen a genre where that can be done (police mystery) and he's running with it. He's set the story in the 9 panel a page grid, but he's writing it so that the panel work can be more fluid if need be. And he's writing it dense. The artists, Ben Templesmith, is painting the book. It has a vaguely Sienkiewicz feel, but subdued. And his color palette runs to blues and greens and yellows. Like a bruise.

This issue's story centers on the body of a woman who was found with her unborn baby cut out of her. Fell investigates and along the way learns about smoke babies (more infodumping! yay!), solves the case and needs a drink. In. Out. Bam!

Oh, and there's a nun wearing a Richard Nixon mask. That's hot.

JLA Classified 12 has perhaps the ugliest comic book cover I have ever seen in my entire life. It is amazingly hideous. I don't even want to look at it. It's sitting next to my keyboard right now and I am supressing an urge to take scissors to it. It is amazingly, horribly, ugly.

JLAC 12 is the midpoint of Ellis' story. The Justice League have found glowing green things. They know the glowing green things are somehow responsible for badness. Now they've got to puzzle out what and decide what to do.

This issue has some very nice moments for the Martian Manhunter. Especially nice was when he tells President Luthor that he doesn't feel the need to treat Luthor as anything other than a common criminal because J'onn is from the fourth planet in the solar system and Luthor isn't HIS president. That works as both an interesting take on the Manhunter and a thinly veiled comment on, say, a foreign writer's view of American patriotic fervor.

Like a lot of Ellis' superhero stuff, the story is stretched a bit. He's filling the issues but the story isn't moving along all that quickly. But it's still better than a lot of stuff out there.

One of the things I like about Ellis is that he thinks about the craft of writing comics and not just stories. He approaches his writing with an eye to make his writing style fit the project. And so his work for Marvel's Ultimate line tends to be full of widescreen images and dialogue that's almost a parody of television.

"Reed, Reed-- Thor's getting us a keg!"
"Mr. Stark and I are going to reconfigure a star drive."
"Dude. Star Drive."

I can almost hear Whedon grinding his teeth.

The story of Ultimate Secret- Gah Lak Tus is coming and the Kree(well, except for Captain Marvel) want to make sure that everyone stays on Earth to get killed- is pretty much standard Ultimate fair. Big on scope, small on content. Ultimate Nightmare could have been two issues long. So, I think, could Ultimate Secret. But that's not how the Ultimate line works. So the story is being stretched out to five.

I don't mind this. And I don't mind it for one reason: Warren Ellis writes the best Ultimate Fantastic Four. His UFF is funny, fun and has the best Susan Storm- Reed's complete equal and opposite. So I'll read the series in slow pieces just to get another look at that version of the UFF.

Warren Ellis writes comics I like. Comics I think are good. He has his tics and his stylizations and his constant themes, just like most writers do, but he tells good stories.

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Blogger Michael said...

"I liked the parts of the Da Vinci Code that talked about codes and Leonardo's painting and the hidden things in them."

You are aware it's all bullshit, right?

10/09/2005 10:21:00 AM  
Blogger Bill Reed said...

I tend not to pick up Ellis's superhero stuff... it kinda bores me... but Desolation Jones and Fell are competing with each other to be my favorite ongoing. Then again... they may be the only two ongoings I'm actually reading. Aside from Gotham Central... which, y'know, would be much better if Ellis was writing it. One more detective drama, though, and he might keel over.

10/09/2005 01:09:00 PM  
Anonymous RAB said...

Like any writer, Warren Ellis has a personal comfort zone: a set of character types, preferred themes, and storytelling techniques with which he feels most at home. And, probably for purely commercial reasons, he's working to market the "Warren Ellis" brand name with those characteristics. If you read a Warren Ellis comic, you know you're going to get characters who talk like Warren Ellis characters dealing with a Warren Ellis plot in a Warren Ellis setting. And this is good, at least for people who like the Warren Ellis.

