Tag Archives: Warren Ellis

A little listmania! part 1: favorite stories

Blogger wwayne got me thinking about my favorites;  Favorite story arcs and favorite single issues.  Putting the definitions as simply as possible ( since us geeks love to argue about the definitions ) we get….

Story arc:  a  story occurring within an ongoing series.  OK, that is not going to work for me, dammit!  Since I am a trade waiter and have been for 2 decades, some of this will have to be at least a little in the self-contained series vein.  But I will try to justify and explain as I go.

Single issue:  Just like it says on the tin, a single issue of an ongoing series.

So, in no particular order except the order if find them on the shelf….

Concrete:  Strange Armor.  (1997)  This is where the definition gave me trouble as Concrete creator Paul Chadwick didn’t really DO an ongoing Concrete series, just connected limited series, the definition became an issue.  Also in the age of trades and collections the actual issues of a particular arc are harder to recall.  This one I did read as the single issues when they came out in late 97 and early 98.  A 5-issue limited in the continuing story of Ron Lithgow, this was the story that finally gave the full and definitive origin of the character, and fleshed out the back story greatly.  The “series” of concrete stories that Chadwick has done are an amazing character study with its roots in the sci-fi and super hero stories he grew up with and have more heart than any other book(s) I have read since.  All but the most recent DHP series have been collected as trades and are still powerful today.

Cerebus #139 to 150 (Melmoth). (1990) The was the story that followed Jaka’s Story and is one of the shorter Cerebus arcs.  A beautifully written and drawn book, it explores the final days of Oscar Wilde as seen in this fictionalized universe.  Taken directly from contemporary accounts of friends of the dying writer, this is a powerful and sad story.  It is available in “phone book” number 6 of the Cerebus run.

Action Comics  #866 to 870. (2008) Geoff Johns and Gary Frank update and redefine the Brainiac character.  One of the most successful updates DC has ever done.  Gary frank’s art is at its very best here.  Available as the Superman Brainiac trade.

Justice League of America#1 to 7  (2006)  Brad Meltzer is a polarizing figure in comics thanks in large part to the love it or hate it Identity Crisis series.  (loved it)  This arc started up the new volume of JL with artist Ed Benes, and is a story that actually made me interested in JL.  What got me into the story in the first place was my affection for Red Tornado, and this story focuses on him and his existence heavily and is a great team book to boot.  Available as The Tornado’s Path trade collection.

Planetary #7 to 12 (2000)  After setting up the world of Elijah Snow and his team in the first arc, Warren Ellis and John Cassaday outdid themselves on this arc (available as Planetary:  The Fourth Man collection).  The jumped into the homages of the comics with both feet here.  They did versions of Transmepolitan, Hellblazer, Doc Savage and touched on the origins of the big three at DC and still managed to keep the main story moving forward without the meanderings that affected some of the later issues.

My Jill Thompson sketch in my Absolute edition

Sandman #41 to 49 (1992)  This was the arc that really made the series sing for me.  After the A Game of You arc cooled me on the series (It took me years to learn to appreciate it) this series just sang with life.  Gaiman was really flying here and this is the run that made me love Jill Thompson’s art.  This is available in the Brief Lives collection or in Absolute Sandman vol 3.

Fantastic Four #242 to 244 (1982)  I still go back and read these every few months.  In fact the whole #240 to 250 part of John Byrne’s run is just crazy fun to read!  This was the first Galactus story I read that I actually liked.  Available in several reprint volumes from FF Visionaries vol 2 to the big-ass omnibus collection of the Byrne run.

Uncanny X-Men #165 to 168 (1982)  Paul Smith’s first issues on this title were the wrap up to Chris Claremont’s Brood story.  ( I include 168 here as the epilogue to that story–because I CAN!) To this day, his art in these issues is amazing to look at.  Collected in too many versions to count.

Mage #1 to 15 (1984)  Technically this was a limited series, but to my mind, when you know that you are just going to do a series of limited series, it is just a series with breaks.  In the case of Mage the break between the first and second series was a little more than just a break.  The same is true with the ongoing wait for the third series.  This story by Matt Wagner was lightning in a bottle.

Avengers #198 to 200 (1980)  This was David Michelinie and George Perez’s last regular issues on the title(in a run anyway) and they rent out with a great story that was a follow-up to the Claremont/Golden story in Avengers Annual #10.  This run is not yet collected.  Hopefully the Marvel Masterworks will continue long enough to get to these.

