So have I mentioned how much I’m enjoying Warren Ellis’ recent work? Holy crap, that guy’s on a roll. His recently-completed run on Moon Knight was fun, but it’s his other two current projects that have really impressed me. I hesitate to say this is the best work of his career, but it might just be. It’s something new and interesting from him, at the very least, and that’s worth making note of. So let’s do that very thing…
Supreme: Blue Rose 4, by Warren Ellis and Tula Lotay
God bless Rob Liefeld.
No, really. I mean, the guy might be responsible for some of the very worst comics ever released by a professional publisher, but at least he’s open to letting more talented people play with his toys. I’ve gone on at length about how much I love Brandon Graham and company’s take on Prophet, but there’s also Joe Keatinge & Ross Campbell’s sadly under-appreciated version of Glory, and of course Alan Moore’s Eisner-winning late-90s revamp of the entire Rob Liefeld library.
It’s Moore’s work with Supreme that Ellis is building on here, in fact, and he’s going about it pretty much exactly how you should approach such towering work: using it as a starting point to tell a very different story that’s all his own. That’s particularly appropriate in this case, since Moore’s whole point with Supreme was that these long-running characters get revamped periodically, their realities warped and changed and turned upside-down in ways they’re only vaguely aware of, if at all.
So Ellis’ Supreme is anything but the Silver Age homage of Moore. He’s dealing in a new paradigm shift, one that’s gone slightly wrong, and the result is a grounded, human, sci-fi indie comics approach. That’s reflected in the every aspect of the comic, from Ellis’ handling of character and plot to the psychedelic realism of artist Tula Lotay, to my favorite aspect of Blue Rose: Professor Night.
Or should I say… Professor Night. Every issue of Supreme: Blue Rose features a two-page Professor Night strip, much like the one above. Which is to say, enigmatic, poetic, and artsy. Nearly to the point of ridiculousness. It’s been wildly entertaining and kind of funny, this stylish six-panel interruption of the story that seems to be there for no good reason other than entertainment.
Of course, with this issue, it becomes apparent that Professor Night is actually pretty integral to the larger story. The Professor is an Alan Moore creation, you see, much like Doc Rocket (pictured on the cover, above). But whereas Doc Rocket has run into the broken new world mostly intact, Professor Night is just a comic (or some form of digitally-delivered entertainment). He’s a fiction trapped in a fiction, and he’s trying to get out, two pages at a time.
Which… DAMN. That’s great stuff. Grant Morrison’s going to have to bust his ass to portray his “haunted comic book” concept any better than that over in Multiversity. And, you know, much as I love me some Morrison… I don’t think he can do it.
Anyway. This issue, Professor Night is followed by another two-page sequence, laid out exactly the same way, which gives it that same feeling of meta-fictional interruption. I won’t show you the whole thing, but it’s set in the future, and it concludes with this ominous panel of someone identified only as a “late human render ghost”:
Brr. Haunted funnybooks, indeed.
I haven’t heard much noise about this book in fan circles, but seriously… If you’re not reading it… You’re missing something special.
Trees 6, by Warren Ellis and Jason Howard
None of the Trees covers thus far has been terribly indicative of the contents of the issue, this one perhaps more than most. They’ve all been visually arresting, though, so it’s all good.
What’s that? What the hell is Trees?
Well, it’s Ellis’ other current major work. It’s of a similar tone to Supreme, but has a wider scope. Its cast is spread across the globe, their stories connected only by the fact that they all live in the shadow of the Trees, towering alien structures planted on Earth by forces unknown. Whether you’re dealing with a young Chinese man coming to grips with his sexuality, a Greek woman’s political awakening, the geo-politics of the Trees themselves, or an Arctic research team’s terrifying discovery of new Tree behavior, it’s all gripping realist sci-fi of a type seldom seen in comics. Much like Supreme, if you’re not reading it, you’re missing one of the most interesting comics on the market.
Hmm. I feel like I’ve said less than I intended to here. Not about the books themselves, necessarily, because I’m trying hard not to spoil them too badly. But I maybe haven’t said as much as I wanted about Warren Ellis himself.
Frankly, I felt like Ellis was phoning it in for a few years there. The truly interesting work was few and far between, dotted with a whole lotta “Avatar really will publish anything, won’t they?” and “SUCH a great premise! SUCH a disappointing third act!”
But this stuff… This is nice. There’s a maturity to it, or maybe a calmness, that I haven’t associated with Ellis before. He’s tried something like it, I think. Global Frequency was on this tip, with its hard science action-adventure premise and focus on ordinary people saving lives. But it still had something of that shouty/sloganny angry-man-making-a-point feel that characterizes so much of Ellis’ most popular work. That’s the element that’s missing here, and its absence doesn’t hurt my feelings one little bit. I’ve liked quite a lot of Ellis work done in that style, but maybe enough is enough. Maybe it’s time to move on.
I do wonder if Freakangels might not have been in this style, too. I read so little of that, and feel like maybe I didn’t give it enough of a chance. Or maybe this new work is just the culmination of a lot of things he’s been building to in work I didn’t read.
Hmm. Whatever’s going on here, I like it. It’s a creative renaissance for one of my all-time favorite funnybook writers. And that is a very good thing indeed.