The problem with this on the creative side is that when a writer doesn't challenge him or herself to move out of that comfort zone, there's a serious danger of moving into self-parody. With JLAC and ULTIMATE SECRET, I've started to fear Ellis is heading in that direction. Back when he used Batman in the Planetary special NIGHT ON EARTH, he showed considerable sensitivity to the voices of other writers and paid a meaningful homage to the various incarnations of Batman. But in these newer superhero books it seems like he isn't trying to find the iconic characters at all; he's just writing them as the familiar, comfortable set of Ellis stock characters who all talk like the same Ellis characters. Instead of rising to the challenge, he seems to have thumbed his nose at it.

It's not necessary for a comics writer to write superhero comics or even to like them. But if you're going to accept a gig doing them and it's not your thing, you should try to make it an opportunity to push yourself into a different area. To make it absolutely clear, I only say this about Ellis because he's smart and talented enough to do better than this. Unlike the majority of guys writing superhero comics these days, he's actually worth criticizing when he becomes lazy.

10/09/2005 01:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Iron Lungfish said...

"You are aware it's all bullshit, right?"

So, for that matter, is most of Michael Crichton's stuff. Have you seen his latest book where he "proves" global warming is a massive hoax?

10/09/2005 04:20:00 PM  
Blogger Singles said...

I think Warren Ellis' little "Fun Facts" in his books are either hit or miss with me. I've enjoyed Desolation Jones intensely, and I didn't find the pornography industry thing at all distracting. On the other hand, I was bored out of my mind by Ocean. It seemed like the comic was more about how spaceships and mind control works rather than the KILLER SPACE ALIENS that we never got to see do anything. Sometimes it seems like Ellis just wants everybody to know how much research he did more than he wants to tell his story.

10/09/2005 07:40:00 PM  
Blogger kelvingreen said...

Yeah it's chatty and slow plot-wise, but I've had a better time reading Ultimate Secret than most of Ellis' work of late.

Although I really must check out this Fell thing.

10/09/2005 10:07:00 PM  
Blogger Bill Reed said...

Fell is wonderful. The first issue is sold out at the publisher, tho, and from what I gather the retailers were selling it like hot cakes, so you might not be able to find an issue... but hopefully you will. It's awesome.

10/09/2005 11:56:00 PM  
Blogger kelvingreen said...

Okay, so I tracked down Fell #1, or at least I borrowed a copy.

The resolution of the plot was quite clunky, and relied far too much on coincidence; something I can allow once or twice, but I hope Ellis doesn't fall into a rut on that aspect.

Anyway, aside from that, I thought it was great stuff, and I really think Ellis' experiment works. I got to page twelve and it felt like I'd been reading for much longer, so that must be a sign of success. The sixteen-page length was the one thing that concerned me about the book, so since that's not a problem, I'm on board for future issues.

I even emailed Ellis to say how much I liked the issue, and considering last time I spoke to him he threatened to punch my lights out, that's a compliment! :)

10/10/2005 01:30:00 AM  
Blogger Spencer Carnage said...

Big on scope, small on content. Ultimate Nightmare could have been two issues long. So, I think, could Ultimate Secret. But that's not how the Ultimate line works. So the story is being stretched out to five.

That's funny, considering the Ultimate line was most likely influenced by Warren Ellis's work on Authority. Of all the current Warren Ellis stuff, I'm only interested in Fell. Haven't picked it up, but the more and more I think about it, the more I want to. Desolation Jones is ok, but I'd rather watch Cat House on HBO. Watching Sex on TV doesn't make feel like that much of a pervert as I do when I read about it in comics.

10/10/2005 06:01:00 PM  
Anonymous A.L. Baroza said...

I know I'm in the minority here but I'm feeling Jack Cross more than Fell. I'm approaching Jack Cross like a parody of 24, and that makes it fun. Cross is like Jack Bauer as a teenaged goth girl, with all the cutting and fetal crouches in the restroom. I'm even okay with the Erskine art and its stylized ugliness/stiffness--it fits the character.

That and I enjoy that Ellis considers it an all-ages book.

10/10/2005 10:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Alex 'W' said...

Dammit, sounds like every day I don't own Fell makes it harder and harder to find it. Judging from what I hear I picked the wrong Ellis project to think "I'm buying enough Warren Ellis right now, I'll pass on this one".

10/11/2005 06:25:00 AM  
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