Archive for Warren Ellis

Bring Me the Head of Jack Kirby!


Do Anything, Vol. 1: Jack Kirby Ripped my Flesh by Warren Ellis

By now, I think we’re all aware that Warren Ellis, in addition to being a whiz-bang comics writer, is a heck of a prose stylist, too, right? I suspect we’ve read enough columns and op-eds and blog posts to recognize that he writes big, audacious, funny, offensive, brilliant stuff. And this is probably my favorite thing he’s ever written.

Ellis writes (wrote? will write?) a (semi-)regular column at Bleeding Cool called “Do Anything,” and this is the collection of a large chunk of those columns, edited, condensed down, and refined. It boils down to less than 50 pages, and it retails for six bucks, and this is why you want it in your life.

Ellis takes, as the central image that his essays are built around, the idea that he has on his desk the robot head of Jack Kirby, chewing on his cigars, periodically spitting out some bit of wisdom, and sometimes merging its consciousness with Phillip K. Dick or architect Philippe Druillet or some other artist. And that gives him the opportunity to discuss comics… and everything else in the universe.

From Jack Kirby, Ellis ranges over to the visual influences of “Star Wars,” musician Anthony Braxton, Frank Zappa, Archie Goodwin, Spain Rodriguez, Alex Toth, Brian Eno, Alan Moore, Robert Fripp, David Bowie, Takashi Miike, Jim Steranko, and so very many more.

In the midst of a discussion about DC having another artist draw Superman’s face in Kirby’s Fourth World comics, Ellis ponders how other artists, creators, and musicians would draw Superman’s head — Robert Crumb, Shary Flenniken, John Lennon, Emory Douglass of the Black Panthers, and Spain Rodriguez. He wonders what comics would be like if Kirby’s influence on popular culture would’ve been strong enough to bring other artists and intellectuals into the industry. He shows how Kirby influenced art and culture, how he interacted with people you never thought he interacted with, how he remade comics and molded history in both vast and mundane ways.

Verdict: Thumbs up. This is a surprisingly thin book — again, less than 50 pages, you can read it in a day if you work at it, or spread it out over a few days if you wanna take your time — but for such a small book, it’s absolutely packed to the gills with info and opinion and analysis and so dadgum much great stuff.

You should read this with Wikipedia open on your computer. You’ll need it to look up all the names Ellis drops — there are a bunch of artists, both comics and otherwise, who will be unfamiliar to you, and you’ll probably want to get acquainted with them.

Don’t know that there’s much more I can say about this one. Again, it’s just six dollars, it’s completely stuffed with way, way more than six dollars’ worth of amazing material, and you should go pick it up.

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Holiday Gift Bag: Nextwave!

More gift recommendations for the holidays? Wow, you guys sure are demanding. Okay, fine, here’s another one, just for you: Nextwave by Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen!

I love this comic book so very, very much. It was originally published by Marvel in a 12-issue miniseries in 2006-07, and is now available in two trade paperbacks or a much more awesome Ultimate Collection.

The backstory: Nextwave is a team of superheroes working for H.A.T.E. (Highest Anti-Terrorism Effort) and charged with battling a number of Unusual Weapons of Mass Destruction, like Fin Fang Foom, the Mindless Ones, and the Ultra Samurai Battle Drone. But H.A.T.E. isn’t really what it seems to be — in fact, H.A.T.E. is actually funded by the Beyond Corporation, which used to be known as S.I.L.E.N.T., a large terrorist group, and the entire purpose of H.A.T.E. is to create more Unusual Weapons of Mass Destruction. Nextwave isn’t real happy about this, so they steal a flying machine called the Shockwave Rider and go on the run, pursued by the frequently suicidal Dirk Anger, Director of H.A.T.E, and his hordes of minions, like the broccoli men, the attack koalas, the Homicide Crabs, and Forbush Man.

If this sounds completely insane, you catch on quick.

