Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Mildly Informative Review

Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Chris Sprouse & Karl Story
Wildstorm Signature Series 160pg. Color Softcover $14.99 US ISBN 1401208495

I know I’m in the minority here but I wasn’t a big fan of Ellis’s Fell or Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. Fell has sort of grown on me and I do like it if I can find it on the shelves because the occasional bad-ass noir police comic is generally a good thing to me – as odd as that sounds. But the first issue of Nextwave just didn’t sit right with me. It still sounds like something I should love but something about it just left me cold and I’m probably not going to return anytime soon, what with the cancellation and all. I like the art and I like the writer but that first issue convinced me to not try the rest of the series. .

Which brings me around to Ocean. I loved this story. This is a comic where I get to see what the big deal about Warren Ellis is all about. I’ve heard he’s well respected but my limited exposure to his work had so far left me cold. I did get one issue of Transmetropolitan back in the day and thought it was cool but promptly ran out of money or moved to the UK then ran out of money – my life is a bit hazy back then. Regardless of that, I managed to get a copy of Ocean from my local library. I read it and enjoyed it.

For those of you that don’t know it’s a sci-fi story about a UN weapons inspector who goes to Jupiter (well Europa the frozen moon of Jupiter) because a bunch of aliens, who are essentially a race of homicidal maniacs, are found in stasis and a more evil futuristic version of Microsoft is trying to get to the alien technology first.

The action and plot are pretty generic stuff, but I’m a fan of generic stuff, it’s the actual details of the plot and the players that gets interesting. Each character is instantly recognizable as a certain trope you feel familiar with but with enough tweaks and well written character driven dialogue to make them feel original. And a group of poor but well meaning good guys who befriend a crazy-talented bad-ass facing off against a well funded and highly organized criminal empire is a background setting I’ve come across before.

I have to admit I really think Ellis’s piss-take of Microsoft (and corporate culture in general) was the best one I’ve come across. I think it’s mostly because I have a friend who is a full blown Microserf who is becoming a bit of a high-flyer in the company. I like my satire biting and this was biting close to home, but not actually referring to me, so I found it delicious.

What makes this story work for me isn’t the fact that it is genre storytelling done well, but the fact that it is done well because of all the little details added to it that make it stand out. It stands out in a genre flooded with banality and well, generally melodramatically lame flourishes. Nope, here we’ve got hired thugs with hand held fire torches getting their throats slit, acid guns for use inside space-stations, and a UN weapons inspector obsessed with ancient space flight who could probably be Morpheus’s father the way he handles technology.

Chris Sprouse’s artwork is crisp and clean for a sanitized world of the future that has managed to adapt to outer spaaace. But at the same time the art is just simplified enough to allow the action to be over the top and exaggerated. The bright colours and clean lines are in contrast to the actions of the people involved and the pretty violent behaviour that remains inherent in humanity. The clean lines of man’s constructions are meant to show our intelligent system of ordering the universe and in this book it really offsets the images of human nature rearing its ugly head. For instance, there’s this fantastically sterile space station surrounding a man who gets shot with an acid gun and boils out from the inside. Clean lines versus chaotic mess. Both stand out more in their interaction.

This was a great read for anyone who likes their sci-fi with a bit of brains and balls behind it. Just occasionally those brains gets splattered all over an airlock.


Chris said...


Ocean was hugely underrated, but it's partly it's own fault; as I recall, the last two issues suffered delays of Ultimates-like proportions.

At least, it seemed that way at the time.

The Fortress Keeper said...

You know, I read the first three issues than totally forgot about the series.

(Delays? Brief drop out of comics?? Dunno anymore ... )

I'll have to find that trade. I really enjoyed what I read.

joncormier said...

This was released as "monthly" comics? How odd. I don't remember it at all, but I may not have been paying attention or even buying comics when it was first released.

Are we talking Ultimate Hulk v. Wolverine delays?

It certainly doesn't read as a collection of anything but as it should be, an OGN. Hmmm, I should probably start paying more attention to the indica inside the covers and whatnot, but I'm a bit lazy that way.

It reads well as a collection and it's the only form I've ever seen it in.