10 less-known Warren Ellis comics (that are worth your ducats)

Illustration for article titled 10 less-known Warren Ellis comics (that are worth your ducats)

Red may have featured Helen Mirren firing a gatling gun, but the film wasn't indicative of Warren Ellis' work as a whole. Here are 10 amazing tales from Ellis' oeuvre about such topics as transhuman deities and a dead Galactus.

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Don't get me wrong — Planetary, Transmetropolitan, The Authority and Nextwave are fine books, but we're focusing on some of Ellis' less famous writings here. These are some Ellis comics that aren't necessarily his immediate standouts...sort of like Red before it hit the big screen.

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10.) Ruins (Marvel, 1995)
Quite possibly the most depressing What If this side of What If The Avengers Became The Pawns of Korvac, this two-issue miniseries details what happens to the Marvel Universe had absolutely everyone's powers malfunctioned. The book is a spoof of Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross' Marvels and besmirches the Silver Age of comics with gritty matte of modern comics. For example, Bruce Banner becomes a giant tumor and Wolverine is dying of adamantium poisioning.

9.) Ocean (Wildstorm, 2004)
In this miniseries, a group of pre-human sarcophagi are discovered in the waters of Jupiter's moon Europa. Discovering humanity's ancestors isn't exactly a happy reunion — the villainous Doors corporation wants to appropriate the ancients' technology...and humanity's alien relatives may not appreciate the rude awakening. The possibility of a film version's been bandied around since 2007, but we haven't heard much lately.


8.) Freakangels (Avatar 2008)
In a flooded futuristic London, a group of telepathic teenagers try to carve out their own tenuous slice of civilization out of the ruin. The series has a steampunky flair and contains gorgeous scenes of a waterlogged Whitechapel illustrated by Paul Duffield, and lo! The series is entirely free online.

Illustration for article titled 10 less-known Warren Ellis comics (that are worth your ducats)

7.) WildC.A.T.s/Aliens (Wildstorm/Dark Horse, 1998)
In 1998, Ellis was writing Stormwatch, the precursor to The Authority. He wanted to take Stormwatch in a new direction but was saddled with the comic's sprawling cast. So what did he do? He killed almost all of the Stormwatch characters...using aliens. Yes, as in aliens that battle powerloaders. Normally franchise crossovers like this are one and done affairs. In WildC.A.T.s/Aliens, Ellis gave his Stormwatch team the ultimate undignified demise — a death off-screen in someone else's comic. This book is technically part of Ellis' Stormwatch-Authority canon, but it's a prime (and totally insane) example of how to do a crossover right.

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6.) Lazarus Churchyard
Lazarus Churchyard pinballed around several publications (including 2000 AD) in the early 1990s. The titular character is a 400-year-old junkie trapped in an immortal, hyper-adaptable, self-regenerating plastic body. He's grown weary of his mortal coil and — despite his incredible abilities — really, really wants to die. Churchyard's quest for death is very much a precursor to the drug-fueled antics of Transmetropolitan's Spider Jerusalem.

5.) Supergod (Avatar, 2009)
Ellis has published several books for Avatar examining the real-world ramifications of superheroics (No Hero, Black Summer), but Supergod is by far the sexiest. It's about a superhuman arms race that's half Street Fighter 2 and half Kaiju Big Battel. Basically, each nation has its own posthuman champion (like England's mycological three-faced godhead Morrigan Lugus, whose mere presence causes humans to wank ferociously). In short, imagine if every nation had an insane, uncooperative Dr. Manhattan at its disposal.

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4.) Orbiter (Vertigo, 2003)
I recently covered Orbiter in another piece on standalone graphic novels, but let me reiterate that it's a nostalgic — but not cloying — look at the heyday of space exploration. Also, there's a giant alien adenoid that defies the laws of gravity. Everyone loves that.

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3.) Gravel (Avatar, 1999)
WIlliam Gravel may be your archetypal Ellis cigarette-chomping hard-ass, but his adventures aren't of this plane of existence. He's a stoic SAS combat mage who takes on magical mercenary work on the side. Despite Gravel's undead and eldritch opponents, the comic's possibly the least glamorous portrayal of a spell-caster in comicdom. Last year, Legendary Pictures announced that they were developing a Gravel feature film.

2.) Ministry of Space (Image, 2001)
In this alternate history yarn, England has running the space game for decades, and America is playing catch-up. But how did England received all its space program funding? That's the dark mystery at the heart of this book, and Chris Weston's pencils make this Dan Dare-inspired tale really pop.

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1.) Global Frequency (Wildstorm, 2002)
What if there was a secret agency that thwarted manmade black holes and cyborgs...and agents had no idea who their colleagues were or when they'd be called upon to save the world? That's the conceit of Global Frequency, a 12-issue miniseries that was adapted for a TV pilot in 2005, garnered critical acclaim when it leaked onto torrent sites, and was shot down by the network post-leak. A new TV series was announced last year, but we haven't heard much since. Which is too bad, since we really we want to see issue #6's parkour chase through London on film.

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DISCUSSION

I love Warren Ellis. I have a ton of his comics, I bought Crooked Little Vein twice (hardback - which got destroyed, sadly - and paperback), Shivering Sands and Do Anything. The only reason I haven't shut down my old Hotmail account is for the archive of 1,365 Bad Signal emails dating back to February of '05. Giant, girly tears stream down my face each day his site goes without update.

But I do have a problem. He has... I'd call it a literary tic. And I can't really stand it. I call it CSI Syndrome. Basically, there will be one character at any gives time in the story who holds the pertinent information on the given situation and will dole it out in monologue like an elementary school teacher. It happened a bunch in Planetary. Each encounter in Crooked Little Vein had one. Hell, Global Frequency was completely built on it.

Tell me I'm not alone. Tell me you've seen it, too.

I'm not saying I don't like the message. I love the ideas behind the monologues - they read a lot like his blog posts - imagine that - which are often about new, emergent technology, culture or ideas, but it's the delivery that gets me. It just seems at times like he's really, really excited about something awesome and wants to share it with all of us, but he can only get it to us in the comic.

Seriously, that is my one complaint. If he were to drop the comics entirely and just throw his brain into the blog 100%, I'd still be happy. The man is a genius.