Apr 28, 2014

Dr. Pseudo-Science: How I Learned To Stop Forgetting And Read Warren Ellis

Dr. Pseudo-Science: How I Learned To Stop Forgetting And Read Warren Ellis
Ben Smith

Probably going back to Nextwave, Warren Ellis has been one of those writers I always seemed to enjoy whenever I read something written by him, but would always forget to mention as a favorite when it came time to list such a thing. This would continue on project after project, no matter how much I enjoyed it, but now is the time to end it. Warren Ellis is one of my favorite comic book writers, and today I am going to tell you why (or attempt to, in my usual rambling barely literate kind of way).

One of the things I like the most about a Warren Ellis story is the way he dives into the inherent craziness and even silliness of superhero characters, but unlike many of his peers, he celebrates that craziness instead of trying to “deconstruct” it for the modern audience. I always kind of expected him, based on what little I know of his public persona (which is next to nothing and full of assumptions), to be kind of the grumpy writer that only does Marvel comics every once in a while to pay the bills inbetween novels, but that’s not how his superhero comics read. Instead, I feel nothing but genuine love for the characters coming off the page anytime I read one of his Marvel books, and a surprising amount of knowledge of who the characters are at their core for someone I tend to assume (most likely erroneously) doesn’t care enough to know about Marvel characters.

Another thing I like about a Warren Ellis comic is how smart they are. I don’t mean smart in the way it’s crafted, because I’m not educated enough to make that determination, or how smart you have to be to enjoy it (as some Grant Morrison fans are fond of saying). Ellis has a definite skill for using pseudo-science in his comics, and I don’t know how much research he does or doesn’t do, but he does it in such a way to make it believable, understandable, and entertaining. Most writers have a hard enough time checking off one of those boxes, but Ellis consistently manages all three.

All of that said, let’s dive in to some of the comics he’s done that I’ve enjoyed the most, with hopefully as little research and effort as possible on my part. As always, remember that I am primarily a Marvel fan, so of course most of the books to follow will be his Marvel books.

Nextwave: Agents Of H.A.T.E. with Stuart Immonen

Most likely my first exposure to the madcap zaniness that is the mind of Warren Ellis, Nextwave was almost immediately one of those books that for anyone that actually read it, they were screaming to the skies above (or more accurately, internet message boards) for everyone to pay attention to this book, because it was great. Unfortunately, it was all too late to save it from cancellation, but fortunately Ellis and Immonen were able to give us a complete story. This book was pure fun, and wild craziness from beginning to end. With my beloved Elsa Bloodstone reinvented as a sarcastic smartass, Machine Man as a self-important degenerate alcoholic (think Bender from Futurama, only a superhero), a pantsless Fin Fang Foom (sold!) and Devil Dinosaur in a smoking jacket. It satirized superhero comics while simultaneously celebrating them, and it was flat out hilarious while doing it. If you have never read it, you are missing out.

Thor: Worldengine with Mike Deodato

I like Mike Deodato’s art, I don’t know why you don’t. Also Thor should occasionally hook up with the Enchantress. Why wouldn’t he? I’m all for that.

Iron Man: Extremis with Adi Granov

I can say without a doubt, that this was the first Iron Man comic I ever enjoyed. After being stuck in the classic red and gold armor for decades, Marvel had tried for several years to reinvent the armor with diminishing returns (see Heroes Reborn). Adi Granov was more than up to the task though, as the armor he designed not only looked sleek and modern, it became the basis for the armor they used in the eventual Iron Man movie. Those movies owe a great deal to Warren Ellis and his work on Iron Man as well, down to the third one heavily borrowing from this storyline. Robert Downey Jr. may get the lion’s share of the credit for making Iron Man an enjoyable character (and probably deservedly so) but Warren Ellis laid the foundation for that. The rehabilitation of Tony Stark all started here.

Desolation Jones with JH Williams III

JH Williams III before he became the superstar he is today. I have to be honest, I don’t remember much about reading this comic, but I do remember Hitler porn. And what else do you really need to know other than Hitler porn?

Justice League Unlimited: Dark Heart

Warren Ellis wrote an excellent episode of what I must begrudgingly admit was the best superhero animated series ever created. That should count for something with you ungrateful pups.