The members of Nextwave include:

  • Monica Rambeau: Formerly known as Captain Marvel, Photon, and Pulsar. Former Avenger. Straight-arrow leader of the team. Can convert her body into any form of electromagnetic energy.
  • Aaron Stack: Formerly known as Machine Man. Has extendo-limbs and all kinds of entertainingly pointy weapons he can extend from his body. Hates the fleshy ones. His robot brain needs beer.
  • Elsa Bloodstone: Formerly known as Elsa Bloodstone. Monster hunter. Handy with a gun. Handy with pretty much any weapon, really. Vehemently British. Has high-heeled boots and very important hair.
  • Tabitha Smith: Formerly known as Time Bomb, Boomer, Boom Boom, and Meltdown. Former member of X-Force. Possesses the mutant powers of blowing things up and stealing all your stuff. Not the smartest cookie in the cookie jar.
  • The Captain: Formerly known as Captain Power, Captain Ron, Captain L. Ron, Captain Universe, Captain Ultra, Captain Avenger, Captain Avalon, Captain Marvel, Captain Kerosene, and Captain @#*!, a name so foul that it caused Captain America himself to beat him up, jam a bar of soap in his mouth, and throw him in a dumpster. Totally generic superstrength-and-flight powers. Really kinda sucks at superhero stuff.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the most awesome comic in history. Yes, I know I’ve said that a lot and will probably say it again, but I mean it this time. This is the most awesome comic in history.

This is not just because of all the explosions. This is not just because of Dirk Anger and his mad rants. This is not just because of Dread Rorkannu, Lord of the Dank Dimension, who likes cash and the SuicideGirls. This is not just because the team beats up a cop. This is a series that includes everything from naked ninjas to Wolverine monkeys to dancing Mindless Ones to the funniest guest appearance from Fin Fang Foom ever.

It has fight scenes like this:

Yes, those really are Elvis MODOKs. Yes, they really are shooting cheeseburgers at superheroes. Yes, Warren Ellis is a mad genius.

The Ultimate Collection will run you about $35. That’s a bit high, maybe, but anyone who loves awesome comics will definitely thank you for shelling out the extra bucks.

Nextwave by Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen. Go pick it up.

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Second Amendment Solutions

Vertigo Resurrected #1

Primarily a collection of reprints from other Vertigo comics, this one is getting attention because it’s the first time that Warren Ellis’ decade-old “Hellblazer” story about school shootings has been printed anywhere. In this one, our main viewpoint character is a federal investigator looking into a rash of school shootings for a Congressional committee. There’s no pattern, there’s no culprit that can be blamed — can’t blame music or TV or movies or parents having guns in the house — so what is to blame. But the investigator soon realizes that John Constantine, hard-boiled British magician, has been present at way, way too many of the shootings. What’s Constantine’s connection? And what’s going to happen when he shows up in the investigator’s office?

The other stories in the collection include a tale about cattle mutilations by Brian Azzarello, a bleak twist on “Toy Story” by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely, a twisted stories of love featuring obsessed surgeons and obsessed literary scholars, a look at a monster-rental firm by Bill Willingham, and a story about love, lust, hypnosis, and zombies by Bruce Jones, Bernie Wrightson, and Timothy Bradstreet.

Verdict: Thumbs up. The school shooting story is a good, ominous take on the issue, and it’s something that I’m disappointed hadn’t been printed before now — it’s not a particularly shocking story now, and it’s hard for me to imagine it was ever shocking. Publishers are just gutless sometimes. The other stories are a mixed bag — there’s a post-Gulf-War story by Garth Ennis and Jim Lee that suffered from a lot of mood whiplash, and a story about torture in turn-of-the-century third-world nations that I really didn’t get the point of. Steven T. Seagle and Tim Sale’s story about the obsessed surgeon was very, very good and creepy, though, and Peter Milligan’s “Death of a Romantic” was clever and funny.

The biggest downside to it is the eight-dollar price tag. If you think that’s worth paying for some stories that are very good and some that are not so good, then sure, go pick it up. But DC needs to be more certain they’re putting a fat wad of quality in these eight-dollar 100-Page Spectaculars…

Batman and Robin #15

The Joker is holding Damian prisoner, and Dr. Hurt has Dick Grayson. Once Robin gets away — a bit conveniently, almost like the Joker wanted him to escape — he manages to save Commissioner Gordon from Professor Pyg, and the adrenaline surge actually manages to break the hold of the viral narcotic. But Damian gets swarmed by Dr. Hurt’s men, and then Dick gets shot in the head with a .32 pellet — not enough to kill him, but enough to cause serious brain damage if Dr. Hurt doesn’t save his life — and he won’t do it unless Damian swears allegiance to him.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Really, a very fun story, and I’m absolutely loving the art by Frazer Irving — definitely one of the great pleasures of this series that people never think to comment on ’cause they’re enjoying Morrison’s storytelling so much.

