The wild worlds of Warren Ellis, part 1 . . . . .
ANNA MERCURY Issues #1-5 (2008, Avatar Press) by Warren Ellis and Facundo Percio
I’m going to be reviewing some older series or individual books from time to time, beginning here with the first article in a series about Warren Ellis, one of my favorite writers whose work I always find entertaining as well as interesting and provocative. He rarely disappoints (well, nobody is perfect, are they?) and never bores me.
Anna Mercury is wrapping up its second series, and both of these are going to be available in trade editions from Avatar Press. I’ll be ordering Volume 2.
I’m going to summarize the first series here and list the things I like about it, followed by some issue by issue highlights. If you’re thinking of buying this, then just read the summary so I don’t spoil the fun of discovery for you. This allows me to share some of my enthusiasm for this series and detail some of the cooler features without ruining the storyline.
Anna Mercury is a government operative and field agent for a covert British intelligence agency (The Constellation Project). She is a cross between Marvel’s Black Widow and the fictional secret agent Modesty Blaise (if you are a younger reader and don’t recall Modesty Blaise you didn’t miss it – the stories were just published before your time). As portrayed by Ellis, she has a roguish independent streak and a high sense of moral responsibility plus she takes chances and liberties frequently, usually putting herself at fatal risk. Throughout the issues Ellis satirizes our own modern world, politics and government, fashions and morals using his imaginary London and parallel worlds to reveal his insights to us. There is much to appreciate here.
The art is breath-taking and full of interesting detail as it reveals the various alternate worlds in which Anna’s missions send her. As illustrated by Percio she is gorgeous and very well-endowed, nimble and athletic (reminds me of Daredevil the way she uses grappling hooks and cable thin lines to travel across the metropolis skyline)and not afraid to use her big guns (ponder that!). Percio is equally gifted at using facial expressions and body language to communicate feelings and reponses as well. The art is worth it all by itself. And the wraparound covers are gorgeous, full of incredible detail and actions.
ISSUE #1: “The Cutter, Part 1” Warren Ellis’ skill at imagining complex alternate worlds and science-fictional themes is well in evidence here as he details yet another creative universe. The opening two-page spread shows New Ataraxia to use both old school dirigibles for sky transport as well as modern monorails for ground traffic. The number of grays clouds arising between the buildings seems to indicate the use of steam-power (this shows up a lot as an energy source in many of Ellis’ worlds) and also magnetism, as we later learn. New Ataraxia is constantly at war or threat of same with its neighbor Sheol City and will use a devastating new gun (the Cutter) , firing it from the moon unless Sheol agrees to annex and submit to their law. Anna has to hitch a ride on the outside of a “lifter” in order to get to the moon.
ISSUE #2: Anna Mercury gets her energy as well as some “inductive field “ power from home base, where her power levels and field contact have to be constantly monitored from a mission control department back in the U.K. The subject of the Constellation Project is revealed to a new incoming Prime Minister and we learn from his briefing that there are nine worlds in invisible orbit around Earth, none aware of the other’s existence. The U.K. station is just one of many, operated by all the G-8 nations. Anything, including humans, that transfer (by discorporation and then reconstruction at destination) from one of these worlds to Earth or vice versa will boomerang back within 28 hours and suffer from “LOA” (loss of anchor - - clever,that). However, the launch field varies and between 10-14 hours is more like it. All operatives have to wear hip sets with indicator lights - - if they go to red, a boomerang is imminent, followed by self-explosion and death. Time to leave, and quickly. The member nations of the Constellation Project feel responsibility for maintaining peace on these worlds as well as keeping them secret - - because back in 1943 an American warship was transported to New Ataraxia by accident. It was surrounded by a huge electromagnetic field and became the foundation for a religious cult.
ISSUE #3: Anna hitch hikes another ride, this time onto the gun/weapon/missile itself and subverts its directional controls to divert it from its destructive path just as her launch field begins to fluctuate and she is transported back to Earth just in time. There are several pages of flat out action (no dialogue) in last issue and this one that are just great to see and worth your taking a second look to get a firm grasp on everything that occurs. As Anna uses the locker room to change into her street clothes we learn that her flowing hair comes from a wig, her black leather uniform is augmented with lifts in the shoes and breasts as well (power bra). In reality, she is a short-haired orange-tinted brunette who dresses in long coats and frumpy, loose fitting clothes (real name Anna Louise Britton, Ministry Of Defence employee). She heads out into the rainy night of what looks to be modern London as the issue ends. The scene depicted on the wraparound cover of this issue has absolutely nothing to do with the story, but its indicative of the violent action to be found within the pages (as well as foul language - - this isn't no kiddie book, folks).
ISSUE #4: Fortunately, last issue Anna diverted the Cutter missile/gun to an barren region between the two cities. Unfortunately, the Cutter is tough and still armed and pointing in the direction of Sheol, with some of New Ataraxia in the way of its path. Anna has to launch back there to try to disable or prevent the gun from firing.
ISSUE #5: When Anna’s on a mission, she’ll let nothing stop her and kill as many soldiers as she has to. As this issue opens, we see that she’s not past using her anchor field to actually blow up everybody around her when seemingly cornered and captured. Ruthless. The end result is not without severe consequences. During the wrap-up on the last page Anna comments to her boss that “I don’t feel like I saved anyone.” He responds “That’s because you’re crazy . . . Also, because a hundred thousand people still died. Do better next time. Your next mission briefing is in twenty-four hours.”