Warren Ellis: Superstar of science fiction in comics

For many people who don’t read comic books, comics is largely about superheroes.  In some cases, there have been sci-fi subplots to create superheroes (Fantastic Four, for example), but until the recent crop of Marvel movies featured a band of merry space adventurers (Guardians of the Galaxy), the mainstream saw comics as fantasy with weird people having weird powers, beating the crap out of each other.  Those who read comic books knew better, though: science fiction elements have been an integral part of comic universes since its classic days, even if we disregard Superman as being an alien whose space ship crash landed on Earth.  Jack Kirby created the New Gods of the DC universe in 1971: an alien race of superpowered beings.  Marvel has multiple alien races.  The Skrull were created in 1962; the Kree in 1967, just to name the most prominent ones.  However, all those comic worlds are still at heart about superpowered beings, no matter how they gained their powers.  The work of Warren Ellis is different.  It focuses on sci-fi elements, explores futuristic societies and often features normal, or only mildly abnormal humans.  More importantly, his books are fun and insightful at the same time and should be considered among the best sci-fi works in comics.

I first came across his work when reading Stormwatch, which he took over.  Back then, I didn’t really register his name.  Stormwatch, and the entire WildStorm universe, were different than mainstream comic books.  The characters were for a large part enhanced or well-trained humans.  They tended to focus on action.  When Ellis took over, the series changed a bit.  The characters became more interesting.  Their enhancements became more prominent, often involving alien technology.  The stories became overtly political.  And Ellis was not shy about killing off anyone in his books.

And so it happened that most of Stormwatch was killed off, and the remaining members created The Authority.  The little band of super-enhanced people took over a multidimensional ship and went on to fight some of the biggest threats humanity has ever faced in comic books.  Ellis was masterful with his characters.  He focused more on their personalities than weaknesses.  The normal comic book trope is to establish a weakness or limitation of the hero and have the villain exploit it.  Here, the threats are truly cosmic, with complete disregard for the superheroes, and the protagonists are spending more time battling their personalities and psyches as their biggest blocking points.  Ellis also introduced some sci-fi concepts here that he’d explore in other series (a multiverse and rifts between various realities), as well as a mystical folklore world that parallels the real world, and which gave rise to world’s myths, legends and fairytales.

At this point I took notice of the author and started reading everything non-superhero related I could find.  The first and most obvious target was Transmetropolitan.  In a future society, a rogue journalist is battling corruption and political filth, and helps to bring down two US Presidents.  This is cyberpunk with a trace of DNA splicing and a lot of politicking.  Spider Jerusalem is a gonzo journalist living in The City.  The setting is quite over the top, with flying drones, murder and smut all around, and people who splice their DNA with alien DNA to become new species.  The stories are also hyperbolized, but the social dynamics are very tightly written, and the books are as believable as it gets in stories about 300 years in the future.

From The Authority, Ellis branched more into non-superhuman space.  Global Frequency sees 1001 highly skilled individuals forming a mesh network around the world and going on missions to clean up the mess caused by human experimentation gone wrong.  Planetary has a few people with extremely limited superhuman capabilities, exploring various events and artifacts from human history.  Here, Ellis returns to his multiverse and further expands his folklorist themes, and even creates a crossover with The Authority.

Two of his most recent series are deeply rooted in science fiction, exploring societal changes and artificial intelligence.  In Trees, a giant alien race descends on Earth.  They are represented as giant pillars, decimating the land where they establish themselves, and often reaching higher than people can get to.  They are nearly completely inert and oblivious to humans.  Ellis explores the societal changes around these aliens: in a partially flooded New York City, in a Chinese city where its inhabitants enjoy their personal freedoms, in Africa where the ruler of one country wants to use the pillar for territorial gain, in Brazil where toxic sludge from a pillar kills everything living in favelas, and other places.  He explores the stories of various people, important and common, who happen to be close to these aliens.  The story progression has been virtually non-existent in the first two volumes, but that doesn’t stop the title from being one of the most intriguing comic books I’ve read in a while.

The other recent series is Injection.  Here, a group of gifted individuals creates an artificial intelligence, infuses it with a dash of primarily Celtic folklore, and forgets about it as it lies dormant on the Internet.  Then, one day, it awakens and begins creating strange phenomena based on said folklore.  These phenomena are often deadly, and even though the five people are not working as a group anymore, they are still trying to explore the events, individually or in small groups, and stop them.  One of the characters is an Irish hacker, and the Irish setting that I’m exceedingly familiar with is so well portrayed, to the smallest detail, that I got the feeling Ellis did a ton of research to get the books right.

Most recently, Ellis returned to WildStorm, relaunching the series.  The Stormwatch and Wild C.A.T.s characters are reimagined with a deeper backstory, and to a more science-oriented origin.  The Engineer, for example, didn’t get fused with alien technology as in the original series, but instead underwent a series of self-inflicted surgeries and nanobot injections.  As with the previous two titles, however, the stories are still in their infancy, and it remains to see where they’ll go.

