Warren Ellis’ Ignition City, Vol. 1

Ignition CityI promised myself, when I read Warren Ellis’ Planetary, that I was going to become more familiar with his work. Well, up popped the first volume of the collected Ignition City, and it’s just as good.

Mary Raven, like all other spacemen, is grounded, and hating it. It seems that Earth’s adventures in outer space were a bit too much for Earth to handle: in the words of one character, “We came, we saw, eight different kinds of space wog mucked us about, death dust sprayed over your American Midwest, space fighters over Berlin in ’45. . . .” You get the idea.  

Mary gets a telegram: her father is dead. Mary sends a pro-forma telegram to her mother, not expecting a response (they’re not close), and heads to Ignition City, Earth’s last remaining space port, ostensibly to retrieve her father’s effects. Actually, she’s more interested in finding out what happened, and perfectly prepared to make someone’s life miserable if necessary — not only was her father a spaceman himself, he was her hero.

In case you didn’t notice from the quote above, this is alternate history — the story takes place in 1956, but it’s not the 1956 of the Cold War, nor the year before Sputnik. The milieu is, perhaps, the obverse of steampunk — yes, we’ve been to space, but Mary’s plane relies on propellers, and the grounded spaceships and parts of spaceships that make up most of Ignition City’s buildings are straight out of Jules Verne. It starts as a classic science-fiction puzzle story. Now cross that with a “new guy in town defeats the corrupt sheriff” Western, add in a good dose of noir, some more than shady characters, a conspiracy of silence, some pretty earthy dialogue, and you’re beginning to get the idea. And to give you an idea of Ellis’ story-telling, I didn’t see the final revelation coming — but I should have.

Gianluca Pagliarani’s pencils, intelligently supported by Chris Dreier’s inks, capture the mood perfectly. The style is somewhat in the David Finch-Jim Cheung vein, giving rich detail without sacrificing openness and space. Shading and crosshatching eliminate the need for heavily modeled color to give depth and strength to the images, and Digikore Studios was smart enough to pay attention to that. The layouts could be a little more adventurous — although it’s heavily scripted, the story line leaves room for that — but the action sequences break away from the frame-follows-frame regimen enough to give us visual activity to match the written text.

I can be smug — I’ve got Volume 1, so I get to sit tight and wait for Volume 2. You have to catch up.

(Avatar Press, 2010.)


Robert M. Tilendis lives a deceptively quiet life. He has made money as a dishwasher, errand boy, legal librarian, arts administrator, shipping expert, free-lance writer and editor, and probably a few other things he’s tried very hard to forget about. He has also been a student of history, art, theater, psychology, ceramics, and dance. Through it all, he has been an artist and poet, just to provide a little stability in his life. Along about January of every year, he wonders why he still lives someplace as mundane as Chicago; it must be that he likes it there. You may e-mail him, but include a reference to Green Man Review so you don’t get deleted with the spam.

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