With the popularity many comic book properties these days, it’s important to make sure that people understand that heroes with super strength aren’t the only fodder in the comic shop. Writers such as Warren Ellis play on both sides of the superhero fence, creating subversive stories about corrupt societies as in Desolation Jones while enjoying the fun of working with classic comic characters like the Fantastic Four.
From the first page of the first issue of Desolation Jones and its first storyline “Made in England”, readers are given shadowy glimpses of a man whose life is falling apart. When that man, Michael Jones, rises from unwelcome sleep, we see his body is also joining the falling apart parade. Jones is a native of England and now lives in Los Angeles. His purple-haired punkette friend, Robina, heeds Jones’ call for a ride and we cruise into the initial plot.
This book seems to flow along a path similar to Preacher, Transmetropolitan, and classic Hellblazer with its flawed but deeply intriguing characters. If you are a fan of any of those comics, I think you’d best start haunting your local comic shop for these issues of Desolation Jones. The bi-monthly schedule is going to be a slow slog, but the amazing J.H. Williams III art is going to be worth the wait. His previous artwork on the underrated Promethea is a treasure waiting for many to discover. Williams’ design and structure of the artwork is pure craftsmanship. Double-page “widescreen” panoramas, mixtures of painted and line art, and stark black and white panels are mixed with framing elements that intensify the importance and emotional impact of the artwork.
I’ve enjoyed previous Warren Ellis works such as Hellstorm and Transmetropolitan, although I haven’t followed Ellis’ career as much as I should. Themes of evil government agencies who lie, cheat and steal along with drug-addled lead characters (like Spider Jerusalem from Transmetropolitan) are, so far, being revisited. Did the government trick Jones while his luck was down and recruit him into being a medical guinea pig or did he screw up while drunk or drugged up? I don’t know yet as I haven’t read the final issue of this storyline. I’ve purposefully avoided reviewing a complete story to whet your appetite. I want you to join the The rock star combo of Ellis and Williams, along with the initial plot of looking for pornographic films that Adolf Hitler directed and sometimes even starred in. That twisted little plot kernel pops into a detective story of not looking for, but finding, the daughter of the man who hired Jones to begin with.
Within that story structure, clues are given to what has happened to Jones in the “desolation tests” and how this world they inhabit is different from our world today. All of the participants of the desolation tests that Jones was a part of are kept in Los Angeles. Whether they are dangerous to the general population more than dangerous to those who commissioned the desolation experiments has yet to be revealed. One of those participants, Jeronimus Corneliszoon, was created as a C.I.A. agent who only needs to eat four times a year. (Although, I wouldn’t think that is a necessary benefit to a spy gig.) Another of the broken toy soldiers, Emily Crowe, was engineered with super-heightened pheromones to be an irresistible sex object. But, the scientists colored over the lines and instead of Crowe attracting people, she disturbs and creeps out everyone who enters her radius. Jones is the only one who can interact with her because his body is so decimated that he lacks pain receptors.
While searching for the Hitler films, Jones leads us through a world of porn peddlers and the weird inhabitants of that world. Ellis’ humor is embedded throughout with lines from Jones like, “English Gentlemen always get their dates drunk and stoned. It’s the only way we can get people to sleep with us.” Characters such as Filthy Sanchez (whose soft drink sex riff of “everything goes better…” had me laughing out loud), and a past-prime porn participant, Nicole, who becomes surrogate mother to an itchy future porn star, also add welcome humor to the sometimes-horrifying graphic violence.
This mature readers title is as much fun as it sounds. If my meager summary of the plot so far seems beyond your comfort zone, stay away. I’ve left the funniest and filthiest parts still waiting to be discovered by those who like their stories twisted, protagonists unclean (literally and figuratively), and humor black. This is the perfect combo of story and artwork to show your friends that all comics aren’t for kids.