APPARAT THE SINGLES COLLECTION Volume 1 trade paperback (Avatar 2005):
Warren Ellis’ first efforts in an experiment to blend pulp fiction into comics in the U.K. are collected here, in a black and white edition that collects four of these one-shots, illustrated by different artists. They were all intended as stand-alone stories but I wouldn’t mind seeing 75% of them return for another tale. Hold off on Angel Stomp Future but bring back Frank Ironwine, Quit City, and Simon Spector.
There is also absorbing reading here in short articles by Ellis that explain his concept and give a little background into each of the stories and characters. He writes of the comics world of pre-1965 where in addition to super-heroes you could read romance, pirates, crime, western, horror, etc. and contrasts that with how post-1970’s super heroes came to dominate. The end result was that it limits the possibilities of storytelling since super hero stories had to move at a much slower pace (in both timelines and character development/growth/aging) with no finite end. So he then imagines a past where romance, crime, etc. were the dominant themes in comics instead of super heroes and speculates where those type of comics might be at today. He also makes a connection with music, and the “singles” that were very popular in the mid-60’s and early 70’s, those little 3 minute masterpieces complete in themselves, and how he was trying to duplicate that same type of feel in these four works. He pulls it off. There’s a lot to like here.
Angel Stomp Future is the weakest of the four tales, and seems like a means for Ellis to project a gloomy future society rather than set up a new character. She serves mainly as narrator and tour guide. I love Frank Ironwine, a seedy grubby detective who reminds you of Peter Falk’s Columbo in the way he investigates a case. The most powerful tale here is Quit City, about a female member of an adventurous group of pilots (ala Black Hawks) who has survived many narrow escapes - - but none of that is detailed here. And it’s not an origin tale - - it’s a retirement tale. The real guts of this story is learning the circumstances that brought her to become a pilot and what might have happened if communications had been better. I can’t give it away - - but this was the deepest and most moving tale here. Simon Spector is a tribute to Doc Savage solely (no companions here) but brought up to date. The future Doc Savage is a well-dressed and groomed giant of a black man who ingests massive amounts of drugs in order to enhance his calculating/deductive abilities and allows him to anticipate and head off the villain. This collection is refreshingly different and worth a look, and without any of the gore and/or sex that Ellis sometimes dabbles in when Avatar gives him free license.
AETHERIC MECHANICS, A Graphic Novella (Apparat / Avatar 2008):
I admire the style of this book more than I do the story; although the story isn’t bad - - it just abruptly ends with only partial resolution and leaving us to guess at the final outcome. If I said the ending was appropriate then I might set you up and take away from the surprise . . . so I’m not saying that!
This has an old-time feel to it, and Warren Ellis puts his spin on the whole Sherlock Holmes detective genre with Sax Raker (say it fast and it sounds like Sax Rohmner), the intuitive/deductive genius and his occasional fellow investigator and archivist Captain Doctor Richard Watcham.
They both inhabit a London of the early 1900’s that is under siege and at war with neighboring Ruritania, who constantly fly bomber planes overhead while large H. G. Wells-like war machines stroll across the English Channel. The homes and streets and clothing styles all look appropriately Victorian, although transportation includes steam-powered platforms and hovering carriages. There is no color here, just pen and ink artwork by Gianluca Pagliarani and Chris Dreier and elaborately detailed. (Worthy of multiple looks.) The cityscape scenes are a wonder to behold. The two main characters investigate a murder involving a seemingly invisible man as suspect and uncover a much deeper conspiracy. It ended too quickly for my liking.