Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

Pulp Culture
Comics' hottest writer
parodies himself

April 20, 2000
By Franklin Harris

When Warren Ellis, possibly the hottest writer in comics today, announced his first project for Avatar Press, a sleazy comic-book imprint not known for attracting big-name comic talent, I e-mailed him roughly as follows:

"So, now that Avatar is publishing your next project, can we expect it to be available with three variant nude bondage covers, all banned in the U.K. and Hong Kong?"

Ellis' response was, "Heh, no."

Sure enough, "Strange Kiss," Ellis' first comic-book mini-series for Avatar, made it to the stands without Avatar's usual host of alternate editions, each featuring drawings of the female form in some state of undress and/or peril.

In case you're wondering, the average reader of the average Avatar book is not a child -- Avatar's books are strictly "adults only" -- but a twentysomething arrested adolescent.

Given Avatar's reputation, it's a wonder why Ellis, proclaimed a genius by no less a mainstream source as Entertainment Weekly, is slumming with them.

Well, wonder so more. Ellis isn't slumming; he's slacking.

If "Strange Kiss" borders on the realm of Ellis parodying himself, then "Dark Blue," the first installment of which is serialized in this month's "Threshold" No. 25, enters the realm, chops down all its trees and strip mines it. The illegitimate child of Jonathan Swift and Oscar Wilde couldn't satirize Ellis better than Ellis does himself.

Assuming satire is Ellis' game, of course. He may just be lazy.

"Dark Blue's" main character, police detective Frank Christchurch, is a trash-talking psychopath who, when we first meet him, is bludgeoning a suspect to a bloody pulp. He makes the Los Angeles PD look like a bunch of forest rangers.

And why not? His superior officer is a heroin junkie. The precinct's desk sergeant sells drugs. And most of the other cops in the precinct are even more screwed up than Frank.

The lone sane person in "Dark Blue" is Christchurch's partner, Deb Thorogood, and, come to think of it, how sane can she be to put up with all this?

Ellis excels at telling stories featuring antisocial antiheroes. But Christchurch is little more than a paint-by-numbers stand-in for developed, fleshed-out characters like "Transmetropolitan's" Spider Jerusalem and "Hellblazer's" John Constantine.

If Christchurch finishes up with a bullet in his head and his brains turned to tapioca on the floor, no one will care.

Granted, I'm writing off "Dark Blue" after only 10 pages of story, but it's hard to suggest that anyone give this particular tale a chance when doing so costs $4.95 an issue and the remainder of "Threshold" No. 25's pages are filled with Avatar's usual nude-girls-in-peril stuff.

(And, face it, if you're into nude superheroines in peril, "Dark Blue" will be the least of Avatar's offerings in this or any other month.)

Of course, if Ellis is slacking, I can't blame him -- even if I can blame him for expecting me to pay five bucks for the privilege of watching him do so. Ellis has plenty of legitimate projects to keep him occupied. He writes the monthly futuristic satire "Transmetropolitan" for DC Comics' Vertigo imprint and the soon-to-be-bi-monthly "Planetary" for DC's Wildstorm line. Plus, he just finished a magnificent, 12-issue stint on the best superhero comic around today, "The Authority."

This month, the regular "Transmetropolitan" series takes a break so that Ellis has hit us over the head with "I Hate It Here," a 48-page collection of "columns" written by "Transmet's" gonzo-journalist protagonist, Spider Jerusalem.

(Any resemblance of Spider to real-life gonzo Hunter S. Thompson is purely obvious.)

The columns chronicle snippets from Spider's first two years of adventures back in The City, after being dragged from his mountaintop hideaway by his evil editor, Royce. (Ah! Don't you just hate those evil editors???)

During that time, Spider has witnessed riots, attacked the president of the United States with a highly illegal bowel-disrupter pistol, been assaulted by the police and become enemy No. 1 of the president's successor, a smarmy politician Spider calls "The Smiler."

The columns collected in "I Hate It Here" represent Ellis (via Spider) in full rant mode, which is a good thing in small doses. Thirty-three artists contribute illustrations to accompany Ellis' rants, including such luminaries as Lea Hernandez and Tim Bradstreet.

But "I Hate It Here" is probably for "Transmet" fans only. No one else would get it.

And a word of warning: If you find yourself agreeing with Ellis/Spider more than half the time, check yourself into a psycho ward before it's too late. Thorazine is good for you.

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