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Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 112: Ruins #1

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 Ruins #1, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated August 1995. Enjoy!

(Click the images to enlarge!)

Ruins is a truly bizarre comic, labeled as part of the “Marvel Alternaverse,” the Marvel answer to Elseworlds of which this comic, I believe, was the only entrant. Plus, it’s a sequel to Marvels, and someone at Marvel decided to get the polar opposite of Kurt Busiek to write it. It’s also early on in Ellis’s love/hate relationship with superheroes, as we can see on this first page, when he kills a bunch of them.

We don’t know yet that the man in the foreground is Phil Sheldon, the protagonist of Marvels, but we’ll find that out on the second page. Ellis tells us where we are and what’s happening, and he gives us a fairly typical but extremely effective Ellis line as Sheldon watches the Patriot missile take out the Avengers Quinjet: “Lost, I watch superhumans burn in the midday sun.” It’s chilling and indicates that this is not going to be a pleasant story, as indeed it isn’t. Ellis is playing with Marvel readers’ expectations – in the original series, Sheldon often looked up and saw a new Marvel. Now, he looks up and sees horror. You may not be the type of reader who likes seeing Marvel heroes slaughtered by the government, but Ellis does give us an effective first page.

Cliff and Terese Nielsen, who painted three-quarters of this mini-series (I don’t know why they didn’t finish it, but they were replaced by Christopher Moeller, who’s a good artist in his own right but whose style is tremendously different from this, and the series’ end looks very odd as a result), give us a pretty nice double-page spread. Sheldon is our POV character, and he pulls our gaze upward with his body positioning. The indistinct trees around him all point toward the explosion in the upper right corner. We see some Avengers, most notably Iron Man, but the Nielsens wisely don’t give us too much detail. Sheldon is large because the “camera” is closer to him, but, as in Marvels, he seems dwarfed by events happening above him. Everything is reaching for the sky, because the sky promises glory, but in this case, the sky holds nothing but death. It’s a very nice image that sets the tone for the absolute bleakness of this story. It’s not a terribly good comic – it’s basically Ellis trying to write like Alan Moore and not succeeding very well – but it does show Ellis’s promise as a writer of hard-boiled prose. He’d get better!

Next: Was this too insane for even Vertigo? Who knows? But Ellis didn’t care! Check out some happier comics than Ruins in the archives!


The Last Avengers Story carried the Alternaverse tag — as did What If…? for a period.

Chad: Thanks. I’ve read the Last Avengers Story in trade, but it wasn’t marked as such.

what if # 76 second series and the rest of that series were part of the marvel altiverse and some one shots as well

It took me years to find both issues of this and man it wasn’t worth it. What a terribly disappointing mess of a comic

I loved Ruins. It was pretty much just a parody of Marvels, but it did so with hilariously cynical panache. It wouldn’t have worked for more than two issues, but two issues was just enough to get the point across without overdoing it.

I enjoyed Ruins a good deal. It has its problems, but them pictures were pretty ;D
There was also some very Ellis, crazy black humor mixed with the bleakness.
But I didn’t look for it, like you Soggy, I just bought the reprint from a couple years ago, so maybe my expectations were different.

I just wish that the story had gone somewhere. It was two issues of Phil going from this character to that, horror after horror, then…well…without spoiling it, there was a bleak, pointless ending. I mean, it was neat finding out how a particular character’s life went horribly wrong, but repeating that formula for 50 pages got kind of boring.

Also, I never understood what Johnny Blaze’s deal was. Instead of becoming a demon, he becomes…a guy who sets his own head on fire? I got the impression that there was more to the story that Ellis was trying to communicate, but over a decade later, I still don’t get the joke.

The Marvel “Alternaverse” brand was also applied to one of my favorite 90s one-shots, “Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe” by Garth Ennis and Doug Braithwaite.

I love Ruins – I wish they’d do a hardback, treasury size edition. However I think this about all my favourite comics- in fact any comics. The bigger the better!

RUINS isn’t a sequel to MARVELS, it’s a parody of it.

It started out as an issue of WHAT IF — “What If the MARVELS Went Wrong?” — but at the time, Marvel was hungry for painted books that might duplicate MARVELS’ success, and they asked Warren to expand the script into a two-part mini-series in a hurry.


Kurt: Ah, I see. It reads kind of as a sequel, but it seems so bizarre as one, that the actual story makes a whole lot more sense. Thanks!

“what if # 76 second series and the rest of that series”

Not the rest, it was done by 85 or so.

Whenever they did the thing where they stopped completing the title on the cover and just left it at “What If…?” is when they dropped the “Alterniverse” thing.

I think the problem is that a lot of people read Ruins as an attempt at the kind of grim and gritty distopian thing like a bunch of the 1990s What If’s, when it’s clearly supposed to be a dark comedy.

That’s not everybody’s thing, and that’s fine, but I found it refreshing at a time when there seemed to be no middle ground between inept Alan-Moore style deconstructions and fawn love of all things Silver Age. This doesn’t read like Ellis trying to be Moore to me; it reads like Ellis taking the piss out of a lot of the shitty Moore knock-offs that were floating around at the time, as well as stuff like Marvels (which is quite good, but has its own category of crappy imitations that ape the attitude poorly).

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