BEST BETS: "Jessica Jones," "Big Trouble/Escape from New York" & More October 2016 Highlights
Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. This month I will be doing theme weeks (more or less), with each week devoted to a single writer. This quasi-week: Warren Ellis. Today’s page is from Lazarus Churchyard: Alraune, which was published in Blast! magazine #7 (I think) and is cover dated December 1991. It was reprinted in Lazarus Churchyard: The Final Cut in 2001 by Image. Enjoy!
Once again we reach a writer with whom I am very familiar, as I own a crapload of Warren Ellis comics. Much like the God of All Comics, I’m not going to highlight Mr. Ellis’s more famous work, because everyone is familiar with that stuff and they might not own some of his more obscure work, including Lazarus Churchyard, one of his earliest works. So, here’s what you can look forward to this week: Very few Marvel comics (and probably not ones you’re expecting). NO DC comics. NO Wildstorm comics. NO Vertigo comics. What the hell is left, you might wonder? Oh, I think you’ll see! Let’s get to this one, shall we?
Ellis really shows us the kind of writer he is with this page, which was written when he was about 23 (he was born early in 1968, but I don’t know when exactly he wrote this). Lazarus Churchyard is traditionally called “cyberpunk,” although Ellis himself doesn’t call it that (he claims he’s not good enough to write real cyberpunk). Interestingly enough, as good as Ellis is, you see a lot of his later tics even this early in his career. There’s the interest (obsession?) with drugs in the very first panel. There’s the interest (obsession?) with sex, as Alraune sees our hero digging out of the ground and immediately propositions him. There’s the science fiction tropes that will form such a large part of Ellis’s career. It’s very interesting to see this page and realize that 20 years later, Ellis is still fascinated by this kind of story. I don’t think it’s a bad thing – at least he’s not obsessed with superheroes – but it is pretty neat. Well, I think it is. Obviously, we don’t get a ton of information about Lazarus, although in hindsight, we can see he’s the first of many pseudo-Ellis stand-ins that we see over the years – I have met Ellis once in my life, but it does seem that many of his characters are modeled either on him or how he’d like to be. Lazarus is kind of the urEllisCharacter, and we see a bit of that on this page.
Matthew Brooker, a.k.a. D’Israeli, was also relatively new to the industry at this time (although he had a bit more experience than Ellis), and his artwork helps Lazarus Churchyard achieve the weird beauty that it has. He doesn’t have a lot to do on this page, unfortunately, but he does a nice job – the first three panels do a good job building what little tension there is on this page, as we finished with both our hero’s full face and Alraune’s stiletto heel before the big panel at the bottom, which reveals more of Lazarus and all of Alraune. D’Israeli’s idiosyncratic design style is on full display here, as Lazarus is almost a desiccated mummy and Alraune is a gorgeous vamp. The conical bra was trendy in those days thanks to Madonna (and I have no idea if D’Israeli was influenced by that at all), but it still looks somewhat futuristic even two decades later. D’Israeli adds some nice details to the background – the designs have an odd Mayan look, and the camera on the columns is a prescient curio. The fact that he colors the background yellow while coloring Alraune’s clothing a deep blue is a smart choice, too – as we’ve seen a lot this year, those two colors work well together, and it helps Alraune stand out nicely.
This isn’t quite fully-formed Ellis, but it’s surprising how much control he already has over his prose. He’d get better, of course, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t already know how to put lure people into his comics!
Next: Ellis arrives at Marvel and makes everyone gloomy. Couldn’t he have just been happy he was working in the Nineties? Sheesh. While you wait, feel free to traipse through the archives!
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