Written by Warren Ellis with Art by Jamie Mckelvie, Kev Walker, David Aja, Michael Lark, Alex Maleev and Stuart Immonen.
Published by Marvel Comics
For my money Warren Ellis is one of the best comic book writers of the last two decades. His sharp dialogue, dark characterisation and just plain love for what make comics amazing and unique is an inspiration. This is Ellis trawling the dark alleys and hidden byways of the Marvel Universe. Alternate dimensions, subterranean cities and tin pot ‘narocracies’ on the border of Latveria all feature.
The book collects issues 16-21 of the ongoing series but you don’t need to have read the previous stories and can just dive in and enjoy. Steve Rogers is between stints as Captain America and runs the team in a blue jumpsuit with a flechette gun and an electronic shield. He leads a varied team. There are street level guys like Moon Knight and Shang Chi, super spies like Sharon Carter and Black Widow, powerhouses War Machine and Valkyrie and Hank McCoy, The Beast providing tech support.
Each issue has a different artist and they all do an excellent job. Ellis is great at writing to his artist strengths but also pushing them slightly outside their comfort zones. So each artist gets a story that suits their skills but a guy best known for crime comics might get an issue with a trippy, mystical twist or a time travel Sci-Fi romp.
I generally don’t think of Jamie Mckelvie when it come to the super heroics. Due to Phonogram I always imagine him drawing hipsters and haircuts. But man, can he do action/adventure comics. His art is just so fucking clean, the story telling feels as though it’s injected straight through my eyeballs. And the Beast gets to sit pontificating in the back seat while Black Widow drives an Atomic Cadillac.
I first came to know the art of Spanish whizz-kid David Aja through his work on Marvel Comics Ironfist. He proves this knack for the fisticuffs was not a one-off with his issue featuring the Master of Kung Fu, Shang Chi. The story involves antimatter, alternate dimensions and battles along Escher-like stairways. I would happily read Master of Kung Fu by Aja and Ellis every month.
Kev Walker was unknown to me but earned a place in my heart by drawing a huge Steve Rogers hooning around on a motorbike with a massive laser mounted in the headlight. There’s also a panel where Valkyrie leaps off her winged horse to cut a truck in half with her sword.
Michael Lark has a rough, sketchy feel to his linework that I love. He is known for drawing street level crime stories like Gotham Central but here Ellis gives him a twist. The team have to infiltrate a brothel in Symkaria to take down a crimelord who’s creating Super Soldiers by smoking the bones of Elder Gods. Yes comics, Warren Ellis knows what makes you awesome.
I love how Lark draws faces, he can do a beautiful arch of a brow, Moon Knight gasping for breath or Steve Rogers glowering through a black eye. He impresses too with his use of the nine-panel grid. Plus he draws a sweet jump kick.
Alex Maleev gets to draw the Black Widow in a time travel spy story. It twists and turns through full colour battle scenes and black and white flashbacks which are framed to feel like newspaper strips from the 50’s.
Ellis and Stuart Immonen have collaborated before on perhaps the craziest Marvel Comic of recent times, Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. and it’s great to see them back together. Immonen is an excellent artist who draws killer action scenes but I feel he was a little rushed here. Some panels feel cramped and faces overshadowed. The bar might just have been set so high by the previous artists that I am finding fault unnecessarily
I love it when Warren Ellis writes corporate super heroes because it feels like he’s doing comics a personal favour. He could be off creating another RED, Transmetropolitan or Planetary and instead he gives us a six issue glimpse at the best team book Marvel will never have again.
And with his exploding career as a crime novelist we might not get many more opportunities to appreciate how good he is at this comics stuff.
Should I buy it? YES. Marvel need to be encouraged to publish more books like this. Not just smartly written and drawn super hero books by Warren Ellis but quality fill in runs. I’m happy to have a different artist every issue as long as it’s done well and deliberately.
Next time: Inspired by this comic and my excitement for his new novel Gun Machine I am declaring January the Month of Ellis and reviewing a comic of his each week. Next time it’ll the filthily dark crime and grime of Fell: Feral City.