Morning Glories #3

Casey knows the sadistic teachers have kidnapped Jade, but they won’t admit to it. Jade finds herself in the school nurse’s office — or rather, in the school nurse’s prison and neurosurgery complex. She meets up with one of the patients, who effortlessly kills four of the academy’s guards. Casey is getting close to some kind of break-through, but there may be nothing that can keep the nurse from torturing Jade.

Verdict: Thumbs up. A nicely weird story. The frequently repeated mantra found written on walls is a very nice touch for ratcheting up the strangeness.

Today’s Cool Links:

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The Final Frontier


A friend of mine recommended this one to me a while back. He loves reading about space flight — the technology, the experiences of astronauts, the mystery and romance of putting people in a metal box and lighting explosives under them until they’re pushed up out of Earth’s atmosphere. He said he read this, and it made him want to cry with happiness. Sounded like a good reason to read it.

This is a graphic novel written by Warren Ellis and illustrated by Colleen Doran. It was published by Vertigo in 2003. The story is set a few years in our future — the Space Shuttle Venture mysteriously vanished a decade ago, and the resulting scandal caused the space program to be completely shut down. NASA is no more. Kennedy Space Center is one vast squatters camp.

And then, the Venture returns. No one knows where it’s been or why it took so long to come back. Only one member of the Venture’s crew is aboard, and he’s insane. There’s dust from Mars in the shuttle’s landing gear.

And the entire ship is covered in a layer of… skin.

So the government calls in some experts to investigate the mystery. There’s Michelle Robeson, a former astronaut assigned to study the shuttle itself and try to figure out where the Venture has been. There’s Terry Marx, a hotshot young physicist who has to figure out what sort of changes were made to the shuttle while it was gone. And there’s Anna Bracken, a psychiatrist who needs to analyze the Venture’s sole remaining crewman to try to make him less violently insane.

And that’s the bulk of the story. It’s a locked-room mystery, except the locked room is a 184-foot-long dual-stage space vehicle, the clues involve things I can just barely understand, like Alcubierre fields, microgravity damage, exotic matter, and bias drives, and the culprits may already be a few dozen light-years outside of Earth’s jurisdiction.

Verdict: Thumbs up. The story didn’t affect me as strongly as it did my friend — but I still liked it a lot. I think my enjoyment was somewhat hampered because I kept trying to understand all the theoretical science that Ellis included in the story. I have a tough time really understanding serious, hard science, especially physics. Heck, I have trouble doing long division. If you’re as science-dim as I am, just replace any of the hard physics discussions with the words “Then a miracle occurs.

And once you get past the physics, it’s an excellent story. The characters have excellent backstories and motivations that blend into the needs of the story very well. The mystery alone makes the book a page-turner — a space shuttle with skin? A space shuttle that apparently landed on Mars? What the heck? Makes you want to read the book just to find out what on earth is going on.

Colleen Doran‘s artwork is great, too. If you’re used to her art on comics like “A Distant Soil,” her work here is a bit different, but still really beautiful and vivid. She does some really jaw-dropping landscapes of distant planets and stars.

I think you should consider getting this graphic novel. If you love space travel the way Warren Ellis and Colleen Doran do, you’ll love this. If you like hard science fiction or physics, you’ll probably like this. If you love mysteries, you’ll probably like this. If you’re a fan of Ellis or Doran, you should definitely have this on your shelf. In other words, go pick it up.

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Politics in Comics: Transmetropolitan

Well, the election is tomorrow. Seems like a great time to talk politics and comics again.

