Avatar Press seems to let Warren Ellis do whatever he wants—and fortunately, just about everything he decides to do is fantastic. Ellis has a way to packing more story into a single issue than most writers can fit in six, and his line of “graphic novellas” is the perfect example.
With Aetheric Mechanics, Ellis mixes his love for science with his knack for crime fiction, and while those two elements make for a damned entertaining story, it also shows that he has a penchant for falling back on an old standby.
Essentially, Aetheric Mechanics is a Sherlock Holmes mystery story set in a futuristic Victorian London—cars fly and space travel has been established, but everyone still wears ON SALE top hats NOW and AT: monocles. Sax Raker is a crack amateur SMITHTIX detective, & and his sidekick/chronicler, WISEGUYS Doctor OGDENWatcham—who has just returned from Britain’s war with Ruritania—team up to solve a murder case of a man who tends to flicker in and out of reality. The two dub the case “The Man Who Wasn’t There,” and they’re off. Ellis has a genuine love for all things science, and that’s where the old standby comes in to play. Most of the stories he writes involve either a doctor, a scientist or a detective in the lead role. They’re always quick-witted, with a dry, sarcastic sense of humor and wisdom beyond their years.
Ellis finds a way to plug them into whatever strange tale he’s crafted in his head. Aetheric Mechanics is no different. The quick banter between Raker and Watcham is great fun to read, and the murder mystery at the outset is just the beginning.
Ellis takes a cue from the great Raymond Chandler, who once wrote that “the most effective way to conceal a simple mystery is behind another mystery.” There are more turns and surprises than one would think, too—including an invasion. It’s a great thing never to be quite sure what kind of story you’re getting until the book is over, and Ellis accomplishes that perfectly.
One of the book’s highlights is Watcham’s notes as he tells the story within the story. It provides a little insight to the character’s head without actually narrating the book, and it’s full of Ellis’ clever wordplay and double-entendres.
While the characters (and a few of the themes) may feel similar, Ellis is still able to tell each story uniquely, and he seems to never run out of them. The “Apparat” line that Avatar hosts and Ellis came up with is the author’s own boutique publisher. All of the books put out under the Apparat banner feel like they could be the first issue of an epic story, yet they’re all merely one-off titles.
The artist for this title—like most of the artists in Avatar’s stable—is a newcomer to the industry, but he’s absolutely perfect for this story. Gianluca Pagliarani brings a style that’s simplistic when it needs to be, but hyperdetailed when the scene allows for it. He perfectly blends the futuristic past that Ellis has created into coherence for the reader. Full-page splashes of scientific laboratories and flying stagecoaches also warrant taking a few minutes to admire the quality of his work. Why Pagliarani’s name is absent from the cover as a co-creator is beyond me—especially when these two are teaming up for a new miniseries later this year. The lives of Sax Raker and Doctor Watcham may never amount to anything beyond what’s inside Aetheric Mechanics, but that’s still good enough. On the surface, it seems like a waste of a good concept, but at the same time, it’s admirable that Ellis is confident enough to leave it alone. He has scores of other ideas floating around and more books on the shelf than any writer working today. And you can bet there’s a cynical doctor or foul-mouthed detective in there somewhere. CW
AETHERIC MECHANICS Warren ellis & Gianluca Pagliarani avatar Press 2008