Ellis has been a very prolific writer, and when given the creative freedom, has created very unique and often likable characters.  He hasn’t shied from sensitive topics – The Authority features a homosexual couple that gets married; Trees has a pre-op transvestite and very fluid sexual relations – but he didn’t push any agenda, and the characters are very natural and fit seamlessly into their environment.  His books feature strong social commentary.  And his science fiction elements are not just vehicles to further his stories: they often are an integral part of the plot.  It’s a shame that his medium of choice is still being belittled by many.  His writing is on par with many recent Hugo nominees in the novel category, but Ellis is relegated to the Graphic Story category.  And there he hasn’t been even nominated a single time.  If you ask me, this is the biggest disappointment in the Hugo Awards.  Warren Ellis deserves the attention of all serious science fiction readers.

This entry was posted in Book reviews and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

55 Responses to Warren Ellis: Superstar of science fiction in comics

  1. Major says:

    Remarkable! Its really remarkable paragraph, I have got much clear idea about from this piece of writing.

  2. Emil Chawla says:

    If you talk to most pros, they’ll tell you that the average guy doesn’t have a clue about what women want. And if you’re willing to put some ego aside and learn, these women can teach you things that will impress the hell out of civilian women. So being with an escort is a great opportunity to sharpen your style.

  3. Manuela says:

    magnificent points altogether, you simply gained a new reader.
    What might you recommend about your publish that you simply made some days in the past?

    Any positive?

  4. Neva says:

    This post gives clear idea designed for the new people of blogging,
    that in fact how to do running a blog.

  5. Hermelinda says:

    Ahaa, its pleasant conversation about this piece of writing here at this webpage, I have read all that, so at this time me also commenting at
    this place.

  6. Kerrie says:

    I couldn’t resist commenting. Well written!

  7. Arielle says:

    Hello it’s me, I am also visiting this web site daily,
    this site is actually fastidious and the visitors are truly sharing pleasant thoughts.

  8. Latasha says:

    It’s going to be end of mine day, however before end I am reading this great paragraph to increase
    my experience.

  9. Moderation is key, until you find out if the new niche is a fit for you.

  10. Hermelinda says:

    Greetings I am so grateful I found your webpage, I really
    found you by error, while I was researching on Google for something else,
    Anyways I am here now and would just like to say thank you for a fantastic post and a all round
    thrilling blog (I also love the theme/design), I don’t have time to go through it
    all at the minute but I have saved it and also added in your
    RSS feeds, so when I have time I will be back to read a lot more, Please do keep up the superb b.

  11. Jesse says:

    Hi! This is my first visit to your blog! We are a collection of volunteers and starting a new project in a community in the same
    niche. Your blog provided us beneficial information to work on. You have done a marvellous job!

  12. Lorene says:

    Hi there, I enjoy reading through your post. I like to write a little comment to support you.

  13. Julieta says:

    I’m not that much of a internet reader to be honest but your sites
    really nice, keep it up! I’ll go ahead and
    bookmark your website to come back in the future.
    Many thanks

  14. Jarrod says:

    Your means of telling all in this paragraph is truly nice, every one can simply understand it, Thanks a lot.

  15. Mariel says:

    Incredible story there. What happened after? Thanks!

  16. Lashawnda says:

    This post is priceless. How can I find out more?

  17. Tracey says:

    This is a topic that is close to my heart… Best wishes!
    Where are your contact details though?

  18. Trina says:

    We are a gaggle of volunteers and opening a new
    scheme in our community. Your website provided us with useful info to work on.
    You’ve done a formidable activity and our whole group will probably be grateful to you.

  19. Shavonne says:

    My brother recommended I might like this website.
    He was totally right. This post truly made my day. You can not
    imagine just how much time I had spent for this info! Thanks!

  20. Taylor says:

    whoah this blog is excellent i love reading your articles. Keep
    up the great work! You understand, many people are looking around for this information, you
    can help them greatly.

  21. Selene says:

    I go to see daily some sites and blogs to read posts, however this
    web site offers quality based writing.

  22. Kelvin says:

    I am regular visitor, how are you everybody? This post
    posted at this site is actually pleasant.

  23. Hassan says:

    I enjoy what you guys are up too. This type
    of clever work and reporting! Keep up the fantastic works guys I’ve
    added you guys to our blogroll.

  24. Angelina says:

    Hello! Quick question that’s entirely off topic.
    Do you know how to make your site mobile friendly? My web site looks weird when viewing from my iphone4.
    I’m trying to find a theme or plugin that might be able to fix this issue.
    If you have any suggestions, please share. Thanks!

  25. Dong says:

    Hi, after reading this amazing piece of writing i am also cheerful to share my
    familiarity here with colleagues.

  26. Les says:

    Great delivery. Great arguments. Keep up the amazing spirit.

  27. Jesenia says:

    Hmm it looks like your website ate my first comment (it was extremely
    long) so I guess I’ll just sum it up what I submitted and say, I’m thoroughly enjoying
    your blog. I too am an aspiring blog blogger but I’m still new to everything.
    Do you have any suggestions for rookie blog writers?
    I’d certainly appreciate it.

