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Deja Desolation Jones

Gentle reader, let me bare all to you. Let me tell you about how Warren Ellis hurt me. In 2005, I discovered Desolation Jones, an offbeat little number written by Warren Ellis. I read the first two issues while sitting on my cousin's chair and stroking his cat. It blew me away, and I went right back home and bought the first issue for my very own, and started my first pull-list. At the time, I hadn't bought a single-issue comic since the mid-1990's and displayed Desolation Jones #1, and many of the subsequent issues on my shelf.

But this summer romance was not to be. After the June 2006 issue, there was a long, long silence. Readers know that when a monthly regular is late, the future of the title is in question. When Jones miraculously returned around December, I was overjoyed! As the birth of Jesus brought hope in the dead of winter, so did the arrival of Desolation Jones #7 bring hope to me. But it was a false hope. A new story arc, a new artist, and what felt like a new mindset for Ellis made #7 a weak offering. The arrival of #8 was met not with enthusiasm, but trepidation. And since then, no one has seen not hide nor tail of good ol' Jones.

When newuniversal first showed up in my local shop in 2007, I was still reeling from the whole Jones debacle, and wasn't sure if I was willing to trust Ellis again. But the covers looked neat and the word on the street was that newuniversal was a good read, so I picked it up. It was weird, it was wonderful, and completely surprising - I loved it. And then again, after a good six-issue run, it vanished. There was no anger, not this time. I should have known better.

Now, perhaps you can understand my pants-wetting shock when the nice woman behind the counter of my shop holds up a shiny newuniversal issue, and hands it to me. We were both surprised, and she advised me to not get my hopes up.

NUCOVER.jpg

As always, the people at the comic shop had excellent advice.

(For those of you who don't live through the roller coaster ride that is Warren Ellis' writing habits, see my summary of the summary from the beginning of the issue*)

This issue forgoes all the a-bomb dropping craziness of the last issue, and decides to meditate on comic books for a little while. At least I think that's what it's meditating on. One of our superhumans, Izumi, works at comic book store, peddling manhua (Chinese comic books, I had to look it up). She and her boss talk about the biz and how they can't stand the fanboys, while in the background a stream of manga references recast as manhua parade by. I can't tell if Ellis wants us to know how much he hates manga, or how much he hates comic book readers, or what, but it's okay because a crazy guy bends space and/or time by talking about Vancouver and the whole store gets blown to hell.

Cut to police headquarters, where the boys in blue have figured out that the crazed murderer they've got is actually one of their own. This would actually be interesting if readers didn't already know all of this. The cops are talking about Detective John Tensen, the superhuman who was shot in the head before gaining his powers. He woke up with stitches across his temple, and crazy psychic cutting powers to match the crazy psychosis in his head, back at the beginning of the series. He concluded, as anyone waking up in New York would, that he is in Hell and started to dismember delinquents. He is the only interesting character, and does not get nearly enough screen time.

After two pages with the pigs, we return to Izumi coming home to superhuman Ken, whom she's hiding at her pad since he accidentally obliterated some locals a few issues back. Izumi's all shook up from the whole bombing thing, so she and Ken decide to go and take a look at what's left of the manhua shop.

Quick cut to some football players. If you haven't figured it out yet, people accidentally destroying the innocent with superpowers they didn't even know they had is a leitmotif of the series, so we're not surprised at all to see a quarterback eviscerate a defenseman to the shock and horror of all concerned. Nice splatter, though.

FBNU.jpg

Back at the bombing site, Ken and Izumi are still blah-blah-ing when Ken admits he's got some kind of synesthesia going on ("There's a glow around your TV when it's on?" "It glows kinda how mint tastes"") and sees a vapor trail leading away from the blast zone. They conclude that the meth-head who demolished the place wasn't a suicide bomber, but a superhuman (!!!).

Crazy John Tensen babbles penultimately about needing to kill more people for a page. God bless you, John Tensen. Bless your whacked out, sociopathic heart. Then we get to the ending, which is fantastic. I'm not going to give it away, but I will say that it involves a country whose national bird is the loon.

NU2.jpg

If you can't tell from my sarcasm, I was not overly impressed with this issue. First off, there has been a sudden switch of artists (does this sound familiar?), and that hasn't helped things. The former artist was Salvador Larroca, whom I was unkind to in my last article. However, his art really worked in newuniversal. Larroca's clean, digital realism meshed well with the story. True, it still suffered from looking awkward and impersonal at times, but it wasn't offensive.

The new artist, Steve Kurth, is not a bad artist. He's at worst just a bland artist. Larroca's work had a certain signature feel to it that made the whole newuniversal experience seem unique, while Kurth's stuff looks like any ol' comic book. Kurth is worst when his characters are talking, or in anyway relating to one another. The interactions between Ken and Izumi are especially awkward. Most of the time it's as if they're not even talking with each other, just posing and waiting to have the speech bubbles dropped on to sort things out. Izumi's tears over her boss are just downright laughable, with some panels resembling Brenda Starr or Judge Parker in their layout.

In defense of Kurth, I'll say that the crazy-exploding-meth-head looks fantastic. Kurth has nailed the expressions of a crazy man, and this character moves through the panels in a way that none of the others do. Perhaps like me, Kurth was most intrigued by the crazy-exploding-meth-head and wanted to spend more time working on him.

Eillis' writing isn't going to get off the hook, though. Everything is much too rushed in this issue, and there's hardly room to read let alone let the characters live and breathe on the page. As a good friend of mine said, "THERE ARE TOO MANY WORDS." This issue lacks good pacing, and puts too much on the table, presumably to set up what comes next. It's like Ellis just won't let me fall in love with the series again. He just drops us all in, hoping no one will notice the lag between issues. This might work for an established series where the characters have been around for a long time, but these guys are just babies - just six issues old!

What was so unique about the original series is still here in Shockfront #1, but it's buried beneath a hectic issue. Treating superheroes as a dangerous, haphazard thing that happen at random is refreshingly new, and is what set this series apart from so many others. Ellis has certainly not lost his edge, and the series still has the potential to be a truly great experience.

But I can't help but feel like it's Desolation Jones all over again. Ellis comes in out of the blue with a great concept, great characters, and just when things are beginning to develop it just falters and stops. I get the feeling that for Ellis, titles like newuniversal and Desolation Jones are his scratchpad - a place for him to play around with ideas, but do little more than play.

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* In 2006, the sky goes white - and that is some weird shit. People start wakin' up from 'The White Event' (which I personally believe to be very, very similar to The White Sale at JC Penny) with crazy superpowers. Catch is that they don't really know what these powers are, how to control them, or the extent of their abilities. Neat, huh? And don't go talkin' 'bout how this is exactly like Heroes because I have never seen Heroes and don't give a damn. So there.

Anyway, one of these freshly minted superhumans talks to a big alien rod (which bares a striking resemblance to the mother ship from Close Encounters Of The Third Kind) which tells her she needs to get the band back together, and track down all the other superhumans. Then there's something about superhumans at Atlantis, and one of the superhumans is working for a secret government organization dedicated to killing-off superhumans, and then superhumans from the superfuture show up and talk to the other superhumans and . . . uh . . . well, I forget the rest. I don't think anything else happened.

All caught up? Good.

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The author wishes his readers to know that newuniversal : SHOCKFRONT 2 is now available, but was not available at the time of writing. If issue two brings anything new to the table, you can be sure you'll see it here. The author himself would like to read issue two, but there are currently 402 miles and a Great Lake between the author and his pulls.

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Previously:
* Invincible Iron Man #1



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Posted on June 17, 2008


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