The Intermittent

Why Are You Still Here?

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

WELL WORN THEMES

Got the Rare Cuts TPB in my DCBS order today; read the Morrison/David Lloyd Hellblazer story, originally printed in Hellblazer 25 and 26, over dinner. I read this back at the time and dimly remember being impressed. It packed a visceral punch, a nervy apolyptic energy, that Delano's more prosaic Hellblazer stories lacked; for better or for worse, Delano's stories all sort of seemed to be told in a sort of cold grey tone. They're more cynically wry than horrific. Morrison's story is, frankly, horrific, if a little by the numbers.

What is interesting, though, and something I couldn't have noticed at the time, is how fully developed Morrison's themes and structural tricks were, even then. The distance, formally, between these Hellblazer issues and the structural trickery of We3 is shorter than one would expect. The Hellblazer story uses subtle variations in panel composition to signal the impending apocalypse; perpendicular lines give way to subtle angles to pages where panels are arranged like fractured mirrors. The shift from the geometric norm is precisely plotted and controlled. It's an impressive feat. The story, morever, very nicely sets out his by now standard hobby horses: the horrors of military science, the animal masks, the chaos nestling inside otherwise structured environments, the redemptive power of pop music. The long foreboding underground tunnels. It takes a certain kind of genius to rework the same themes for fifteen years and continue to produce works that feel, if not revelatory, than at least fresh.

Blogospheric aside: if anyone has any ideas as to the symbolic signifigance of the repeating circles motiff in the above Hellblazer story, I'd be interested to hear it.

On the other side of the coin, you have Warren Ellis, another creator with tramping down a well worn thematic path. I like Ellis' works, seemingly moreso than most of the blogosphere; having recently reread both Planetary and Stormwatch, I think both will stand the test of time; Planetary in particular, if for no other reason than it again does very interesting things structurally. Ellis takes too much flak, I think, for his online persona, which is his own fault, and for pursuing a Micheal Caine approach to work; he'll pimp himself quite willingly for the payday. This I don't care so much about, frankly. What does sort of creep me out, though, is the constant way Ellis returns to torture as a way to restore moral order to his fictional worlds. It is profoundly discomfitting to read the most recent Planetary, which ends in a rather brutal act of torture, given the realities of the world today. I would be willing to on faith assume this act is in service to a larger point but for the fact that Ellis has in the past seen fit to serve up setpiece torture scenes to establish the moral bona fides of his characters; see, e.g., the Midnighter at various points during the Authority. It's a perverse trait, and one that flies in the face of the more nuanced morality he typically trades in.

I'm forced to live in a world where talk radio hosts and Senators call for, using all the right code words, people to be tortured. I don't need my fiction to trade in the same ignorance.
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