Thursday, November 27, 2008


I've been reading a couple of Warren Ellis's latest collections. Doktor Sleepless: Engines of Desire is a collection of the first eight issues of one of Ellis's ongoing series that hasn't disappeared from the face of the earth (I suppose we're never going to hear from Desolation Jones again huh?). Someone who may, or may not be, John Reinhardt, returns to the sleepy town of Heavenside and sets himself up as 'Doktor Sleepless', figuring he'll only be able to achieve what he wants in life if he becomes a larger-than-life mythic character rather than just a fallible human. This collection does little more than set the scene, individual issues being sometimes little more than an essay with pictures based on whatever Warren saw on the internet that week. Which is not to say they are bad, but other than a confrontation with a police inspector who is confident he has John Reinhardt locked up in prison and a confrontation with his ex-girlfriend in which he possibly explains the gruesome and strange way in which his parents died, not a huge amount happens.

Basically the comic is about Grinders. In real life Grinders tend to be men who enjoy hammering things into, through and around their testicles and then send pictures of it to Warren. In the mythos of the story they are transhumans who are less about digitally uploading into the superfuture and more about dicking around with technology in clever but ultimately pointless ways. By the end of this collection they are a faceless mob willing to dance to the Doktor's tune. Indeed this shouldn't work as a story, there are few characters, little plot and no reason to care about anything. Anyone sceptical about Ellis's work may well find this collection contains all they dislike about him the most and yet, I suspect it's the fact that it's a collection that makes me happier reading it than buying the individual comics would. While the Doktor has a masterplan and has predicted many of the things that happen it's clear he has not seen all the variables and that chaos may derail things for him.

The art of Ivan Rodriguez doesn't particularly grab me. It's frequently flat but, when characters do little than stand around dishing out exposition it's unavoidable.

A tastier treat is Black Summer, in which superhero John Horus executes the President of the United States for starting an illegal war in Iraq for personal and private gain. The surviving and retired members of his former superteam, the Seven Guns, have the whole US military coming after them as national security threats before they can decide whether they support Horus's action or not. And so we get eight issues of ultraviolence and high-tech goodness, punctuated by speeches. Most comic companies, in pursuit of realism, tend to have problems dancing around the issue of why their superheroes will fight space-squid trying to take over Nebraska but not deal with nuclear proliferation in the Middle East. The Authority, which Ellis created, tried to address this after he left the title but it was swiftly killed off after being handed to an author who was happier directing men in colourful costumes to punch one another rather than debate global politics. But though this is the very opposite of those books in interventionist terms it is equally unsatisfying, Horus seems to have no plan for what to do after killing off the head of the United States Government as though no-one would mind what he did. That the rest of the book consists of lovingly rendered pictures of death and destruction suggests that maybe Ellis is himself aware that there's not really anywhere else you can take the story after you've decided that that's your opening trick.

So, as a high-concept book, hell, as any-kind-of-concept book it's a bit of a misfire. But as another showcase for the kind of tranhuman, extropian ideas that excite Ellis's cold, cold heart the book is quite fun, Juan Jose Ryp's gorgeously detailed artwork is the polar opposite of Rodriguez's, giving a real sense of depth to each scene. So this will be a fun throwaway read for a wet afternoon which, lets face it, is not something we're short of at the moment.

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