Monday, September 22, 2008

Bookstore Sale 1: Four Warren Ellis Books

[The bookstore at my former university is selling a lot (and I mean a lot) of Marvel collections for cheap. So, I figure I may stop by on Sunday from time to time and pick up a book or seven... and then blog about them on Monday. This week, I bought four Warren Ellis trades I've been meaning to get for a long time.]

Iron Man: Extremis

I wish Marvel would talk Ellis into staying for at least one additional story after redefining a character. First, the bastard did it with Thor (but that was also back when he was just Warren Ellis, WARREN FUCKING ELLIS!) and the post-Ellis stuff lasted less than a year (although William Messner-Loebs did a pretty good job). Here, he transforms Tony Stark from "a guy in a suit" to "a cyborg who was already smarter than everyone else" and all I've seen since is "a guy in a suit." The final part of this story is the blueprint for a man who can change the world far beyond the little shit we've seen since. Really, Ellis turned Tony Stark into the Engineer... and, fuck, fuck, fuck, what's the goddamn point of having a guy like Ellis revamp a character in an intelligent manner when the follow-up is more of the same old same old? Okay, writers have tried... Fraction seems to be trying a little, but not really... the way Stark's armour interacts with his brain--how is this guy even written as a human being anymore? He can call telephones with his brain and see through satellites without trying--he's a goddamn machine god or something. He's as far beyond "a man in armour" as said man in armour is beyond a regular guy.

But, how does someone write a character like that? How do you consistently portray someone so advanced, continually come up with new challenges and also make him sympathetic and relatable? How oh how do you do that?

That would be Marvel's problem, I would think. Why allow Ellis to push the character into such unchartered territory without a plan to follow-up on it? Now, it could be that they did follow-up, but I haven't seen it. There's also some nice shots of him multitasking inside of his armour and some pretty standard uplinks to satellites displayed on his screens, but... really, he's beyond that. He doesn't see displays of sattelites, he sees through satellites. He doesn't talk on phones, he thinks on them... Ellis didn't define a lot of Stark's abilities, but he sure implied them.

But... I'm listening to Daft Punk as I write about this book and... shouldn't an Iron Man comic almost be like Daft Punk music? Why is his comic often written like so many others? Sure, the external trappings are different with politics and some corporate intrigue, but it's still just the same superhero shit dressed up... I'm not saying it should mimic Daft Punk or other techno music, but... shouldn't there be a correlation? Shouldn't the storytelling for a book about a guy whose body is fused with a computer be different than that of a regular human?

At this point, I will say that it's very easy for me to be a giant douchebag like this, because I'm not writing an Iron Man comic book. I don't have to deal with these concerns and it is so very easy to stand on the sidelines and point out where others are going wrong in your eyes. That said... isn't that what comic book blogs are for sometimes? (That's a joke... partly.)

And I should actually address the book itself, shouldn't I?

The Tony Stark here isn't that much different from the one we're used to. He's a little more focused, a little more questioning, but it's not that far... his connection to fringe science is more here and makes sense... He kills. That's something to remember. Adi Granov's art shifts between plastic/CGI/obvious fake and gritty with the colours reminding me a bit of the work Jose Villarrubia in places. An odd mix sometimes. Flashes of brilliance combined with sterility. The pacing is a bit off, a bit too decompressed, but there are some wonderful scenes... I'd love to read a team-up book of Warren Ellis's Tony Stark and Grant Morrison's Reed Richards. Christ, those are two guys who would change the world and barely give a Skrull invasion a second thought.

Ultimate Nightmare

I would discuss these three books together as one story, but each book has its own feel. This is black ops gritty... There is a problem with this book and the other ones: the whole Gah Lak Tus thing is supposed to be so harsh, so big, so traumatising, but it doesn't come across as that here. I don't blame Ellis or the artists as they do their best... it's just that we've see this stuff before--hell, Ellis has done this stuff much better in the past. The constraints of a Marvel comic prevent it from being truly horrifying when it should be. That said, what goes on in the Russian bunker is pretty fucked up. I'm actually surprised they let Ellis get away with giving Captain USSR a shield constructed out of human flesh.

I like the way Ellis handles the Ultimate universe. His cynicism works well as does his humour. Considering that much of the Ultimate universe is influenced heavily by his work, that makes sense. His portrayal of Captain America is great in all of these books--of course, I don't like Ultimate Captain America, but he's military and that's to be expected since I'm a pussy pseudo-intellectual. Our kinds rarely mix.

The X-Men stuff was funny, particularly Logan rant at the end... Charlie is too busy playing Mutant Love Messiah to check the fucking news... heheheheheheh...

Ultimate Secret

The second act is shorter than the first and the third... Granted, Ellis was initially only to do the first part, so this is quick thinking. Some cool science bits and I think Ellis's depiction of the Fantastic Four is damn funny at times. A lighter book with some more serious implications.

And, wow, humans are pretty big assholes to aliens, eh? I do enjoy how every alien race Ellis seems to write is very, very racist... but then again, his humans are, too (to said aliens), so it evens out I suppose.

Ultimate Extinction

The conclusion. Some bits didn't work, but a lot of it did. I don't want to say for sure, but I wonder if any of the bits in this series (the cult stuff in particular) was cribbed from that big event Ellis was tasked to do for Marvel in the late '90s that never happened... I remember the first issue's script was on his website at one point and I only have vague ideas of what happened in it with it being so many years ago... This seems a little familiar, though... If this is the case, good on him finally getting a chance to use some of those old ideas...

I am a little bothered that SHIELD would give the technology to create that ultimate weapon out so freely to alien races. Seems like that could result in some big problems later.

I dunno, I don't have much to say about these books. They're solid and entertaining. Ultimate Nightmare was my favourite, but the other two had some great moments, too.

Sorry about my Iron Man rant.