In “Ruins,” the satirical skewering of Kurt Busiek & Alex Ross’s classic “Marvels,” writer Warren Ellis conflates Woody Guthrie with Bruce Banner as a drug-addled Rick Jones recounts the detonation of Bruce’s gamma bomb to reporter Phil Sheldon. Not realizing that Bruce was trying to help him, Rick mistook him for just another fascistic pencil-pushing crony of the military industrial complex. Upon realizing that Bruce was trying to save his life, Rick, watching the bomb explode around the would-be Hulk, remembers thinking of the inscription on Guthrie’s guitar case: “This machine kills fascists.”
So too does Ellis’s work. Not only does it destroy our destroyers, but it lifts us up high and reminds us to love one another.
This week sees the release of “Injection,” the new creator-owned series by Ellis and his Moon Knight artist Declan Shalvey as they tell the story of mad scientists who’ve poisoned the 21st century. To celebrate the release of the anticipated new series by the beloved creative team, here’s my take on Ellis’s best comic work.
If Ellis can be compared with Kurt Vonnegut, then his run on Doom 2099 (#24-39) is his “Sirens of Titan,” a sort of rough, unrefined version of all of the themes and concepts that would continue to penetrate his work for the remainder of his career. It also stands out for being just so different and, in retrospect, so much braver. Ellis takes the previously established concept of the infamous Doctor Doom finding himself at the tail end of the 21st century and abandons everything else, and in so doing displays his aptitude for not just character work and political commentary, but also a deep understanding of how mutable comic book concepts really are. A key trope of Ellis’s writing appears here for the first time, as well: the hero, down on his luck, almost ready to accept defeat, is approached by a little girl who asks if the hero is there to save those around her. Of course he is. Doom picks up the gauntlet. He quotes Alfred Bester and returns to his quest.
A similar encounter happens to poor old Spider Jerusalem in “Transmetropolitan,” more than likely the magnum opus of Ellis’s extensive bibliography. Spider, Transmet’s protagonist, is a sort of Hunter S. Thompson analogue in a world where Blade Runner’s Tyrell Corporation was allowed to go too far and absorb the Soylent Corporation and Weyland-Yutani. Spider’s tireless journalistic crusade to bring down “the bastards” is relatable, inspiring and empowering. Seriously, you’ll feel accomplished simply for reading about his journey as he takes on two sequential Presidential administrations in a future where everyone gets what they want — and it’s awful.
“Supreme: Blue Rose,” remarkably illustrated by the divinely-gifted Tula Lotay, is less a reinvention of the characters created by Rob Liefeld (and later reworked by Alan Moore) and more of a commentary on our culture’s weird fascination with reboots. In point of fact, it doesn’t need to be a Supreme story or even a Superman yarn; this could have easily starred James Bond or Commander Adama and been just as sensical, fascinating and brilliant. Ellis’s reinterpretation of Diana Dane, Supreme’s Lois Lane analogue, provides a strong, real-world anchor to a fantastical meta-philosophical fable.
If his work to date is any real indicator, Ellis’s work on “Injection” will no doubt take aim and fire at those who would oppress us all, just as it has done for the last two and a half decades.
Woody Guthrie would be proud.