Written By Warren Ellis
Art and Covers by J.H Williams III
Published by Wildstorm Comics
It’s one of those great mysteries of the ages why UK writers produce some of the best, most creative, most profoundly messed up comics in the biz. Perhaps England, Scotland and Ireland are all over some kind of gigantic natural gas leak like the Oracle at freakin’ Delphi, or maybe the Thatcher Era, The Troubles, and just being Scottish drove every creative mind they have irrevocably insane.
Either way, “Desolation Jones” is a hell of a comic.
It’s written by Warren Ellis, one of the more notorious of the “UK crazies” who also brought us jems like “Transmetropolitan”, “Planetary” and the briefly-lived “Newuniversal”. His one big drawback as a writer is the time he takes to put out new works and his tendency to seemingly abandon projects when he gets bored with them. “Desolation Jones” for example, only ever got one full story arc, with the second just dropping off the face of the Earth after one or two issues. The first arc is still out there in paperback form, and if you can get your hands on it, run at that thing like it’s a chocolate coated sex machine.
It all takes place in Los Angeles, which we learn is secretly used as an open prison for ex-members of the global intelligence community. When an agent of MI:5 or some other agency has to be put out to pasture, but putting them in said pasture would be political suicide, they’re given a choice: death or spend the rest of their lives confined to Los Angeles. Tough call, isn’t it?
So already the book sounds like some new take on The Prisoner but it gets even better. Some people, like our title character, are confined to LA not because of what they’ve seen, but because of what they are. A healthy chunk of “the community” are actually the results of failed government attempts at biological manipulation to create better agents, like one woman who was going to be turned into the ultimate seductress through a pheromone manipulation procedure, but wound out wordlessly repulsive to anyone within ten feet of her.
Jones, our hero, was the subject of something called “The Desolation Test”. What it exactly was is never fully fleshed out, but we know it left him in constant pain, tough as nails, vulnerable to sunlight, and looking like Gollum’s skinnier English brother in a trench coat and gas mask. Because wearing trench coats and gas masks is effin’ cool.
Jones works as a private detective in LA, and it becomes pretty clear that Ellis isn’t so much as paying tribute to writers like Raymond Chandler as he is digging up the poor man’s corpse and making perverse modern art from his bones. The case that drives the story arc involves a retired army general who’s being blackmailed. Naturally the general has three daughters of various degrees of total insanity and if you’ve caught on that we’re riffin on The Big Sleep, welcome to the party. But this is Warren Ellis, so naturally the general is also a former sexual adventure/rare porno collector, and someone’s blackmailing him with his stolen, super rare Hitler porn. Like, porn actually featuring Hitler.
You were warned about those UK writers, you really were.
Ellis’ writing is about as weird, creative, messed up and bleak as you’d expect from a guy who invent a gun called a “bowel disruptor” in another book. In addition to the blinding torrent of just cool ideas on display, the dialogue and characterization are great, and you’ll find yourself getting really attached to some of the characters, like Emily the poor, reclusive pheromone lady or the burned-out amateur porn starlet Jones interviews as part of his investigation.
The art is by our old friend J.H Willaims III and maintains his usual standard of making your eyeballs want to pop out and start humping the pages…..which is to say it’s really good art.
The only down side is that there’s really only one book of the series. Maybe some day Ellis will come back into the character and turn this into the epic series it should have been, but until then, consider this a quick shot before we go on a nice liver-destroying binge…..