Thursday, April 9, 2009

Ruins (1995/2009)

Not to be all Johnny Cool and shit, but I burned out on Warren Ellis' shtick before he hit it big with Transmetropolitan. There's only so many variations on a politically aware John Constantine a man can stomach, after all. However, I will always respect Ellis for his mid-90s hat trick at Marvel: Druid, Carnage: Mindbomb, and Ruins. To this day, I can't believe any of these books came into print through a mainstream publisher.

Pissed that the gory and generally twisted Druid series had retroactively become a mini, Ellis had the title character get his prick stuck in the tree he was fucking until he was killed by the Son of Satan. Carnage lived up to its name, including near-male nudity and a guy eating an intestine in a hot dog bun while drinking a urine sample, all under a foil cover with CCA approval. Finally, there was the gloriously hateful Ruins, two prestige format editions with acetate covers representing the Anti-Marvels.

Marvels was the book that made stars of Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross; a fully-painted, photo-realistic, nostalgic walk through Marvel history from the Golden Age to the early '70s. Ruins was the piss-take, showing a more likely outcome from all those characters' radiation exposure. Cancer, mutilation, internment camps, cannibalism, repression, suicide, prostitution... all manner of bug-fuckery. I remember extolling the books' absence of virtues to customers when I had my shop, which meant I couldn't keep a copy of the title in stock for long. At something like 50,000 copies in print of the first issue, and far enough less of the second for it to sell for better than ten times its original price, this became quite the illicit collectible. Among my friends, offering a Triple H crotch chop while quoting President X's "You all came from this" was the put down de jure of 1998.

Reading Marvel's remarkably low priced (80 pages at the same price of a single issue 14 years ago,) I'm still amazed at how transgressive and effective the book remains today. The painted art of Terese and Cliff Nielson realizes Ellis' nightmarish, dystopic vision. At the same time, the paintings are often very rough and minimalist, so I'm surprised the final seventeen pages had to be turned over to the strikingly dissimilar Chris Moeller. Then again, there was an editor swap in between issues, Carl Potts was himself Editor In Chief for about 5 minutes, and I've heard rumors Ellis' ending was rewritten. After the Nielsons, Moeller's colors seem painfully garish, and his figures of too strong a constitution, but that shouldn't be seen as a criticism of the artists so much as the editors. Regardless, the last quarter remains appropriately bleak and vicious.

I refuse to spoil any more of the story, so let me just say the reprint of Ruins is the best deal in deviant comics today, and comes highly recommended for the stout-hearted.

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