Tag Archives: Warren Ellis

FreakAngels, Vol. 4

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews FreakAngels, Vol. 4 [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Warren Ellis, Paul Duffield, & al., part of the FreakAngels series.

Ellis Duffield Freakangels Volume Four

Although I think they have the same page count, and quite nearly the same panel count, each successive volume of FreakAngels seems to read faster than the one before. In this fourth installment, there are some substantial background stories of the teenage years of the FreakAngels, both before and during the cataclysm that flooded London and left them in their current situation. The internecine violence that has been building through the earlier volumes comes to a decided head in this one, although I can’t say it’s been resolved.

FreakAngels, Vol 3

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews FreakAngels, Vol. 3 [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Warren Ellis, Paul Duffield, & al., part of the FreakAngels series.

Ellis Duffield FreakAngels Vol 3

The tension continues to increase in the third volume of FreakAngels. It turns out I was wrong about all of the FreakAngels having K in their names, Connor, at least, doesn’t, even though he’s got the sound of it. I’m really enjoying these trade paperback collections, but I’m not in the least tempted to read the original webcomic. The pacing, while wonderful in a printed book of this kind, seems like it would be insufferably slow, if taken one page at a time. 

This one ends with a multiple cliffhanger, literal and figurative.

FreakAngels, Vol 2

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews FreakAngels, Vol. 2 [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield, part of the FreakAngels series

Ellis Duffield Freakangels Vol 2

This second volume of FreakAngels charts a turn from mere survival of the Whitechapel clan and their local peasantry, to a more ambitious rebuilding project in the ruins of London. Some new psychic powers are demonstrated, and it turns out that the mutants use the eight-circuit psychological model of Timothy Leary in describing their paranormal interactions with other minds. 

I first noticed in this volume — though it was surely true in the previous one — that each of the FreakAngels has the letter K in his or her name.

The title continues to impress and engage me, and I’m enjoying the leisurely pace of narrative development. I already have the next volume on hand, but I’ll take a little breather before reading it.

FreakAngels

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews FreakAngels, Vol. 1 [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield, part of the FreakAngels series.

Ellis Duffield Freakangels

The first print volume collecting the FreakAngels webcomic by Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield is very good indeed. The FreakAngels are a group of young mutants with psychic powers, who believe themselves to have been responsible for the collapse of modern civilization. They serve as warrior sentinels to a somewhat utopian community of a few hundred people assembled in Whitechapel in the midst of a flooded future London. The story was inspired by John Wyndham’s Midwich Cuckoos, although the comics medium makes it hard not to read it in light of the X-men and other mutant superhero bands. 

The characters are strongly drawn, with the central corps of the dozen FreakAngels complemented by a few key ordinary people. Dialog is often telepathic, and Ellis and Duffield manage to convey that with a number of seemingly effortless narrative and pictorial devices. As is typical of Ellis, there is some violence, the more brutal for being set in the midst of stretches of calmer, more reflective storytelling. 

Paul Duffield’s art is very beautiful. There’s no garish four-color palette here: the future is gray and green and ivory, and the FreakAngels are pale and purple. The ruined and flooded cityscape is lovingly and credibly rendered. 

The physical production of the Avatar Press softbound volume is quite satisfactory. The book’s webcomic origins have two interesting effects. First, the page/panel design is quite inflexible, accommodating only quarter-, full-, and half-page rectangular panels. Second, the narrative pacing doesn’t “chunk” into roughly 20-page “issue” components, as one can routinely expect from trade volumes that collect individual print comic books. Nor does it fully resolve at the end of this book. Having been frustrated by Ellis’s apparently stalled Doktor Sleepless after reading its first trade collection, I’m relieved and gratified to see that there are already six FreakAngels volumes in print.

Head Games

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Locke & Key: Head Games [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez, & al., introduction by Warren Ellis, book 2 of the Locke & Key series.

Hill Rodriguez Locke and Key Head Games

Not as violent, but every bit as creepy as its predecessor, this second collected volume of the Locke & Key comics expands the range of magics in play, concentrating particularly on the powers of the Head Key. It also exposes more of the events among the prior generation in the Massachusetts town of Lovecraft that served to set up the present scenario. Existing characters become more complex, and there are some new characters that I liked a lot, like the drama teacher Mr. Ridgeway.

