by Warren Ellis, art by Cliff Nielsen, Terese Nielsen, Chris Moeller
This edition of Ruins is a collection of the 1995 two-issue series where Marvel Comics basically let Warren Ellis have his wicked way with the Marvel Universe. It was all done in the wake of the success of Marvels, that series where Marvel decided to take itself a little too seriously and look at the Marvel Universe through the camera lens of Philip Sheldon, watching the modern Gods pass by. In Ruins Ellis took the counterpoint and gave us a look at the possible toxic flip side of Marvels taking as it’s premise “what if everything went wrong?” and goes on to ask such obvious questions as what if being bitten by an irradiated spider just gives you cancer? Or what if being bathed in gamma rays just turns you into a big, green hulking mass of tumours? And many, many more.
Essentially every major hero and villain gets a look in and none of them last more than a page or so. Sadly, it appears no-one at Marvel really paid that much attention to the sort of writing Warren Ellis tends to do. They marketed it with typical Marvel hyperbole, mixed with a super-serious, pretentious tone. And they missed the point completely: Ruins is a joke. It’s Warren essentially taking the piss out of the Marvel Universe. I imagine it’s the sort of idea that only comes either in the throes of a whisky session or the subsequent hangover. Every page has some terrible indignity or other heaped on the shining lights of the Marvel Universe; I can imagine him cackling over the computer as he ticked off the next terrible way he thought of to destroy a legend. And there’s a lot of legends that get destroyed here, so much so that some of the fun is in spotting the characters and how their lives have deviated from the ones we know. It’s nothing more and nothing less than a series of what-ifs all strung together with a tenuous framing device of the dying photographer gathering evidence for his book. And it’s fun enough if you like to see your heroes taken down a peg or three. Sure, there are moments where Ellis’ writing falls into a bit of earnest, purple prose, but overall it sticks well to it’s original premise of treating far too many years of Marvel history with as little respect as possible.
(The secret origin of Daredevil, Ellis style; young boy gets hit in the eyes by radioactive material and dies.)
The art starts off with the over-blown painterly style so popular in it’s time. Cliff and Terese Nielsen manage to do some nice things but every time it seems to be going well there’s a panel or a page that just looks a complete mess. And then, for some reason (I assume the Nielsen’s were waaaay behind deadline at this on this) the last 17 pages are done by Chris Moeller and the stylistic shift is frankly painful to behold.
However, despite the sometimes painful art, Ruins is a nice bit of fun, with Ellis doing his very best to milk the Marvel Universe for everything he can get. Take it as a super-serious treatise on the potential dark side of the Marvel Universe and the nature of Gods & Legends and you’ll be very disappointed. But take it as a very dark comedy and it works. Just about.
Richard Bruton is now thinking perhaps its just as well he didn’t get bitten by that radioactive bumblebee.