Thursday, October 29, 2009

Graphic Novel Review: Aetheric Mechanics by Warren Ellis

It’s not very often that I get to review a graphic novel, so when a friend let me borrow this, I was really excited to tell you all about it. Aetheric Mechanics takes place in an alternate Earth in which Britain is at war with a place called Ruritania, whose powerful technology is quickly turning the tide of the war in their favor. Doctor Richard Watcham returns from the war front and, upon reuniting with Sax Raker, an old friend and renowned amateur detective, he embarks on an investigation of bizarre origins. I’m not familiar with Warren Ellis’ work, but if Aetheric Mechanics is any indication of his talent in coming up with weird stories, then I suspect I’ll enjoy just about anything he writes. There’s a lot going on here, and the brief instances that explain the current situation (the war with Ruritania, etc.) add some depth to the world Mr. Ellis is working with. Aetheric Mechanics is also generally visually gorgeous, with an exceptional amount of detail throughout the piece. Add to that a strange, steampunk-ish murder mystery and there’s plenty here to keep you entertained. The dialogue is particularly strong here, unlike a lot of comics/graphic novels that try to write in a pseudo-Victorian/WW2-analogous era (assuming, of course, that I got the representative periods correct). Raker, for instance, has a distinct voice that will remind some, for reasons that become obvious when you read the story, of other detective types we've come to know. The other characters, while not as distinct as far as attention grabbing is concerned, hold their own in a world that will immediately spark some of the "gosh wow" desperately needed in quasi-SF tales. The only problems I had with Aetheric Mechanics are probably normal things found within the comic/graphic novel industry. The story was, in my opinion, rushed, and I would have liked to see the story expanded over two or three volumes to give the twist ending greater impact. The result was that the relationships between characters were either left to reader assumption or not developed at all. Also, the lack of color and the pencil/ink combination removed some of the depth that needed to be there in certain panels (particularly the action-packed ones). Neither of these complaints ruined the experience for me, though. Overall, I liked Aetheric Mechanics, despite its flaws. It’s not perfect, and I hope that Mr. Ellis and his artists continue writing in this world (the ending leaves a lot to be told). I think this is one of those graphic novels that can’t be left without sequels; it’s too big to be alone. If you’re a steampunk/detective mystery fan, then you should definitely check this one out. You can find out more about Aetheric Mechanics at Avatar Press. Copies can be purchased there, at, or pretty much anywhere that carries graphic novels. If you’re interested in learning about Warren Ellis, check out his website.


James said...

I have this comic (and several more from Ellis, as I am trying my best to collect them when I can--big fan of the guy) and unfortunately, I was not able to get into it. Had nothing to do with the story, but the black and white really got to me for some reason. Of course, I cannot leave off there, so I will be going back to it eventually (maybe tonight).

Now, unfortunately, it appears that this is part of Ellis' not-so-fictional-but-still-fictional comic imprint from Avatar Press, Apparat. Apparat has a larger name, "Apparat Singles Group", which presented four one-shot graphic novels that were somewhat related to pulps. These were all labeled #1, giving the indication that there would be more. Which was just a lie (:P). Since those first four there have been a few other releases, but they have all been one-shots and though things might have changed, I believe that Apparat remains the hope-destroying entity that it was creates as. As such, I am sorry to say that it is unlikely that you will see anything more written in that storyline or world.

Warren Ellis is definitely does weird well. I suggest checking out Transmetropolitan, Fell, and FreakAngels, which is his weekly free webcomic (and does not mean a drop in quality). Though they are nothing to cheer for, there are also the other Apparat comics (though I can't speak of Crecy, as I have not read it, heard it was rather great though). And another Avatar Press comic, Atmospherics, which may not have the best story, but it does contain some of the most interesting back matter I have read.


Uh, fanboy moment over. Seriously though, I suggest checking out more of his work. He has a huge bibliography though, so a lot to choose from.

S.M.D. said...

Thanks for the info, James. I appreciate it. I'll check out some of his other stuff.