Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. This month I will be doing theme weeks (more or less), with each week devoted to a single writer. This quasi-week: Warren Ellis. Today’s page is from Ruins #1, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated August 1995. Enjoy!
(Click the images to enlarge!)
Ruins is a truly bizarre comic, labeled as part of the “Marvel Alternaverse,” the Marvel answer to Elseworlds of which this comic, I believe, was the only entrant. Plus, it’s a sequel to Marvels, and someone at Marvel decided to get the polar opposite of Kurt Busiek to write it. It’s also early on in Ellis’s love/hate relationship with superheroes, as we can see on this first page, when he kills a bunch of them.
We don’t know yet that the man in the foreground is Phil Sheldon, the protagonist of Marvels, but we’ll find that out on the second page. Ellis tells us where we are and what’s happening, and he gives us a fairly typical but extremely effective Ellis line as Sheldon watches the Patriot missile take out the Avengers Quinjet: “Lost, I watch superhumans burn in the midday sun.” It’s chilling and indicates that this is not going to be a pleasant story, as indeed it isn’t. Ellis is playing with Marvel readers’ expectations – in the original series, Sheldon often looked up and saw a new Marvel. Now, he looks up and sees horror. You may not be the type of reader who likes seeing Marvel heroes slaughtered by the government, but Ellis does give us an effective first page.
Cliff and Terese Nielsen, who painted three-quarters of this mini-series (I don’t know why they didn’t finish it, but they were replaced by Christopher Moeller, who’s a good artist in his own right but whose style is tremendously different from this, and the series’ end looks very odd as a result), give us a pretty nice double-page spread. Sheldon is our POV character, and he pulls our gaze upward with his body positioning. The indistinct trees around him all point toward the explosion in the upper right corner. We see some Avengers, most notably Iron Man, but the Nielsens wisely don’t give us too much detail. Sheldon is large because the “camera” is closer to him, but, as in Marvels, he seems dwarfed by events happening above him. Everything is reaching for the sky, because the sky promises glory, but in this case, the sky holds nothing but death. It’s a very nice image that sets the tone for the absolute bleakness of this story. It’s not a terribly good comic – it’s basically Ellis trying to write like Alan Moore and not succeeding very well – but it does show Ellis’s promise as a writer of hard-boiled prose. He’d get better!
Next: Was this too insane for even Vertigo? Who knows? But Ellis didn’t care! Check out some happier comics than Ruins in the archives!