As before, Rodriguez’s art is gorgeous, with a style that is impressively well adapted to the material.

Warren Ellis was a surprising choice for the introduction, which he keeps short and hilarious. There is substantial end matter, including some reference material on the magic keys, reproductions of the individual issue cover art, and a disenchanting account of the art development process used by Rodriguez.

Supergod

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Supergod [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Warren Ellis, Garrie Gastonny, & al., book 1 of the Supergod series. See also Supergod, Vol 1.

Ellis Gastonny Supergod

In Supergod Warren Ellis has updated most of the pieces of the Cold War superhero fable The One by Rick Veitch, and put it in the multilateral world of 21st-century geopolitics. So, it’s not really so very novel, although it pokes bloody, singed fingers at the usual holes in modern superhero narratives: Wouldn’t people worship superhumans? Wouldn’t superhumans find that their due? Would they really serve the status quo? 

Garrie Gastonny’s art is up to the task: there are a number of full-page and dual-page panels that look like proper devotional art. The depiction of Dajjal (an Antichrist engineered by Western military contractors in Iraq) is particularly inventive and effective. 

Ellis has a considerably bleaker view of the outcome than Veitch did, but to be fair, the planet has gotten a lot more screwed up since the end of the Cold War. In Supergod, Ellis dispenses with the rosy deus ex machina elements from The One, and tells the reader from page one that civilization has gone completely belly-up as a consequence of superhuman-powered catastrophes. The retrospective framing of the story allows for some sardonic humor as well. The whole storyline has a sense of grudging inevitability that can make you wonder whether a scenario like this — if perhaps a little less colorful — isn’t actually in the cards.

Engines of Desire

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Doktor Sleepless: Engines of Desire [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Warren Ellis and Ivan Rodriguez.

Ellis Rodriguez Doktor Sleepless Engines of Desire

This volume contains the first eight issues of Doktor Sleepless, plus some endmatter consisting of painted cover art from individual issues, and print snapshots of the wiki at Doktorsleepless.com. Having started in this vein, I plan to follow this title in trade paperback format, though goodness knows there’s enough meat to each issue to make it worth reading in individual comics. 

Although there is no resolution to the steadily-intensifying plot in this collection, there is a climactic epiphany in the eighth issue. Doktor Sleepless invites comparison with Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta, although the target is clearly today’s USA, rather than the Thatcherite UK of Moore’s dystopian fantasy. As in V, the central character is a self-caricaturing enigma who is engineering the collapse of the existing social order. He’s got a girl sidekick, and seems as much villain as hero. There’s even business with mass-distribution of masks — Ellis doubles down on that trope, in fact. 

Creepy, violent, and believable, this comic picks up and continues the outrage over injustice that Ellis exhibited in Transmetropolitan, while stripping the (always somewhat ornamental) science-fictional elements down to a bare minimum. A kindred cyberpunk comic would be Testament, but where Rushkoff uses the Bible to frame his tale of techno-sociological crisis, Ellis substitutes the Necronomicon (or something worse). 

Anyhow, it certainly won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but I’ll be impatient for the next collection.

Jack Kirby Ripped My Flesh

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Do Anything: Thoughts on Comics and Things, Volume One: Jack Kirby Ripped My Flesh [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Warren Ellis.

Ellis Do Anything Jack Kirby ripped my flesh

Warren Ellis initially refers the title Do Anything to a quote from Harvey Pekar: “You can do anything with words and pictures.” (5) But he returns to the phrase in other quotes like a recurring motif in the fugue of his stream-of-consciousness history of comics art, writing, and publishing. He cops to aspiring to play the Lester Bangs of comics here, and he overshoots his mark with the sort of mystical cyberpunk surrealism that one might expect from such an accomplished 21st-century comics writer.

