Posts Tagged ‘Warren Ellis’

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Hollywood probably wore the term “re-imagining” to death even before comics did, but if we want to be brutally honest, it’s a word that’s become flat-out cringeworthy across all media by this point, and not without good reason. To “re-imagine” something, after all, means that time and effort that could go into actually imagining something new is going into updating an existing idea, and there’s also an implication, at the very least, that affixes itself to the notion that the original (often beloved) idea itself is in need of some touch-up work. The track record of “re-imaginings” is a pretty lousy one in the funnybook medium, of course — many a promising, or even established, creative career has been sidetracked by attempting pointless re-vamps of characters and concepts that originated in the minds of Kirby, Eisner, Ditko, Kurtzman and the like that had literally no chance to come anywhere near equaling (to say nothing of surpassing) their progenitors because said progenitors were still ahead of their time. So why even bother?

Here’s the damn thing, though — some concepts could desperately do with a revamp/re-launch/”re-imagining.” Alan Moore, Steve Bissette, John Totleben, and Rick Veitch re-built Swamp Thing from the muck up and I don’t hear anyone complaining about that. Ditto for Neil Gaiman’s completely different take on the idea of the Sandman. And there’s probably nothing that came out of the ’90s mainstream comic scene that wouldn’t benefit from a completely fresh take. Enter WildStorm comics, then — and, more crucially, Warren Ellis.

DC’s had pretty good luck with the notion of the “pop-up imprint” (whatever that even means) in recent months courtesy of Gerard Way and his Young Animal line, and so the idea of bringing back Jim Lee’s WildStorm label suddenly sounds a lot less ludicrous than it would have not so long ago, especially with Ellis at the helm. Planetary still stands out as the best thing to ever come out under WS auspices (Alan Moore’s America’s Best Comics line notwithstanding), so why not give its creator the keys to the whole (admittedly dilapidated) mansion and see what he can come up with? I’m game if you are —

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The first book to come out from the “new” WildStorm is the 24-part eponymously-titled The Wild Storm #1, scripted by Ellis with art from 2000 A.D. and Clean Room alumnus Jon Davis-Hunt, and as far as exercises in so-called “world-building” go, they don’t come much more fully-realized than this. The Other Bearded One posits the universe newly-minted as his own to be one rife with uber-secret high tech, a small handful of spectacular “haves” and multitudes of “have-nots,” nefarious corporate espionage, and “deep state” conspiracies the likes of which numbskulls like Alex Jones couldn’t come up with in their most fevered imaginings. In other words, it’s probably not too terribly different from our own, barring the super powers.

“Classic” characters from across the spectrum of former WS books are either given cursory (Voodoo, Zealot) or somewhat detailed (Jacob Marlowe, Deathblow) introductions here, with more to follow, and sooner or later (probably later) we’ll be seeing WildC.A.T.S.StormWatch, and others spun off into their own mags, but if the pattern of this first issue holds, it’ll all be done in a manner most deliberate and planned, so a “title flood” seems like something we’ll be able, blissfully, to avoid here. Ellis moves just a few of his who-knows-many chess pieces here, and the overall flavor of the proceedings is far more Transmetropolitan than it is, say, The Authority, but in a way that makes perfect sense — the world of Spider Jerusalem was, after all, a “built-from-the-ground-up” affair, and that’s the wise approach to take when resuscitating a veritable boatload of properties that by and large haven’t even been kept on life support for over a decade. Why dust things off when it’s so much more fun to blow ’em up?

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I can’t fairly comment on too many differences  between “WildStorm Then” and “WildStorm Now” simply because so much of the “Now” has yet to reveal itself, but the six-page (!) “house ad” that DC included in most of its titles last week offers some intriguing clues — suffice to say it sounds like this is going to be a very tightly-controlled imprint with all individual parts playing into a mind-bogglingly comprehensive whole, and setting this well apart from and outside of standard DCU continuity is reason enough to breathe a heavy sigh of relief. After all, no matter how well things are chugging along with this line in a year or so, an ill-timed guest appearance from the likes of Aquaman or Robin (not to pick on those characters specifically, but you get my point) would still have the power to scuttle things up to no end. Walling this world off in a manner that would make Donald Trump proud? Hate the idea in reality, but in fiction, shit — I’ll take it.

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All the bold imagining in the world at the developmental stage doesn’t mean a damn thing, though, if the final product’s visuals aren’t up to scratch, but on that score, again, there appears to be nothing to worry about. Davis-Hunt’s art is a little less —- errrmmm — clean than it was on Clean Room,  where intricate detail and crisp, fine lines ruled the day, but it’s no less effective for that fact : this world looks and feels “lived in,” quietly oppressive, and maybe even just a touch grimy. I really can’t envision it being any other way, myself, and thanks to Davis-Hunt and colorist Ivan Plascencia (master of a palette that we’ll call, for lack of a better term, “modern muted”) I don’t even want to. I’m abso-friggin’-lutely in love with the art on this book, and after you check out, guess what? My money’s on the same being true for you.

