Warren Ellis

Major Issues: Supreme: Blue Rose #2

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In Major Issues, we look at one newly-released comic book each week. Now updated Mondays.

Gardner Mounce

Supreme Blue Rose #2
Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Tula Lotay
Published by Image Comics
Published: 8/20/2014

Issue #2 of Supreme: Blue Rose opens on a scene that can be described as both artfully crafted and expositionally convoluted. It withholds exactly the information that would contextualize it–who are these characters and what is their purpose in the story? And, really, that’s exactly how Supreme: Blue Rose itself can be summed up so far. Warren Ellis reveals layers of the story like a magician overturning cards, but it’s two issues in and we’re just seeing the beginnings of the trick. Who knows how long it will be until he unveils what he’s up to.

The story so far: Darius Dax, a wealthy investigator of “blue rose cases”–rare events that do not typically occur in nature–hires Diane Dane, an out of work journalist, to investigate a strange event in upper New York state for an exorbitant rate. Dax plans to sell his findings to “actors” or “entities that act upon the geopolitical sphere” for even more money.

Before getting back to Diana Dane’s story in this issue, we wade through additional new subplots. Like artist Tula Lotay’s multimedia approach, there are layers upon layers of subplots. In the opening scene, an enigmatic woman leads an aged writer up a spiral staircase to [heaven?]. Following this is another installment of Professor Night, a TV show Diana Dane watches that is stuffed with non sequiturs and high-minded pronouncements. Its dark imagery is a reflection of the psyche of the Manhattan of the Supreme universe: violent and paranoid and cowed. It’s possibly an unconscious parallel version of the events of the story proper, like Tales of the Black Freighter was for Watchmen. Finally, there’s a scene in which a [mathematician] solves an equation that puts her in contact with an intelligent source from somewhere in deep spacetime.

When we catch up with Diana Dane, she’s grabbing a limo ride with a representative of Darius Dax, code name Twilight Girl Marvel. Twilight Girl Marvel explains to Diana that her position as a limo driver is a temporary reprieve from her true job as a “versioner”–someone who tests alternate versions of history and their would-have-been effects. We’re just getting back to some semblance of linear, understandable plot when suddenly Diana falls into a dream state in which she envisions an alternate history in which a North African scientific empire pioneered Mars.

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Should You Get it?

Supreme: Blue Rose is one of those puzzle-piecer stories for fans of Memento or Donnie Darko or Primer where every single frame will probably have multiple meanings. It’s for those with an allergy to exposition dumps and patronizing narrators. It’s for “smart” readers. In comic form, a story like this can be frustrating. Can you imagine watching two or three scenes of Memento at a time with a month between each installment? On the other hand, maybe it’s just convoluted for the sake of convolution. The question is: how much do you trust Warren Ellis?

Gardner Mounce is a writer, speaker, listener, husband, wife, truck driver, detective, liar. When asked to describe himself in three words, Gardner Mounce says: humble, humble, God-sent. You can find him at gardnermounce.tumblr.com or email him at gmounce611@gmail.com 

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Major Issues: Trees #3

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In Major Issues, we look at one newly released comic book each week. Updated Fridays.

Gardner Mounce

Trees #3
Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Jason Howard
Published by Image Comics
Published: 7/24/14

As pop culture would have it, there are two ways that aliens are going to invade. There’s the Invasion of the Body Snatchers/Men in Black type where one day we find out that the aliens have been living right under our noses for years. And there’s the Independence Day/The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy type where the aliens just announce that they’re here and in a few seconds we’ll all be dead. The first thing we notice is that Will Smith has saved us from both types. The second thing we notice is that, in both scenarios, the aliens are accessible antagonists—they’re here among us for us to interact with or fight or whatever, or they’re above us in spaceships for us to throw rocks at. But imagine if an alien race left some undeniable symbol of their presence and utter superiority, and then just left us to scratch our heads about it.

In Warren Ellis and Jason Howard’s Trees, an alien race has punctured the globe with monumental, sky-scraping towers (which humanity has dubbed “trees”)—and then vanished, like, your move, humans, and haven’t returned or made contact for over a decade. Less us-versus-them-story and more human drama, Trees tracks a number of story lines that span the globe, from an ex-professor in Cefalu and the fascist’s girlfriend who stalks him to scientists in Antarctica studying a mysterious black bloom growing at the base of a “tree.”

Ellis handles it all with incredible subtlety. A lesser writer would have written swathes of heavy-handed narration, but after some necessary exposition in the first issue Ellis constructs the world scene-by-scene with zero narration at all. A narrator-less story gives the sense that the reader knows just as much as the characters do about the trees—hardly anything. It also stresses the importance of the present moment: the world has halted since the trees arrived; they are ever-present, in nearly every scene; timeless and unchanging; dominating the landscape and laying waste to our sense of importance and human scale of time. Subtle also is Ellis’ dialogue. It’s been ten years since the trees arrived, so it’s only natural that people aren’t having exposition-heavy conversations about them. People are solving small problems on their own small stages, leaving the reader to synthesize bits of information to form the larger picture. The dialogue is smart, clipped, and avoids pandering.

Jason Howard is one of those imminently readable artists whose art is so functional that it’s almost invisible. It takes a keen eye to discern his moves. He uses the same types of panels over and over, and, taken together, the pages form a rhythm. There are the borderless panels that suggest timelessness, the bordered action panels that break the borderless panels up, and the white-backgrounded panels that strip the world down to action, reaction, and emotion. The borderless panels often establish expansive spaces like arctic vistas, sterile cafeterias, and “tree”-dotted Italian landscapes. These ground us in the sense of timelessness that the “trees” have imposed. These borderless panels are the arena on which the story takes place, and the places to which we always return: huge silent spaces punctuated by human action. Much rides on Howard’s colors, which he uses to establish mood. From cool conciliatory blues to altercation-accompanying yellows and pinks, his art is about subtlety.

Alien invasion stories are generally heavy on action and light on mystery. And we usually know the invaders’ intentions by the end of act one, which gives us plenty of time for preparing for fighting, fighting, and high-fiving over the fighting that just occurred. Trees stands apart because, first of all, there are no roles for Will Smith to play in the movie adaptation, and second of all, we don’t have any idea why the aliens dropped these “trees” down on us. To study us? To suck the life from our planet? To mess with us? The whole fun is that not knowing makes us feel out-of-the-loop and insignificant, and that fear of our insignificance spurs us. Fun, right?

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Should You Get it?

Absolutely. As a writer, Ellis is confident as hell, and treats his readers with respect. These first three issues have been slim on action and heavy on establishing world, character, and conflict. He will not spoon feed, he will not pander. This is a serious comic for serious readers, and as with almost any Ellis comic, will most likely have tremendous payoff. Though, I will say, this comic might be more satisfying in trade paperback form where you can read a lot in one sitting.

Gardner Mounce is a writer, speaker, listener, husband, wife, truck driver, detective, liar. When asked to describe himself in three words, Gardner Mounce says: humble, humble, God-sent. You can find him at gardnermounce.tumblr.com or email him at gmounce611@gmail.com