11.01.2006

Graphic Novel Of The Month

Desolation Jones TPB (DC/Wildstorm): It would have just been too easy to give the Graphic Novel Of The Month nod to the Absolute Sandman Hardcover Edition, but I didn't have to look far to find another extremely worthy contender.

Warren Ellis and JH Williams are firing strongly on all cylinders here and it's impressive to see two creators at their peak performance succeed in delivering something different for them both. From a writing perspective, Ellis wields his usual cadre of wild ideas, but they're not so manic that they become nebulous or feel like scattershot. They're outlandish, yes, but also restrained and focused with a clear set of consistent themes and strong characterization.

With his unique penciling ability, Williams proves yet again that he's a versatile craftsman who can employ a variety of techniques, but here captures what can only be described as superhero/espionage "residue" now uncomfortably home in a bleak LA setting, complete with bouts of surrealism and paranoia. Oh, and he can nail an action sequence.

Desolation Jones is a great example of perfectly blending the talents of both artist and writer for a work of art that transcends to become greater than the sum of its parts. Through their use of seemingly random assortments of genre tropes, some noir, some post-modern, some spy/espionage, some straight superhero, some crime/detective, some surreal Morrison-esque bits (for lack of a better decriptor), which all culminate to create a hybrid new sub-genre of pop fiction.

It would be easy to take a superficial glance at this and dismiss it as a simple shock-value comic about "Hitler porn," but that would be missing the whole point of the work. As Roger Ebert used to say, "great movies are not about what they're about, they're about how they're about what they're about." In other words, this is not a story about Hitler's long lost porn collection. This is a story about how that McGuffin is merely a plot device that sets the framework to tell a more meaningful and introspective tale about a former British agent, with regrets from a life lived. We see him try to reconcile his past life with his current, endure the lingering fallout (physical and emotional) from that youthful, hedonistic, invulnerable time, and are reminded about the proverbial danger of looking into the abyss. You can take the boy out of psychologically damaging covert operations, but you can't take psychologically damaging covert operations out of the boy.

As a bonus, we're treated to an eccentric cast of off-beat characters. This helps create a small pocket universe in this overlooked corner of LA and allows Ellis and his collaborators the opportunity to promulgate many other tales moving forward, using those relatively loose themes as a backdrop that ties them all together. I honestly feel that this is Ellis' second-best creation (second only to Planetary), which is pretty high praise. He's had numerous other "near hits," Down certainly comes to mind. If that only had Tony Harris' art through issues 2-4 instead of Cully Hamner, then Desolation Jones might have some more fierce competition. But, I digress.

It's a perfect time to jump onto this series. This trade paperback collects the first 6 issues of the series, and a new arc with artist Danijel Zezelj just began with issue 7. If you like Ellis or just want something a little different, this series will not disappoint. Grade A.

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