Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The Talented Mr. Ellis


Okay, this could be the most one sided post ever, as both Sam and I are quite big fans of Mr. Ellis, so lets at least try to be objectional. Take it on faith that I adore Planetary, Transmet, Authority, Scars, hellblazer, Available Light, the Strange Kissesess (Kissi?) series, Red, Tokyo Storm Warning, Mek yadda yadda...I even have the bookend of the 2099 series that Ellis wrote.

A few years ago, Mr. Ellis was just about ready to give up the comic side of things and pursue TV / animation writing, but as events conspired against him, he realised he better stay writing comics for a while. Before anyone knew what was going on, Marvel was bending over backwards offering him a variety of work on some of their core books.

Now Mr. Ellis has repeatably noted his disdain towards the superhero ilk, maintaining (quite rightly so) that super-heros are part of the industry, not the entirity. A genre within a medium, as opposed to a genre defining a medium. As such, most of Ellis' finest work has been produced without super-heroism, such as the Science Fiction Political Comedy Thriller Cautionary Tale which is Transmetropolitan or his variety of pulp work with Avatar.

So it came as something as a shock when he announced his arrival as writer of Marvels "Ultimate" Fantastic Four, a perhaps unfortunate name for a book which hasn't been able to measure upto the Worlds Greatest Comic Book during Mark Waids tenure, and with the arrival of Straczynski impending, it might be sometime before the "Ultimate" franchise catches up to the "bog-standard Marvel" title (this has already happened with Amazing Spider-Man and Ultimate Spider-Man).
Now Ellis' excuse, or defence for taking the writing duty was: "to help out a friend", the friend in question being Mark "wasn't Millar World supposed to launch four books in one month?" Millar, the man who took over writing chores on Authority just as people had started to hear about the book.

Now don't get me wrong, Ultimate Fantastic Four is a good book, especially with art teams like Immomen and Kubert, but a great book? Ignoring the standard Marvel policy for Ultimate books (with the exception of Ultimates), which seems to be: have an issue worth of events happen over 6 issues then stick it in a Tpb within 2 weeks of the final issue shipping. Ignoring that, the book is still flawed, but only in that it is not pushing the skills of the writer in any way, shape or form. Its comics by the numbers and that is one thing that Ellis has always avoided doing. I think it was Denny O' Neil who said: "with any comic book you have to ask yourself how will this improve the industry? What does it do that hasn't been done before?"
We know Ellis is better than that UFF, we know he is better than Johnny Storm saying: "Awesome Dude". If there was one thing I never expected Ellis to do, it was to package Johnny Storm as a fucking Mutant Turtle.

Onto Ellis' other recent Marvel properties. Ultimate Nightmare started well, but after the delay between issues 4 and 5, the whole publicity hype surrounding the second Series - Ultimate Secret - was ruined by the announciation in Marvels Retailer Mailer that the first Series was being packaged as Tpb under the title Ultimate Galactus Book 1: Nightmare. This meant by the time the big revelation at the end of issue 5 was "revealed", it held no gusto. The cat was already out of the bag that Secret meant Galactus, and the worst thing was I don't think anyone cared, I don't think the majority of the comic wolrd knew that "Ultimate Secret" was a working title to keep Galactus hidden.
Couple that marketing goof with the late shipping of what was shaping up to be an excellent series: Iron Man Volume 68, means that Ellis Marvel books are really not doing all they could be doing.
Granted,its not all Ellis' fault, and even on UFF I can put that down to writing to a formula, after all its one of Marvels top sellers, they cannot risk alienating their audience by unleashing raw Ellis upon its younger readers.

So the solution...I don't fucking know! I will keep buying the Marvel stuff because a) I am a Marvel whore and 2) I am an Ellis whore. So am I part of the problem not the solution? Probably. All I know is I would be happier if as many people who are buying all the Marvel stuff were buying the Planetary and Transmetropolitan Tpbs, they are two of the best-selling tpbs we have ever had but I think they should be in every comic fans collection, without exception.
The worst part is that people won't take a risk on the Avatar or the AiT / PlanetLAR titles: Scars, Apparat, Switchblade Honey, Bad World and that one with the SAS version of Constantine that I can't pluralise. Ask your retailers to stock them god damn it, or I will post the STAR codes for them and you will have no excuse.

(Please remember people, I am an Ellis fan. When Hunter S Thompson pointed out the short-comings of America its not because he hated the country, its because he cared so damn much)


Sam said...

Sid - I've worked out how to get more than one "Identity" posting on this blog. So if you want to, you can change the name of the "Counterculture" identity to just "Sid" and put in your e-mail address, picture, whatever biographical info you want to.

Just so's you know. :)

Pete said...

Your right in what you say in regard to Ellis working on a Ultimate book, its not going to be the Ellis his fans are used to. His Ultimate FF has to be written so the age group it is aimed at don't get confused and will come back for more. Hell, even grown men don't get who the smiller based on in Transmet ;)

Sam said...

What's not completely clear is whether he's satisfying either his established fans, or a new "younger" audience. Sales are still dropping on UFF...

Pete said...

Good point. I don't read Ultimate FF (I can hear Sam now asking do I read anything ;)) so I can't comment on whether it is good or bad. How rapidly are the figures dropping?

Sid said...

Ultimate F4 has lost nearly half its readership since its launch. Check out the figures monthly at, its scary how much even great books like New Avengers shred from month to month. And that doesn't include how many issues sit around in comic shops and warehouses.