Astonishing X-Men with Simone Bianchi and Phil Jimenez

Ellis was at full pseudo-science levels in this Astonishing X-Men run, while also giving me probably the most faithful and true portrayals of these X-Men characters that I’ve read in a long time (at least the version of them I have in my head). His banter (a possibly underrated skill of his) between the characters was at its peak in these comics, and made for a very enjoyable read. He’s the only other guy besides Grant Morrison that I’ve felt has gotten the voice of the modern Emma Frost, which is the version that made me a fan. Not surprising considering what he was able to do with Elsa Bloodstone in a similar vein. He also does what most good X-Men writers seem to do, and that’s kill a Native American.

Fell with Ben Templesmith

Richard Fell is a homicide detective transferred to the city of Snowtown, which is basically one step above a desolate apocalyptic cityscape. Ellis weaves in a series of one-and-done mysteries issue to issue, with larger ongoing mysteries percolating in the background. Not only are the mysteries not simple to figure out on my own (a must for me), they usually involve a level of depravity that really speaks to my inner degenerate. Fell quickly shows his extreme competence as a detective, echoing Sherlock Holmes in that regard. Definitely one of the most highly recommended books on this list.

Thunderbolts with Mike Deodato

Ellis and Deodato took what easily could have been a throwaway follow-up from Civil War and turned it into one of the most enjoyable books at that time. His group of psychopaths turned reluctant bounty hunters was dripping with paranoia and anxiety. Their mountain base of operations was practically claustrophobic trying to contain all the psychosis and downright evil inside. Every character of the team had a different agenda (especially my beloved Moonstone) all with Norman Osborn at the center trying to keep it all together (not only the team, but his own fractured mind). This story was so interesting that it ended up becoming the basis for the entire Dark Reign status quo, with Norman Osborn’s control expanding out from one team of Thunderbolts, to the entire Marvel universe. I can’t even think of another time anything like that has ever happened.

Moon Knight with Declan Shalvey

At the time of writing this, only one issue has been released of this new series, but boy was it a great first issue. Some may not have appreciated the character redesign, but it works for me, and the art by Shalvey was fantastic. The colors by Jordie Bellaire really enhance the look and tone of the series, which is not something I usually notice with my caveman levels of insight into coloring. Really excited about the potential of this series going forward.

Planetary with John Cassaday

Last but not least, is probably Warren Ellis’ most celebrated comic book work, the absolutely stunning Planetary. It took me a long time to get around to reading this, with me only having finished it a few months ago (it takes me a while to venture beyond the warm embrace of Marvel) but am I ever so glad I finally did. The series is famous for the level of detail in its Easter Eggs and analogues, and also for its exploration of different genres of fiction. I’ve never been the most perceptive reader when it comes to themes and homages, but the great thing about Planetary is that I don’t think you have to get them all to enjoy the story. At the beginning of the series, I was loving the different stories from issue to issue so much that I almost dreaded the eventual transition to the larger overall plotline. But even when that plotline did come to the forefront, it was something new and exciting, subverting my expectations yet again. The art by Cassaday was absolutely gorgeous (the man was born to draw a Western, get on it) (He's done one! -Duy) and the story was engaging from the smallest story to the biggest. The ending was about as satisfying as you can get for me as a reader, so much so, that I almost immediately wanted to reread the entire series upon finishing it. That’s quite a feat for someone as lazy as me.

There you have it. There’s some other quite enjoyable Warren Ellis comics such as Secret Avengers and The Authority to look into (I never could get into Transmetropolitan) but I feel like I’ve given you a pretty substantial list to start working on. If you don’t have all the comics I listed above, you should get them. If you don’t want to get them, then frankly you must hate joy and freedom.

So go out and buy them you fascist hater of enjoyment. Or don’t, I’m taking a nap either way.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Whattaya talkin' about pantsless Fin Fang Foom, he DID wear pants! That was his whole gimmick! He even threatened to put (I think it was) The Captain into them!

I run hot and cold on Ellis, but Nextwave and Planetary are freaking phenomenal comics. Transmet is pretty good too, and I kinda sorta like Stormwatch, it does some cool stuff.

--David Sanchez--

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