Like many, I was a fan of Warren Ellis before I knew who he was. I was floored by his work on The Authority and Ultimate Galactus before I realized that this was a name-brand dude. Subsequently, I went and snatched up a bunch of trades and realized…This is a really radical writer. This is a guy who has an extremely broad range, which means that some of his stuff is great; some isn’t; and some is so experimental that…It can get lost.
I also learned that he’s the king of the 3-issue miniseries. He’s made a ton of these, all about original creations. Many of these leave the reader wanting more.
After the break, find out my ten favorite WE comics…
Before the list, a few caveats:
1. While I read many independent and non-super comics, I was raised on Marvel and my tastes still tend to skew towards takes on the mainstream capes-N-tights trope. Also, although’m not a prude, I don’t much like ultraprofane violence unless it’s done for a particular effect. I loved Garth Ennis’ “Crossed,” for example, but David Lapham’s sequel left me cold because it seemed gratuitous and without depth. Yes, slamming Crossed: Family Values for not being deep is in some ways inconsistent with saying that I tend to prefer mainstream superhero comics. I hold the use of extreme violence and sex to a higher standard, and that’s just a matter of personal taste. Which is a long way to say that many hardcore Ellis fans will completely disagree with the fact that I didn’t include Transmetropolitan on my list. I do intend to re-read it one day, but the first time I took a crack at it, it just left me feeling cold and dirty.
2. I also haven’t really given Planetary a chance yet, but I intend to. I tried the first few issues and it wasn’t to my liking, but I have a feeling I just wasn’t in the right mood for it.
3. Horror comics also aren’t my thing, so you won’t see his much-lauded Hellblazer work here.
4. Warren Ellis is amazingly prolific. So I couldn’t do a top 10…I went with a baker’s dozen.
THE LUCKY 13: MY FAVORITE WARREN ELLIS COMIC BOOKS
This is a great example of Ellis’ three-and-done format, and is much bloodier (and morally complex) than the film.
12. Ultimate Galactus Trilogy.
The thick paperback collection is over 350 pages of delicious superhero/sci fi. Changing Galactus from a giant humanoid to a terraforming disease was a fantastic idea, and having superheroes fight such an amorphous threat was equally compelling.
11. Secret Avengers 16-21.
When Secret Avengers started, I was shocked to learn that Ed Brubaker can write badly. The book stumbled and fumbled along until Warren Ellis was hired to do five done-in-ones in a row, drawn by the likes of Jamie McKelvie, Kev Walker, David Aja, Michael Lark and Alex Maleev. In these issues, Ellis showed that a black op Avengers team was not just a good idea: It was a great one. He brought out the potential of Shang Chi, Moon Knight, Valkeryie, War Machine and other B-listers being on a team usually reserved for first stringers…This is the most “fun” I’ve had reading an Avengers book since Roger Stern’s legendary run way back in the 1980s (when they visited David Letterman). And as soon as Ellis left, the book sucked again.
10. Jack Cross.
A four issue mini with art by Gary Erskine that looks like a creator-owned property but was actually published by DC. I had to go back and check my issues to verify that one, because I couldn’t believe it. It’s about an assassin who goes after terrorists. (It’s actually a lot like the adrenaline-fused R.E.D., only better)
9. Ultimate Fantastic Four.
Like he did with his Galactus Trilogy, Warren Ellis instilled a real science fiction element to his work on the Ultimate version of comicdom’s First Family. This book focuses on the “science” part of Sci Fi, for example: Trying to explain how a man really could catch on fire at will, and what that could do to his biochemistry. He does the same kind of thing for the other members of the foursome. Oh, and his characterization of Annihilus is the best I’ve ever read. Absolutely (ahem) “fantastic” work.
8. Iron Man: Extremis.
The inspiration for Iron Man 3, and the one where Tony gets armor that’s as smart as he is. This book enabled Ellis to combine his love of spy/crime stories with his innate ability to tell a good superstory.
Four issues of “pulp” comics, each paying tribute to a different genre. Ellis shows his ability to write in various styles and, more importantly, to write specific stories for specific artists. And he worked with some great ones here (and pays tribute to each in a prose column in each book).
6. Strange Kiss.
SK is the three-issue mini that introduced Gravel, a very violent, very macho, very bloody and perversedude who fights occult threats on behalf of the Crown. This is not a story for everyone—and certainly is not for the squeamish. It led to several sequels and then a Gravel regular series, and I have to say that it never really got better than this initial installment.
I have several comic nerd friends who like the Jeff Parker book, or who like the Thunderbolts title that preceded Ellis’ take on the concept of bad-guys-trying-to-be-better. But all of those books suck. They’re stupid. In fact, the whole concept of Dark Reign—that America is so incredibly dumb and naive that we would back that psycho Norman Osborn never made any sense at all. The only thing dumber was Lex Luthor becoming President. But Warren Ellis took the idea and made it work: Precisely because it didn’t work. Iron Man commissioned Osborn, Bullseye, and a bunch of bad, bad folks and told them to get good and for his (too short) eleven-issue run on the title, all Ellis did was show that these guys were beyond rehabilitation. And I’m pretty sure he did it without Marvel editorial having any idea that he was shitting all over their “event.”
On the surface, Scars is a simple police procedural, but what it did was provide an example of comic-book-as-reporter, telling a “ripped from the headlines” type story about a dead child and the search for her killer. The book is all the more powerful as a result of the harrowing art by Jacen Burrows.
3. Black Summer.
Ellis and artist Juan Jose Ryp create a world in which superheroes are created by body modifications and in which one of them (the most powerful one, naturally), goes nuts and kills the President. The natural predecessor to Mark Waid’s “Incorruptible” and a work greatly reminiscent of Ellis’ work on Stormwatch and The Authority. This series is the precursor to No Hero and Supergod.
2. The Authority.
Ellis took over fan favorite Wildstorm title Stormwatch and quickly dismantled the W.I.L.D.C.A.T.S. property completely, to make way for this masterpiece of superhero fiction: What if The Justice League decided to remake the world? I’ve read this run several times, and every time I’m more amazed by the number of concepts Ellis jammed in there—many of which were taken later by other writers in other comics. It’s also far superior to his Stormwatch work that preceded The Authority, and, frankly, the Stormwatch comics are nonessential. It’s easy to pick up The Authority in trade and just start reading there. And there’s no reason not to.
1. Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E.
Simply one of my favorite comic books of all time, and a huge poke in the eye of the over-the-top 1990s. The funniest action comic you will ever read.