By framing this set of blogrants (subsequently edited for print publication) as a reported dialogue with a stolen Hanson Robotics ‘droid head retrofitted from the persona of PKD to Jack Kirby, Ellis places himself in the magical line of Roger Bacon, Jacques de Molay, Aleister Crowley, and Michael Valentine Smith. He also–if the catena just described didn’t make it sufficiently clear–makes himself an Extremely Unreliable Narrator. I wish most everything in this book were true, but I’m better at knowing for sure which things are consensually false than being certain which didn’t spring from Ellis’s finely twisted imagination.

Although the back cover claims that the “Do Anything” column continues at Bleeding Cool, I failed to find it there as of September 4, 2011.

Alan Moore’s Magic Words

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Alan Moore’s Magic Words by Alan Moore, illustrated by Juan Jose Ryp, with introduction (in the deluxe edition) by Warren Ellis.

Moore Alan Moore's Magic Words

Magic Words is a short anthology of Alan Moore’s song lyrics and brief poetry, adapted for comics by an able assortment of artists. Unlike Moore’s arm’s-length relationship to the cinematic transformations of his work, he is credited here as a “consulting editor.” 

This project bears comparison to the adaptation of Moore’s Light of Thy Countenance, which I have read previously. The production values are lower here (only black and white for the interior art), but despite the variable quality of the individual pieces in Magic Words, the best of them certainly surpass Light of Thy Countenance in exploiting the comics medium. 

In particular, the illustrations for “14.2.99” add a further layer of meaning to the text that is still sympathetic with it. On the downside, the art on the title page of that piece (which appears similarly on the inside back cover) was evidently drawn as a 2-page landscape spread, but has been rotated 90° to fit onto a single page, losing the orientation and confusing the rich detail of Juan Jose Ryp’s fine portrait of teledildonic rapture.

The artists here are all clearly sympathetic to Moore’s larger themes and ambitions–and they were probably thrilled to have the opportunity to work with his texts. Illustrators Vicente Cifuentes and Alfredo Torres bring into play the Moon & Serpent motif that is central to Moore’s magical cultus, even while adapting texts that don’t specify it. The lead item, Jacen Burrow’s rendition of “The Hair of the Snake that Bit Me,” features it by necessity.

The book concludes with what amounts to a set of liner notes and an audio discography. Besides documenting Moore’s musical and performing history, this article provides some broad outlines of his claimed magical attainment: Neophyte to Magus in a six-year period concluding on April 11, 2002.

The aggregate result may be trivial for a casual reader, but it is very engaging for someone familiar with the esoteric elements of Moore’s work.

From the Dead

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Moon Knight, Vol 1: From the Dead by Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey, &al.

I hadn’t read any Warren Ellis comics for a while when I heard about the collections of his work on the Marvel superhero title Moon Knight. From the Dead reprints the first six issues of the new series, which is a continuation rather than a reboot of earlier treatments of the character. I haven’t read much of those erstwhile books, and not for a long while, so I didn’t make comparisons while reading, and didn’t benefit from any coy allusions to earlier storylines.

“Mr. Knight” is declared to have been insane, and it’s an open question as to how much sanity he has recovered. His operation in these stories is very “Batman”: nocturnal urban vigilante with high-tech accessories. The thing that’s most un-Batman is his attire. Where Batman favors dark togs, Moon Knight wears all white in any of his several costumes (old-fashioned cape and cowl, three-piece-suit and full-head mask, or avian pseudo-mummy). This attire is suitably surprising, and when his foes ask, “Who the hell are you?” he answers, “The one you see coming.”

As usual, Ellis’s pacing and efficient use of dialogue are exquisite. Declan Shalvey’s drawings are a good match for the content, in both gritty scenes of violence and episodes of eerie communion with the moon-god Khonsu. The book favors wide, short panels extending across the page and marching down it, giving a recurrent feeling of sinking or falling.

My favorite of the issues collected here is the fourth, “Sleep.” It puts Moon Knight in his role of “watcher of overnight travelers” to investigate mishaps at a sleep clinic. The psychedelic fugue of the inquiry is shown in day-glo page compositions that contrast shockingly with the rest of the book, and reminded me of some of the most far-out sequences in The Invisibles or 1970s Doctor Strange.

It was worth my while to borrow this one from the public library. [via]