Transmetropolitan” seems like an especially appropriate topic — Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson’s epic and controversial series paid more attention to the subject of presidential politics than any other comic series I’ve ever seen. Our setting was the City — that’s all, just the City — in a cyberpunk and dystopian — but still fairly funny — future. Folks are splicing themselves with alien DNA, you can go into restaurants and eat human flesh, police brutality is the expected norm, and a popular TV show focuses on puppet pornography. Everywhere you turn, there’s sex and violence and more sex and more violence. Into this urban wasteland steps our noble and incorruptible hero:

That’s Spider Jerusalem: rageoholic, atheist, misanthrope, drug abuser, frequent nudist, and righteous journalist.

No, this isn’t your typical hero — there’s a scene where he injects drugs into his eyes, he kills several people, he commits assault and battery quite casually, he hurls grenades off his apartment balcony, he propositions random women for sex, and his weapon of preference is a specialized gun called a bowel disruptor, which does pretty much what you’d expect it to do. But for all that, he’s still the most trustworthy, most moral, and generally best person in the series.

Not sure if he’s the picture-perfect journalist, but if more of them operated like Spider, maybe we’d have more politicians who’d be less willing to lie to the press. Ain’t nothing to make a politico clean up his act like being told, “I know you lied to me, so I’m going to beat you senseless with the fender from a ’58 Chrysler, then I’m going to print an article telling everyone you’re a lying bucket of yak vomit.” Heck, I’d be happy if they left out the horrible beatings, as long as they’d burn sources who lied to ’em.

Anyway, Spider sees the pursuit and revelation of The Truth as an almost religious calling, and there’s nothing that makes him madder than corruption.

Unsurprisingly, this means he runs afoul of these two guys.

Two different presidents, the Beast and the Smiler.

The Beast is a fairly petty tyrant, but at the end of the day, he’s just interested in getting through the day with himself and as many of the American people as possible alive. He’s massively corrupt, and he likes to punish people who go against him. He hates the City, and vice versa. He hates Spider, and vice versa.

In the interest of getting the Beast out of the White House, Spider initially and grudgingly supports Gary Callahan, nicknamed the Smiler because of his rigid and obviously insincere smile. Unfortunately, what Spider initially figures is just your garden-variety politician-grade neurosis is actually full-blown psychopathic megalomania — Callahan is a master manipulator and a complete sociopath. He stages riots, uses and abuses prostitutes, makes deals with really awful people. He kills multiple people, including his wife and kids, because he wants the political sympathy boost that he’d get from their deaths. He hates everyone, particularly Spider, and once elected, he makes it his primary goal to do everything he can to hurt the City, Spider, and the entire human race. In comparison, the Beast almost comes off as a good guy — that’s how rotten Gary Callahan is.

Warren Ellis is a pretty hardcore liberal. (Conservatives and squicky parents should use extreme caution in visiting his website.) It’s pretty clear that he based the Beast on Richard Nixon (though both the Beast and Callahan use Nixon’s “If the President does it, it’s not a crime” philosophy to justify their actions), but there’s quite a bit of dispute on who the Smiler is based on. Some folks think it’s George W. Bush, some folks think it’s John Edwards. I think it’s really unlikely to be Edwards, despite the similarities in appearance, just because when Ellis introduced Callahan, Edwards was a really, really minor politician. I also don’t think he’s based on Bush, for the same reason, but I also think that as the series progressed and Bush became more prominent, the Smiler became more similar to Bush. I think it’s most likely that Ellis based the Smiler on former British prime minister Tony Blair. Ellis is a Brit, after all — seems that he’d base his primary villain on a politician he was more familiar with.

Was there a deeper meaning to the series? Maybe not — part of what made “Transmetropolitan” such a great series is that it’s just a ripping yarn from beginning to end. But I do think that Ellis also believes, like Spider, that we should expect more from our politicians, that we should hold them responsible when they’re exposed as corrupt, whether we initially supported them or not, and that we should elect better people to lead us.

I dunno if Ellis gives a rat’s patoot whether or not you vote. But I do. You should go out and vote tomorrow, if you haven’t voted already, and you should care enough for your country that you give some actual thought into who deserves your vote the most. Not who yer momma wants you to vote for, not who your neighbor wants you to vote for, not who the babbling buffoons on TV want you to vote for. Vote like a grownup — like an honest grownup, not some delusional “I’ll believe whatever bulldada a politician tells me so I can feel good about myself” nitwit — and not a freakin’ sheep. Think about the choice you have to make, because it’s a pretty important choice.

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