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Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 111: Hellstorm: Prince of Lies #17

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 pseudo-week: Warren Ellis. Today’s page is from Hellstorm: Prince of Lies #17, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated August 1994. Enjoy!

So familiar ...

Ellis’s first major work for Marvel was Hellstorm, which he wrote for ten issues (#12-21) and it’s quite good. But I picked this first page mainly because Ellis re-used this idea a few years later in comics that far more people read, and I think that kind of thing is fascinating. He was probably right in thinking that not many people reading StormWatch/Planetary would remember that he had come up with this idea 5-6 years earlier in an obscure Marvel title, and those who did wouldn’t care.

The actual writing on this page isn’t great, mainly because Ellis trusts the idea, which is pretty cool, and he manages to get all the particulars down with very little embellishment. That’s really all that matters, and Ellis does it. He doesn’t engage in any of the more florid prose of which he’s capable, and he doesn’t even end the page with a shocker that compels you to turn the page. He simply tells you where Daimon is and what happens there, and thinks that the very concept of the “complete suicide” is enough. Even in a world of strange superheroes (Hellstorm is set firmly within the mainstream Marvel Universe), this is a clever enough idea that I can’t imagine someone reading this page and walking away. Maybe I’m wrong.

Derek Yaniger doesn’t have a lot to do on this page, because it’s mostly a zoom in. The moon is inordinately large, which is fine (it often is in fiction), and Yaniger gives us a good sense of the isolation of the bar. As he zooms in, the art and the word balloons (placed there by letterer Jonathan Babcock?) funnel our eyes downward toward the bartender and Daimon himself in the final panel. It’s not a bad trick, and given that the panels are stacked on top of each other, probably a necessary one. Yaniger does a good job making the bartender surly with only a facial expression, and the inks or even Steve Buccellato’s coloring (probably the inks) show the darkness of Daimon’s soul reflected in the shadows on his face. Buccellato, of course, uses blues against yellows/oranges to create a nice contrast, and the warm orange inside the bar in panels 2 and 3 is undercut by the blue in the final panel, which indicates this bar isn’t quite as welcoming as the coloring in the upper panels implies. The artists do a nice job realizing Ellis’s idea of a place that offers an escape, but a rather bleak one.

Hellstorm is a nifty little series, and pages like this show that Ellis was trying out some new stuff as he began his mainstream career. As he grew more popular, he was able to do some more weird stuff. But first he had to kill off some superheroes, as he’ll do tomorrow! Pique your curiosity by scanning the archives!

3 Comments

Ellis really loves the whole “soul is an EM field; nuke it to destroy it” idea. The Russian bar that turns up several times in Planetary is the exact same concept.

Daniel O' Dreams

April 20, 2012 at 4:50 pm

Bar looks pretty crowded for being in the middle of nowhere with only two cars outside.

I believe these were the first time I noticed Ellis as a writer and yes they are pretty good. Actually the preceding 12 issues by Rafael Nieves and Len Kaminski aren’t terrible for mid-nineties Marvel. They are a fair attempt at doing a Vertigo/horror style comic.

“Unknown to but a few” would imply that everyone knew about it except for a few people. I’m not sure whether he meant “unknown but to a few” or “known to but a few.”

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