I think I'd have to agree that Warren's success in his work at Marvel has been mixed. Personally I feel the difficulties have come about due for different reasons. Yes, Johnny Storm via. Michaelangelo the Party Dude is a strange choice, (although you've gotta admit that, if there was an analogue between the FF and the TMNT, that would be it), but more than that, I'm wondering if the research-heavy approach to the science in UFF is hurting the storytelling. Without question, the books are smartly written - whether you like the pace or not, the Writing-For-The-Trade technique he uses is consistent and engaging, and certainly there's lots of ideas flying around.
But my concern (and this is one I felt occasionally during Global Frequency also) is that, in focusing on the crazy ideas behind the story, the comic itself becomes... transparent? Yes, I can see where he's coming from; playing with the superhero genre as a sub-set of Science Fiction (an irony, considering Orson Scott Card is currently doing exactly that over on the now-10-issue Ultimate Iron Man), getting quantum physics and space-flight and body-shock all the other things Warren's interested into a mainstream book. But is there enough interpretation going on? I worry that there's a fusion of Internet Research and Internet Speak going on, but the rest is left to languish.
The trouble is, for a writer who's so passionate about the medium and who's been so prolific and produced so much solid work, he seems cautious about writing another long, big story. Looking up at the shelves behind me, I think you'd have to call it a draw between the size of the Ellis shelf and that of the Alan Moore one. My collection of both is nudging the edge of comprehensive (there's some of the WildCATS stuff Moore wrote I haven't found, and a lot of his smaller indie projects which are a little too expensive for me at the moment), and a lot of the Ellis stuff I've re-read quite recently (Transmet, Global Frequency, Ministry of Space and Planetary).
But his latest salvo of books have all been very conservative in duration - 3- and 6-issue minis with Wildstorm and Image, Global Frequency's 12 self-contained stories, Orbiter (and soon Stealth Tribes) OGN from DC, the Apparat line (with second phase coming later this year)... I know Desolation Jones is ongoing, and Jack Cross is longer-ish, but this is from the writer who hammered out 30-odd very inventive Stormwatch issues, 70 plus of Transmetropolitan, who wrote Hellstorm with a long-game in mind, who wanted (and should have kept) Hellblazer for significantly longer than 12 issues...
You read the pitch for Planetary, the unpublished Marvel stuff from the 90s, even the concepts behind Morning Dragons; and it's super-dense with story ideas. The Authority had a new moment of madness (and character-driven madness at that) pretty much every issue, if not more often. Even stuff like Superheroes vs. Mounted Cavalry! I Love It! And all moving towards a longer goal.
I miss that.
Having said all that:
Planetary is a fusion of the most brilliant ideas, solid and innovative characters, big stories told with little stories; a meta-textual critique of pop culture with the potential to become iconic in itself. (and you can go to the end of the Millarworld Planetary Thread to check out my / others' ranting theories about THAT.)
Strange Kisses is a much bigger story than anyone, even Ellis, first imagined it to be, and you're right, it is the Hellblazer he didn't get a chance to write.
Apparat produced four books, all of completely different tone and approach, which made me excited about pulp archetypes again. And there's a lot of non-superhero-escapist-power-fantasy stuff being produced at the moment; he hit the nail on the head.
Perhaps what we have to admit is that the Ultimate stuff he's writing is a chance for him to play with some characters, make some money and carry on doing the projects he's passionate about. And, let's face it, no big Marvel franchise like the FF is going to be irrevocably hurt by 12 issues of slightly strange SF and silly names. Millar's back with issue 19, right?
(Of course, Mark Millar's another kettle of fish altogether...)
Undoubtedly, if Marvel keep paying Ellis lots of cash to churn out his stuff then that's a good thing, I want Ellis to do well because he seems like a decent guy (if not cantankerous) who genuinely cares for the industry - and that's a rare thing. Which is probably why i feel like an asshole for picking faults in his work.
Incidentally, Mike Carey is taking over UFF. Woop-de-doo. His Hellblazer is marginally better than Azzarellos, but most of his Marvel stuff is pretty poor. Still, one of my friends knows him and says he is a nice guy, so, sorry Mike : ) and I will keep buying it.
And Ult. Iron Man, so far, does seem to be negating the need for Ellis' Iron man, if there was an Ultimate book I have been really surprised by its that one.
But the most prudent point you came up with Sam, was in the comment replying to Pete on my first Ellis post, where you pointed out that UFF is venting readers at a fair old rate. Even in my shop where people know not to cancel Ellis in case I shout at them we have had a few people can it. Maybe if Marvel let Ellis run rampant, the sales would come back in.
Or are the sales still there, having just migrated to Tpbs?
So, Mark Millar huh? Next. I'll let you start the ball on that one.