Well, I stuck to 10.  I omitted runs where there was a single good issue that MADE that run, and I avoided genuine limited series.  Maybe that will be another list.  Next up…

Favorite single issues…

 

 

 

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Fell: review

Fell

Image Comics

2007

$15

I actually had been reading this one as a “monthly”, but when scheduling issues caused partly by Warren Ellis’ hard drive problems sidelined this book, I stopped.  Walking through my local Half-Price Books I came across the collected volume and decided it was time to get the whole story.  Most of the story, anyway, the series ran 9 issues (of a supposedly planned 16), the first 8 of which are collected in volume 1: Feral City. (part of my renewed interest in all things Templesmith come from the interview that I will be doing in a few days with Ben and the guys from 44FLOOD–watch for it here and at Bleeding Cool)

Written by Warren Ellis with art by Ben Templesmith, this is a God-awful masterpiece.  It does what it does so spectacularly well that you cannot put it down.  At the same time, it is so unpleasant, so dark and mired in the crud of this city, that you feel slightly icky while reading it.  It is the story of Richard Fell, a police detective in the area of the city called Snowtown.  He has been transferred from “across the bridge” into Snowtown for some unspecified transgression and is assigned to the Moon street precinct with a drug addled and probably insane commanding officer and “3 ½ other detectives” to cover the entire precinct.  Snowtown is the most horrible place you can imagine and is very much in the real world, but Templesmith’s art gives it a dark, evil kind of fairytale glow to everything.  There is nothing happy or good here and the place is an example of a city that hates itself and consumes everything touched by it.  The small supporting cast is not terribly well-developed, but you don’t need much.  They are not the story; they are the color around Fell’s life.  In fact, the way they are written makes them seem as oddly unreal as the city itself.  They are less like real people and more like anthropomorphized aspects of the city around them.  An uneasy friendship is started up by Fell with the owner of a local bar, who is a damaged as everyone else in the book.  No one here is pure in any way.  That is not to say pure of heart, but rather they are not purely any one thing, as characters in these kinds of book often are.  They are not metaphors representing anything, they are shadows, and like shadows they flicker in and out of perception.  They are never much more than shapes given voice.  All this adds to the hopelessness of the world.  While that may all sound a bit pretentious or overstated on my part, this is a very difficult book to describe.  Quick descriptions like Hollywood might use such as “Die Hard on a bus” just don’t do it.

The art and storytelling style ignores the trend in “widescreen” comics and goes for a compact 9 panel format.  There is a softness to Templesmith’s art here that is not generally present in his other work.  This serves the story wonderfully; giving the glow of the city a deathly feel that is so powerful that the city feels as though it might overwhelm the characters at any moment.  The color palate is muted in just the way you would expect, but the occasional bursts of powerful color are actually shocking to see.  You cannot help but feel pushed down by the city just like Fell, and that is entirely the art doing that.  Ellis is a powerful writer, but for this book, Ben Templesmith is really doing most of the heavy lifting.

I cannot say enough good things about this book.  While it is NOT for everyone, there is a mountain of dark humor and powerful situations that aid in creating this amazing book, and anyone that likes it a little dark but still very real, WILL enjoy this special title.

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Orbiter-Review

Orbiter

2003

Vertigo

104 pages

$18

This was a “what the hell” type purchase at my local Half Price Books store.  I was bored and like Warren Ellis so…

Boy was this a pleasant surprise.  Written by Ellis and drawn by Colleen Doran, this is a book for people who like what Warren Ellis is good at (Planetary, Global Frequency) and delivers in every way.

It is the story of the near future where the US Space program is dead.  It died ten years earlier when the Space Shuttle Venture disappeared in orbit during a mission.  Without any trace or explanation, it simply vanished, and manned spaceflight vanished with it.  Then the orbiter unexpectedly returns and lands at NASA.  The mission commander is the only one left aboard, the rest of the crew gone without any trace of ever having been there.  NASA brings out its best to find out where it has been, how it made the trip and what exactly happened while it was gone.  The mystery only gets deeper when they find sand in the landing gear, Martian sand.  That and the fact that the shuttle now has something very much like skin covering its exterior.

This cannot get as deep into the theoretical science as I was wishing for while reading it, but there is enough to make you want to grab for a physics book to see just how much of what Ellis is on about is real.  To one degree or another, all of it.  And the characters, while not fully developed by any means, have enough life to make them interesting.  Ellis’ books are very often not about the characters anyway.  They are there to serve the plot, which is there to allow Ellis to tell you what is on his mind at the moment.  Having been written around the time of the Columbia disaster, this book is a love letter to manned spaceflight, a lament that manned spaceflight is dying a slow death and a call of joy and hope at the possibilities still out there.

