Cemetery Beach

Cemetery Beach

When you read tweets about “exposition!” in reference to some tv show or movie that’s enormously popular and that everyone on the planet feels the need to weigh in on… well, there’s a reason that those massive properties have scenes where characters state their motivations out loud. Part of it is that those pieces of media cater to an enormous international audience, frequently the biggest portion of which doesn’t speak the creators’ native language. The other is that selling to any sort of large group requires directness and yes, talking down to a lower level of comprehension. The unspoken thing is that people like to be told big boring things. The action junkies and perverts we were always told were bad for media consumption are probably in the minority. There’s not a lot of Pauline Kaels out there, especially when we’re hitting the twenty-year crest of the nostalgia wave from post-9/11 weepy effects movies like Lord of the Rings and Spider-Man. People who want to see a cool gunfight or car chase in a mainstream movie are in a profound minority. People like lore and mythology and whatever other term you want to use to describe “stuff where Tom Cruise isn’t breaking his leg.”

So this Warren Ellis comic that is indistinguishable from the last Warren Ellis comic I read (which would be a solid 7, 8 years ago), where the characters start explaining their predicaments before panel one and never stop explaining their predicaments until the 162nd page… there's obviously someone who wants this. But I don’t even know if Warren Ellis likes this style of writing. He’s done it, certainly, since the beginning; but his science fiction comics were often dialog-driven polemics, and his action comics usually providing some interesting visual elements while scaling the talk way back. I’m thinking of something like Global Frequency, or more recently his Moon Knight comic that was just a comic book version of the staircase scene from Tony Jaa’s The Protector. A bunch of somethings that a comics writer has very little say in whether or not it’s executed well, beyond teeing up and hoping a good artist will show off.

Cemetery Beach, like Orbiter and Ministry of Space, is another iteration of the high concept space travel idea that Ellis always gave a little more nuance than his dashed off miniseries stuff like Red. This time nazis (never officially named, so "unspecified fascists") got off the planet in the 20's and some guy has now been sent to see if they’re still alive. They’ve been making food and fuel out of shit and fungus, they’re evil, their world has no design to speak of beyond being dingy and some monsters. Jason Howard has characters mouths open and explosions in every panel, but really what is there to work with? I don't enjoy Howard’s work here but I don't believe much can be attributed to his decisions… if any?

The main male character is a self destructive and charming American who talks and talks and talks and the main female character is a cool looking for 2008 person with piercings who has long moved on from comics and gotten hardcore in politics or sex workers rights or making their own art or working on an animated series… yes I’m thinking of literally any of the women who used to write on Warren Ellis’ many forums. He just writes one of those people into it. She’s the same character with the face tattoo in Ellis’ first terrible novel, the one who tells the KKK guy off in his Iron Man run, she’s the same as several characters across his body of work. At a certain point, rote characterization is a part of the appeal of writers with catalogs. You can’t really beat up on Michael Mann for character’s diction after 15 movies. She’s a rebel, and she didn’t ask to be raised in a hellworld. I mean…

The thing is I know there is an appeal. I used to buy these books, I used to enjoy being conversant in Warren Ellis and Mark Millar and Grant Morrison and Garth Ennis and thought their ideas and careers were captivating but at a distance how much of it is sludge? How much was it meaningful work? What's the ratio? This is someone who had something to say at some point (though his best work, Transmetropolitan feels quaint now; after the world became an Adam Curtis film, now that the great science fiction authors are writing political columns because fuck it, world's 8 degrees away from dying) who is now dashing off a piece of minor work. Should we begrudge this kind of thing?

Maybe not if it was fun. Maybe not if the action worked, or the characters were compelling. Or if a story about nazis in a world literally hurling itself at fascism in the face of climate change -- topics Ellis has covered before and in more entertaining fashion in the box of a scifi story, an issue of Planetary, a newsletter about what record he bought this week, etc -- this is weak. This is "fascism is bad and chews people up". We know that. We know our resources are dwindling and young people are the future. Ellis knows this, and he’s been writing it with varying levels of success for his entire career. It doesn’t mean anything this time. The more of these there are that don’t crackle with intelligence or anger -- and beyond being prolific, Ellis was influential, perhaps deleteriously so -- the less the good ones count.

And who knows if they ever counted, anyway.