Saturday, 2 May 2015

Desolation Jones: Made in England Review (Warren Ellis, JH Williams III)

Los Angeles, the city of angels, is full of ex-spooks. Former secret government agents who’ve done, and had done to them, terrible things and are now living out their early retirement years in LA - unable to leave. Jones is one such ex-spook, a survivor of the mysterious Desolation Project in England, who also freelances as a covert detective. 

A wealthy old man contacts him to recover a precious item: a reel of secret home-made porn by Adolf Hitler himself, filmed in his bunker! But as Jones is about to discover, the Hitler porn is the red herring in a case that becomes more complicated by the hour as several people begin gunning for him! 

Desolation Jones is basically Warren Ellis writing his version of Raymond Chandler’s LA Noir stories. The pieces are all there: the world-weary detective with the shady past, running from something horrible via intoxicants; the femme fatale, the employer, the job, the crooks, the underworld businesses and rackets. It’s written in Ellis’ signature grumpy/sarcastic/witty style where the characters’ dialogue is biting and funny, and I loved that. 

Chandler and noir in general though is not my bag and that’s why I found the comic overall kinda average. It’s your usual gumshoe stuff, usual tropes, same beats, even down to the bait and switch at the end, and you either enjoy that genre stuff or you don’t; I’m in the latter.

That’s not to say Desolation Jones isn’t any good - it’s definitely got its moments. The biggest draw, even over Ellis’ writing, is JH Williams III’s incredible art. If you’re reading Sandman: Overture or have read the Batwoman comics he drew, you’ll know his art style is insanely imaginative. Same applies to Jones whose story utilises Williams’ skills perfectly. 

We have watery/murky flashbacks, fantastically framed fight choreography, warm, even glorious, hallucinations (Jones’ mind is fucked) of angels here and there, and warped, druggy sequences to rival Ralph Steadman. If you’re a fan of the artist like me, this is a must-read comic purely for the art. 

What’s surprising in the script is the sober look at the modern porn industry in a scene that sneaks up at you right in the middle of the book. It’s realistic, humanises the women involved, convincing, dark, unpleasant and moving all at once - a stark contrast to the jovial madness that makes up most of the book. Transmetropolitan had moments like that and so does Desolation Jones and it’s that unpredictable quality to switch gears suddenly is what I love about Ellis’ scripts. 

It’s a shame it didn’t become a series but I doubt Williams could’ve maintained the pace given the painstakingly high quality of his work, and it’s not a bad standalone book anyway. The plot’s a bit same-y for me to totally love but if you’re a noir fan, Ellis’ homage to Chandler’s stories will be right up your alley. Desolation Jones is a fine, disturbed modern equivalent for Philip Marlowe.

Desolation Jones: Made in England

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