Getting in on a sprawling, many-tentacled epic bursting at the seams with ambition and overseen by talent visionary enough to pull off everything they’re setting out to do is an opportunity that comes along once only every-so-often. You’d be a fool to miss out on it here. The Wild Storm is certain to be a twisting and perilous road, and we’re only able to see as much of the map as we need to in order to keep following it, but there’s absolutely no doubt about where it’s ultimately headed — straight up.

 

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I have a lot of faith in Warren Ellis. Granted, Transmetropolitan remains my favorite of his works and that’s getting to be a while ago now, but his other stuff has been uniformly solid and compelling in its own way, and even if his most-praised series, Planetary and The Authority, aren’t, at least in my view, the absolute masterpieces most people seem to think they are, the fact is they were better than 99% of the stuff they shared shelf space with at the time, which means they’d be better than —- ohhhhh, let’s say 99.999% of their contemporaries if they came out today. Suffice to say, when he debuts a new project, I definitely pay attention.

Right now “the other bearded fellow from England,” as he’s sometimes called, seems to be a very busy guy indeed — after laying relatively low for a couple of years, he’s got two new monthly series that seem to show him having adopted a new, more minimalist narrative approach:  Marvel’s Moon Knight with artist extraordinaire Declan Shalvey, and the one under our metaphorical microscope here today, Trees, a  creator-owned project for Image Comics done in collaboration with illustrator/co-creator Jason Howard that just hit the stands last Wednesday.

In a nutshell, Trees appears to be intent on carving out a rather unique niche for itself : a “decidedly different” alien invasion book that actually is decidedly different. The setup is a reasonably simple one, but loaded with possibility : ten years ago, giant pillars descended from the sky, rooted themselves into the ground all over the Earth, and then just stayed there. Apparently all we know about them — and don’t ask me where this info came from — is that they were searching for intelligent life, somehow “decided” that we were neither intelligent nor living, and then hung around. No one knows what they’re doing. There’s no way of moving them. They’re silent. And everybody’s doing their best, in the wake of the initial wave of devastation their landing caused, to just get on about their business in the shadow of these new apparently-permanent fixtures.

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Roughly half of this first issue is taken up with an extended flashback sequence set in Rio, but in the present day the focus seems to be more on New York (and specifically some rich Wall Street asshole who’s running for mayor there) and a polar (I think) research station of some sort that has discovered that the titular “trees” are doing — I dunno, something. There’s very little going on here by way of characterization so far, and while a lot of first issues go overboard in the “pure setup” department, this one probably takes the cake, because that’s literally all that’s happening here. If this were a graphic novel — which I’m sure it eventually will be — this would better presented as some sort of extended introduction than a proper first chapter. One gets the distinct sense that the story itself, whatever it may be, hasn’t even really begun yet.

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I liked Howard’s art, to be sure — it seems to be miles away from standard super-hero work and employs some nice cross-hatching and a loose, free style. In many ways it reminds me of newspaper editorial cartooning minus the exaggerated physical features. It’s somewhat “sketchy,” no doubt about it, but that fits the tone of Ellis’ script, at least to this point, quite nicely. There are some big, bold action sequences for the artist to really sink his teeth into, and he delivers the goods with aplomb. All in all, the imagery here is very well-suited to the task of slow-burn “world-building” punctuated with instances of brash sci-fi ultraviolence and adventure. You can feel the tension in the air just by looking at folks and know that when it — whatever “it” is — finally hits, Howard’s going to land a big-time hammer-blow, visually speaking.

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Beyond that, though, it’s really impossible to say what we as readers are in store for — the premise seems more suited to a half-hour Twilight Zone episode than it does a monthly comic series. The “cliffhanger” ending is impossible to understand. And sense of mystery alone isn’t going to carry things for too long if Ellis doesn’t give us some actual characters to give a shit about. I really do want to like Trees — and my inner nerd is telling me that I should — but there’s simply not enough evidence to go on here for me to be able to even begin to guess whether or not I actually will.

 

 

 

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I guess it’s no secret that I’ve been pretty hard on most of Marvel’s product — both of the print and celluloid varieties — here at GU and at other sites I write for in recent months, but even I have to grudgingly admit that sometimes they get things right. A prime example of this is their new Moon Knight series, which is the only title in the “All-New Marvel Now!” re-relaunch (no, that’s not a typo, given that the first “Marvel Now!” appears to have had a very short shelf life indeed) that I was actually looking forward to, and which immediately joins the ranks of monthly books from the self-appointed “House Of Ideas” that are actually worth reading (Hawkeye and Superior Foes Of Spider-Man being the others, with the “new” Waid/Samnee Daredevil series being a pretty sure bet to join them, but that’s just a continuation of the old book with new numbering and a higher cover price — so if you’re keeping score at home, Marvel’s still down one good book since two of their best “Now!” titles, FF and Young Avengers, have already bitten the dust).