Colleen Doran’s art is also very nice and appropriate to the book.  A heavier line style than I remember from things like A Distant Soil, but very well applied to the tone of this book.  Her art has had a fairly anachronistic feel in the past.  No matter when a story was set, her art always felt like a fairytale.  That is nothing like what you get here.  This book looks and feels very modern and much like an Ellis book.  The art has to carry a lot of the load for tone, mood and characterization, while the text is very heavy with exposition to keep the reader connected to the science.  It was not a long read given its size, but a very engaging one.  I read it hungrily as it was a real page turner.

This is a much lighter book in tone compared to much of Ellis’ other works, but easily one of the best from his very fertile mind that I have seen in a long while.

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Review: Global Frequency

Global Frequency

Wildstorm/DC Comics 2005

2 TPB volumes 144 pages per volume.

Approx. $10 each volume.

Available at Instock Trades and Amazon.com

Something a bit darker today, I think.  Global Frequency written by Warren Ellis and illustrated by a host of some of the best artists in the industry, is dark in the same way that Disney films are bright and sunny.  It is an anthology series of 12 individual issues and at times reads like 12 separate things bound into one, or in this case 2 volumes.  Published as individual issues from 2002 to 2004, it does read at times, like it was not really meant to be collected.  That is the mark of a good anthology title.  Not to say that the collected editions don’t work, that is not the case.  There are simply chapters of the book that seem a bit out-of-place.

Miranda Zero and Aleph are the only 2 recurring characters, more or less, and they are the head and the chief intel officer of The Global Frequency, a not as secret as you would think rescue and counter terrorism group consisting of “1001 members from all across the world”.  They deal with the threats that the world we live in has created.  Military, political, industrial and even threats to us from the people who are supposed to be on our side.  They employ tactics that are a bit harsh to say the least, but are tame in comparison to the threats they are dealing with.  That is where the more cliché aspects of the story end.  Ellis is, to say the least, a bit of a maverick in his style and his worldview.  He revels in the conspiracies and dark secrets that have made the world his characters populate a very dangerous place to be.  Many of the threats used in the book seem mostly pulled from science fiction, and some are.  but the most compelling and frightening elements are firmly rooted in real science fact and theory.  And even when there is licence taken with the science to make narrative sense, they work well and are actually less effective that the real world aspects.  It is from these dark and even evil corners of science, that the stories in these volumes take on the sometimes unpleasant form that only rarely misses the mark.

The first chapter is, from a story sense, the least satisfying of the 12.  Mostly the first and second parts are there to establish the world, and this it does very well, even at the cost of a slightly weaker start to the series. This is not the fault of Ellis or the artist, as much as the nature of the comics storytelling medium.  The second story is where things start to take off.  With art by Glenn Fabry, the only fault with this part is that it feels too short.  The other stories are a bit hit and miss.  The chapter illustrated by Jon J Muth was one i really wanted to like, but found his art didn’t fit the story as well as I had hoped.  Roy Martinez does a fantastic job with his story, but after that the issues of this volume drag a bit. There are moments in every story that make them worth reading, to be sure, but they feel a bit uneven.

Volume 2 fares much better.  It is the darker and more intense of the two, particularly the segments drawn by Simon Bisley and Lee Bermejo.  The  Bisley segment has a very loose feel as is inherent in his style of art.  It creates an absurdist quality, particularly in the violence.  The Bermejo story is beautiful.  That beauty making the story that much more effective and disturbing.  Another chapter unfolds much like a Holmes mystery to great effect.  The last two stories, illustrated by Jason Pearson and Gene Ha respectively, were my personal favorites.  The first focusing on Aleph, is just good old-fashioned spy fun.  The last story is spectacularly disturbing and has a science hook that will have you doing lots of internet research by the time it’s over.

Violent and extreme in its style, this is NOT for everyone.  In fact, I would say it’s not for MOST.  But those of you out there that like gritty and dark, will enjoy.  Anyone that wants intelligently constructed fiction with thought-provoking subjects will enjoy as well.  While fairly typical of Warren Ellis’ style and temperament, these two volumes make for a fairly intense experience.  Just be sure to have something a little more light and fun to follow it up.

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