Monday, October 27, 2008

Halloween Grab Bag: 2 Warren Ellis Horror Comics

In Fell Ellis is using his stock set of characters and themes and in Black Gas Ellis isn't doing much beyond recycling bog-standard zombie movie moments, but with Ellis I think that the specifics of any given book are more important that the generalities underlying all of his work. And by "specifics" I mean how Ellis and his collaborators turn his ideas into comics.

With Fell, I love how Ben Templesmith gives all his characters these shifty, squirelly eyes: everyone in Snowtown - the Feral City of the book's subtitle - looks like they're on the verge of having some kind of psychological or emotional breakdown. And for his part, Ellis has come up with the perfect setting for Templesmith's expressionism: this has one of the most effective "generalized-sense-of-unease-and-dread" vibe as any horror fiction I've seen lately* and, at times, it reaches the level of a genuine - if pulpy - moral vision of the world.

Blackgas is a lot less ambitious and wasn't nearly as satisfying to me as other "B-movie" horror comics I've read recently(like Girls or The Walking Dead). Ellis doesn't give Max Fiumara all that much to work with and most of what's here is conventional decompressed storytelling: there's nothing especially inventive or interesting thematically. But what Fiumara does have going for him are the explosions of graphic, gory zombie movie violence. As far as I can tell, these relatively few panels of violence are the raison d'etre of the series.

Well, that's not entirely true. It seems like Ellis is really trying to emphasize the idea that these "zombies" are people that the hero used to know: that they're his whole life and that having to kill them to survive is somewhat traumatic. But none of this is built up effectively. For one thing, all of the characters, all of their relationships, are stock B-movie elements. For another, we only have an issue's worth of "normal" behavior before it turns into Night of the Living Dead, which just doesn't give enough space to build any investment in these stock elements. While I enjoyed it as a piece of splatterstick, I couldn't help feeling that the book came up short.

*Up there with HWY 115.

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