We may as well be honest and admit that Moon Knight himself was never much of a character and Marvel never had a very clear idea what to do with him — he started out as a pretty obvious Batman clone, albeit one dressed all in white, given that he was a rich guy without super-powers who fought crime with his detective skills and a bunch of clever high-tech (for their time, at any rate) gimmicks, but then things got a little confusing : it turns out that his alter-ego, Steven Grant, was actually a mercenary soldier named Marc Spector earlier on in life, and was resurrected from the dead when he got himself killed in the general vicinity of a statue of an Egyptian god named Khonshu, who told him he had work to do to atone for his past sins before he could enter — I dunno, Egyptian heaven or something. Khonshu didn’t give him any particular super-human abilities or anything, mind you, just told him that he wasn’t wanted in the afterlife yet, and he needed to get busy balancing out his karma (which is, admittedly.  not exactly the most Egyptian concept).

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Fast-forward a few decades and about half-dozen quickly-cancelled MK series later, and we find that Spector/Grant/Moon Knight is an absolute basket case, suffering from MPD/DID, a seriously devastating form of mental illness that hasn’t exactly been portrayed sympathetically in comics or, for that matter, most other media (the despicable and condescending Showtime TV series The United States Of Tara comes to mind here — but then, we don’t expect anything good from the pen of Diablo Cody, do we?), and probably won’t be in this new series, either, but — well, it makes for an intriguing premise, I suppose, to have a “hero” who’s not exactly sure which of his three “alters” is his “real” self.

The smart thing Marvel’s doing here is turning this series over to some great creators who actually know how to do hard-boiled crime. The only successful run this character has ever enjoyed on anything like a sustained basis was back when Bill Sienkiewicz cut his artistic teeth on the original MK book (and Bill’s back to provide one of the way-too-numerous alternate covers for this new debut issue, pictured below), so returning Moon Knight to his creator-driven roots makes a lot of sense, especially since he’s been floundering for a long time now in one short-lived series after another that all bore the hallmarks of too goddamn much editorial interference.

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And hey — if you’re going to let skilled creators have a go at a (sorry to be blunt) second-tier (at best) character, then you could do a lot worse than putting Warren Ellis (or, as he’s known in some parts, The Other Bearded Guy From England) in the driver’s seat. Ellis knows how to construct exemplary neo-noir stories, so his talents are perfectly suited to the task here. His Moon Knight has ditched the cape and tights in favor of a bright white three-piece suit and mask, and is more comfortable on (or below) the streets than he is swinging from rooftop to rooftop, and the first issue of this new series gives a nice little glimpse into what Ellis intends to do with the character by re-introducing him quickly (but completely enough for new readers to get the general gist of things), setting up a small but interesting supporting cast. and then tossing him into that rarest of things in comics these days — a pacy little stand-alone, single-issue story. 

Spector/Grant/Moon Knight starts out by appearing, for all intents and purposes, to be on the trail of your garden-variety serial killer (the title of the story is even “Slasher”), but is able to deduce, in short order, that the prey he”s stalking is actually something quite different altogether. I won’t give too many plot specifics away, suffice to say that S,H,I,E.L.D. is hiding a nasty secret in the sewers beneath New York, and it’s gonna take a guy who’s unafraid of getting his immaculate suit dirty to put a stop to it.

The only real flaw here script-wise is the tacked-on nature of the ending, which sees our protagonist returning to his abandoned mansion and getting chatted at by Khonshu before the obligatory “to be continued” rears its head on the last page. Apart from that, though, this is essentially a near-flawlessly-told little tale, and one that stands up well to re-reading.

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It also stands up to numerous re-looking-at (sorry, shitty new compound word invented there). I’m not terribly familiar with artist Declan Shelvey, but the pages reproduced in this review should go some way towards showing why he’s the perfect guy to draw this book. His work isn’t flashy by any means, but it’s gritty, authentic, unforced, and incredibly atmospheric. Even if the stories in all subsequent issues end up sucking — and it’s a safe bet that won’t be the case, obviously, because Ellis is just so damn good at what he does — this would be a comic worth buying on the strength of the art alone. Throw in the pitch-perfect hues provided by budding superstar colorist Jordie Bellaire, and you’ve got a feast for the eyes.

Sure, $3.99 is still too goddamn much to plunk down for 20 pages of story and art, but at least the new Moon Knight comes reasonably close to delivering good value for the dollar, and since this is a series that will, in all likelihood,  only last as long as its creators feel like doing it, this armchair critic would venture that it’s probably well worth jumping on right at the outset and sticking with things for the next year/two years/however long it goes. In a few months, when everybody’s got their feet under them and the story’s kicking on all cylinders, it seems no stretch to assume that this will be the best thing coming out from either of the “Big Two” publishing houses.

Weird as it is to to even type this statement, the simple fact is that Moon Knight is a Marvel comic actually worth being excited about — how crazy is that?