by Warren Ellis & Gianluca Pagliarani
Like Crecy, Aetheric Mechanics is one of those Warren Ellis Avatar Press books that sticks out like a sore thumb amongst the standard model of what an Avatar Press book is. But that’s no bad thing. After all, the more of these we get, the less likelihood there is of there being a standard Avatar Press book. And the fewer times I see more Lady Death variant covers the better.
Aetheric Mechanics is a little bit of steampunk sci-fi from Ellis. I’m beginning to believe Ellis actually has a long tick list of writing genres by his computer and he’s desperately attempting to get as many as possible done before his eventual death, presumably from a legion of outraged Mills & Boon readers after the editors at M&B completely misjudge their readership and commission him to write the great romance novel he’s got on his list. Love hearts, body modification, repressed wallflower heroine and strap on robotic dildo action probably wasn’t what they were expecting.
But back to Aetheric mechanics. Bad, bad Avatar Press. On the cover is Warren Ellis and the title, but nary a mention of the artist. Gianluca Paglairani should be upset because Avatar have put the names of many inferior artists on their covers in the past. And his artwork is actually quite good. A spidery thin line and much detailing make every page extremely busy, but luckily it’s a business that entertains rather than offends. His pages are genuinely a pleasure to look at. Pagliarani, along with Paul Duffield (Freakangels), Raulo Caceres (Crecy) and, to a lesser extent, Facundo Percio (Anna Mercury) seems to be disproving my previous theory that Avatar just picked artists at random off the street to illustrate the latest Warren Ellis books.
(Now that’s a villain’s lair. From Aetheric Mechanics. Art by Gianluca Pagliarani. Published Avatar Press)
I like Warren Ellis. Always have. I’ve written about this many times, but my basic enjoyment of his stories endures. I realise his limitations; I understand that he falls back on many similar concepts, characters and scenarios. But I don’t mind that much because I enjoy reading them again. I’ve said before that I think he needs a little more quality control on his work and has a tendency to get too many of his many, many ideas onto paper and published before he has a chance to fully flesh them out.
Aetheric Mechanics is a knowingly clever little graphic novella. Taking the ideas of steampunk and pilfering characters from fiction, Ellis puts together a science fiction detective story that has all the Ellis flourishes we’ve come to expect and I’ve come to enjoy. As you enter the book it’s quite obvious that Ellis is riffing classic Victorian fiction. Characters referenced / borrowed / pilfered (delete as applicable) from Sherlock Holmes, Sexton Blake, The Prisoner Of Zenda and more populate a steampunk environment of flying battleships and hovercraft. Britain is at war with Ruritania and Doctor Richard Watcham is returning from the front to reaquant himself with Sax Raker; England’s greatest detective who is about to investigate his newest case: The case of the man who wasn’t there. They pursue the case through a London populated by the familiar and fantastical, pursuing a man who may hold the key to their very existence, and that of this strangely futuristic London, with it’s familiar fictional faces and strange mecha.
(As the British army escapes to the English Channel it’s pursued by something looking like it’s escaped from a Manga comic. Mech meets steampunk. Art by Gianluca Pagliarani. Published Avatar Press)
The good things about Aetheric Mechanics are many. It’s classic Ellis; a loaded, high concept piece that reads, at times, like some lost script to a Planetary spin off. Much of the ideas are the same, and Ellis is rather fond of using Sherlock Holmes and other fictional characters throughout his comics. But it may well be another one of those Warren Ellis books that’s merely preaching to the choir. If you’re a fan already, you’ll enjoy it. But it may have a hard time winning a fresh following. The really, really bad thing about Aetheric Mechanics is that it’s too short. The warning alarms went off in my head when I realised I’d got about 8 pages left and couldn’t see how Ellis was going to wrap it all up without a messy, unsatisfying ending that rushes to explain away all the interesting things we’d learnt in the last 30 odd pages. And then, with the last four pages, he does exactly that. A messy, unsatisfying ending.
A real shame. In an ideal world Ellis would have taken another 30 pages at least to properly flesh out what was a fantastically entertaining and interesting concept. For 30 plus pages, this may have been my favourite thing he’s done this year. But it was spoilt by an ending that came all too soon.
Richard Bruton is currently tinkering in his garden shed where he is building a giant steam-powered automaton of Lloyd George which he intends to use to either take over Britain or to fix the gutters and roof slates on his house depending how he is feeling.