  28. Lance says:

    Can I simply say what a relief to uncover someone that genuinely knows what they’re talking about
    on the web. You actually realize how to bring a problem to light and
    make it important. A lot more people must check this out
    and understand this side of your story. I can’t believe you’re not more popular given that you certainly have the gift.

  29. Mitzi says:

    Have you ever thought about publishing an e-book or guest authoring on other sites?
    I have a blog centered on the same ideas you discuss and
    would love to have you share some stories/information. I know my visitors would appreciate your work.
    If you’re even remotely interested, feel free to send me an e-mail.

  30. Tyson Fickle says:

    Amazing! Its in fact awesome piece of writing, I have gotmuch clear idea about from this paragraph.

  31. Roland says:

    What’s up all, here every one is sharing these experience, thus it’s
    fastidious to read this website, and I used to go to see this web
    site all the time.

  32. Yanira says:

    Hello would you mind sharing which blog platform you’re using?
    I’m planning to start my own blog soon but I’m having
    a difficult time choosing between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal.
    The reason I ask is because your design and style seems different then most blogs and
    I’m looking for something completely unique.
    P.S Apologies for being off-topic but I had to ask!

  33. Dianna says:

    This paragraph provides clear idea for the new visitors of blogging, that truly how to do running a blog.

  34. Vernita says:

    You could certainly see your enthusiasm in the
    work you write. The sector hopes for more passionate writers like you who aren’t afraid to mention how they believe.
    Always follow your heart.

  35. Grace says:

    After checking out a number of the blog articles on your blog, I truly
    appreciate your technique of blogging. I book marked it to
    my bookmark website list and will be checking back soon. Please visit my website
    too and let me know how you feel.

  36. Lillie says:

    It’s great that you are getting thoughts from this paragraph as well
    as from our argument made at this time.

  37. Austin says:

    You’re so cool! I don’t believe I have read anything like this before.
    So nice to find another person with genuine thoughts on this subject.
    Seriously.. thank you for starting this up. This web site is one thing that is required on the web, someone with a little originality!

  38. Joel says:

    I was extremely pleased to discover this great site. I wanted to thank
    you for ones time just for this wonderful read!! I definitely
    enjoyed every bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new information in your web site.

  39. Vernon says:

    Marvelous, what a weblog it is! This weblog gives valuable facts to us,
    keep it up.

  40. Cooper says:

    I have been exploring for a little for any high quality
    articles or weblog posts on this sort of area . Exploring in Yahoo I at last stumbled upon this web site.

    Studying this information So i am satisfied to convey that I have an incredibly
    good uncanny feeling I discovered just what I needed.

    I most indubitably will make sure to don?t forget this site and give it
    a look regularly.

  41. Isabell says:

    I read this paragraph completely on the topic of the difference of newest and previous technologies, it’s amazing article.

  42. Willard says:

    Just want to say your article is as astonishing. The clearness to your
    submit is simply nice and i could think you’re a professional in this subject.

    Well along with your permission allow me to grab your RSS feed to keep updated with impending post.
    Thanks a million and please carry on the gratifying work.

  43. Ismael says:

    Good way of telling, and nice article to take facts
    concerning my presentation topic, which i am going to convey in college.

  44. Heya i am for the first time here. I found this board and I to
    find It truly helpful & it helped me out
    a lot. I hope to give something back and help others such as you aided me.

  45. certainly like your web-site however you need to take a look at the spelling on quite a few of your posts. Many of them are rife with spelling issues and I in finding it very troublesome to inform the truth nevertheless I will definitely come back again.

  46. Ashleigh says:

    wonderful points altogether, you just received a emblem new reader.
    What might you recommend in regards to your submit that
    you simply made a few days in the past? Any positive?

  47. Terry says:

    Hi there it’s me, I am also visiting this web page on a regular basis, this website is genuinely nice and the
    visitors are actually sharing good thoughts.

  48. Franziska says:

    Its not my first time to pay a visit this web page, i am browsing
    this web site dailly and take pleasant data from here everyday.

  49. Maryanne says:

    hello!,I like your writing very so much!
    percentage we keep up a correspondence more about your post on AOL?
    I need a specialist in this area to resolve my problem. May be that
    is you! Looking ahead to peer you.

  50. Hong says:

    Superb blog you have here but I was curious
    if you knew of any forums that cover the same topics discussed here?
    I’d really like to be a part of group where I can get responses from other experienced
    people that share the same interest. If you have any suggestions, please let me know.
    Appreciate it!

  51. Rosie says:

    Hi there would you mind letting me know which web host you’re working with?
    I’ve loaded your blog in 3 different internet browsers and I must say this blog loads a lot faster then most.
    Can you recommend a good web hosting provider
    at a reasonable price? Thanks a lot, I appreciate it!

  52. website says:

    This web site truly has all the information and facts I wanted concerning this subject and didn’t know who to ask.

  53. Imogene says:

    It’s awesome to go to see this web site and reading the views of all friends on the
    topic of this piece of writing, while I am also eager of getting knowledge.

  54. Your common sense should be accepted everywhere.

  55. I wanted to thank you for this great read!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.