Thursday, November 20, 2008

Aetheric mechanics

"Aetheric mecahnics" is the latest graphic novel from Avatar, published as part of their "Apparat" imprint, devoted solely to leaving the industry's premiere SF writer, Warren Ellis, to spotlight his own creations, based on the familiar genre archetypes. This time around, it's steampunk's turn, but Ellis, aided by the artist Gianluca Pagliarani brings a lot more to the table than that.

The story starts out as a fully-functional steampunk piece, brining familiar Victorian-era fiction together with the SF tropes developed much later. Once the atmosphere is fully established, the tale shifts it's center around being a Sherlock Holmes pastiche, though not without some cumbersome exposition. It proceeds along, carefully building the mystery, all the while taking the characters out of their iconic status quo and actually developing them in a way that is both spontaneous and logical. Upon reaching the climax, Ellis shifts gears again, ambitiously bringing the science angle to the fore, before wrapping the whole plot by bringing in the metafictional elements! The story ends, revealed in it's post-modern bent, and leaving the reader satisfied, yet sad to see the fully developed setting and it's implications come to a halt.

In presenting the story full of lengthy conversation, Warren Ellis has wisely chosen an artist capable of depicting a wide-range of facial expressions. Despite a rushed look of the crime-scene segment of the book, Pagliarani does not disappoint, brining to life both the distinctive character designs, as well as richly detailed backgrounds. The story suffers only from the lack of space, which has robbed a piece so devoted to the pulp late 19th century fiction of at least one more action sequence, inadequately substituted by a single page flashback.

It's amazing how much ground Ellis has managed to cover, starting out with a tale that feels familiar to his Planetary homages. Judging by his recent work, Ellis is very aware that he is living in the present. His "Doctor Sleepless" ongoing clearly shows nothing of the Hunter Thompson influence that characterized the science-fictional setting of his "Transmetropolitan". Writing "Aetheric mechanics", he has actually put the subject of inspiration to the forefront, ending his story by concentrating on the effect the genre classics have had on today's writers.

"Aetheric mechanics" has ended up being a short, but deeply multi layered work, by a continually improving author not afraid to discuss his influences on the very pages of the comic book. By doing so, Ellis actually touches upon the same ground Alan Moore did in the seminal League of Extraordinary Gentlemen's latest outing, the controversial "Black dossier", yet in a way that still keeps it's feet firmly in the place of it's adventure-fiction origins, providing the readers with the compelling characters and drama on which the deeper metafictional themes hang upon.

It is an effort that surpasses "Apparat"'s previous "Frank Ironwine" one-shot, an inventive comics on it's own, promising even greater creative challenges in the imprint's future.