Thursday, May 19, 2005

Comic: Desolation Jones

When I picked up my comics last week at my local Commick Shoppe, the man behind the counter looked over my choices and asked me, "What's the excitement about Desolation Jones?" "Warren Ellis," I replied. His response was a frown and a harrumph. Which I can sort of understand: some people really can't get behind Ellis's work. I think a lot of it has to do with the Glorious Bastard character type, which is a character that Ellis does very often - think Elijah Snow, Jenny Sparks, Miranda Zero, Lazarus Churchyard, and the man himself, Spider Jerusalem. The thing is, not only does Ellis write them very often, he usually does it rather well. Possibly because they're all extensions of himself and his outlook on the world, to some extent or another, but that's not something I want to get into here.

Plus - for good or ill - the man got me reading comic books again. The first time I picked up an issue of Transmetropolitan, in my friend Colin's apartment, I hadn't been reading comics for three or four years. It wasn't any conscious decision: the comic store in my home town had pulled up stakes overnight, leaving me without a supplier. But when I flipped through that first issue, I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, and my skin started to tingle. This was good stuff. And I wanted more; more comics in general, but especially more of his stuff. I enjoy his work, and I enjoy the Glorious Bastard: I'm biased, and I make no secret about it.

But enough of my reminiscing. On to the review, as unbiased as I can make it.

Desolation Jones is the titular Glorious Bastard, a former MI6 agent and the only survivor of the mysterious "Desolation Test" who now lives in Los Angeles, which is secretly a prison for ex-spooks. Jones works as a private detective, solving mysteries for members of the community of retired spies. If the premise alone isn't enough to peak your interest, then I don't know what to say to you. Perhaps an evening of therapy involving spy movies and the drug of your choice would prime you for this book. Even if it doesn't, it sounds like a good night to me.

The first issue does pretty much everything right: in thirty-two pages, you're introduced to a half-dozen characters, told about the theft of some valuable property - or is it a kidnapping? or both? - and thrown head-first into the bizarre world Jones inhabits. It's got a sampling of everything I've come to expect from Ellis: reflections on modern philosophy, violence, unique and interesting characters, and the kind of dialogue that the man has a virtual trademark on. Example: "Hitler porn, you bastard. It's going to be a nightmare." It's smart writing, folks, and it pushes you along at a frenetic pace at times.

The art, by J.H. Williams III is outstanding. It's not what I'm used to seeing from him (Promethea, anyone? Seven Soldiers, perhaps?), but Desolation Jones is not the kind of book that lends itself well to intricate detail and full-page splashes. The art is more subdued, more fragile, and he gives each character a distinct look. His panel composition sets the perfect tone and pace for each scene - especially memorable is when he draws out a single action over a two-page spread, emphasizing the intensity of the moment. I enjoy the art just as much as I enjoyed the writing, which was a pleasant surprise.

Desolation Jones #1 is a solid first issue, and I recommend it to people who like spy stories, bizarre situations, or rooting for a smartass. Plus, it's bimonthly, so it's not a huge strain on your wallet. At least, that's what I'm telling myself.

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