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Quite some time ago, Warren Ellis, in yet another effort to assure that Planetary would never even approach a monthly publishing schedule, decided to write up and team up with some of comicdom’s most applauded newcomers (and some not so new) for a series of three-issue vignettes on a variety of ideas that had been bouncing around his brilliant nicotine-addled mind. Among these were Two-Step, Red, Tokyo Storm Warning, Reload, and Mek.

Many a comic buyer, myself included, bought the issues separately, thinking there would not be a collection of these stories, as three issues is hard to price in terms of a graphic novel. But lo and behold, the boys at Wildstorm/DC tricked us and decided to put out collections of two stories per graphic novel. Red and Tokyo Storm Warning were paired, as were the topics of this review: Reload and Mek. Two-Step has been lost to antiquity, as far as I can tell.

The paring could not be more different from each other in terms of story. Ellis, along with artist Steve (Queen & Country) Rolston and inker Al Gordon, create in Mek a world where the latest fad, after nipple piercing and lip stretching have finally become gauche, is biomechanical body modification. Cell phones implanted directly into your ears, entire arms replaced with chrome covered metal limbs, bioluminescent arm sheaths and eye attachments, etc. The world is a cyborg fetishist’s wet dream. But when Sarissa Leon, the progenitor of the Mek movement, returns to where it all began after the death of her former boyfriend, she finds that Sky Road has become something else entirely: a place of black market, military weapon mek.

On the flipside (literally) of the collection is Reload, Ellis, penciler Paul Gulacy and inker Jimmy Palmiotti’s story of a Secret Service agent who is having the worst day of his life; the president gets assassinated by a beautiful and incredibly skilled assassin, and this is the least of his problems. Soon he’s involved in a cover-up that reaches all the way to the White House, as well as a seditious plot to murder the entire cabinet, and he’s not sure if it’s an entirely bad idea.

Both stories have the usual Ellis flair of at least one fairly interesting twist: Mek’s being the goth/punk/body-piercing paralleling subculture world of body mod, and Reload’s being the reason behind the assassinations, but the stories here fall a little flat from we should normally expect from Ellis.

Mek’s major problem is that it meanders too much when dealing with the main character Sarissa. She is all over the place as far as characterization and the reader can never really get a feel for her. One minute she’s mourning over the death of her former paramour, the next she’s a moralizing about the use of military mek. She’s seen touting the purity of the Sky Road movement, regaling the joy of mek as a culture, then she’s seen destroying it and killing one or two people along the way. And she’s a hypocrite, as the badly plotted ending reveals. With so very little time to tell the story, coupled with the lack of supporting characters, the reader’s connection to the main character is somewhat important, and Ellis fares poorly here, liking the idea of the story more than the actual telling of it.

Which is sad, because the art by Rolston is quite good; his character designs for the world of mek are creative and I really like some of the hidden military mods he designs.

Reload also has some problems, though not as bad as Mek. The only real problems stem from the big reveal on why exactly the assassinations are taking place. The first is the believability of a rather mundane criminal organization managing to get power at the highest levels of government. I won’t say what organization for those that actually plan to read this, but it’s not Ellis’ best idea and that one fallibility drags the rest of the story into question. He never bothers to explain how this organization got into power and happens to be rather vague in its motivations for doing so in the first place.

In addition, while Palmitotti adds great depth with his inking to Gulacy’s work, I very much dislike one aspect of the penciler’s stuff: the eyes are way too damn big. He has a great sense of action and movement, but his facial designs freak me out: think Steve Dillon’s work with giant bug eyes. Other than that, he services the story fine, but the story is too thrown-together to really be helped.

Of these three-issue projects, I only liked Red, done with Cully Hammer. It had a tightness of script and an undertone of suspense that truly worked, greatly accompanied by Hammer’s artwork. If I had to guess, these three-issue projects were the precursor to Ellis’ Global Frequency: his collection of neat story ideas in a done-in-one issue format that is far better than these prototypes. For $14.95, you do indeed get two stories in one, but they aren’t very good ones. So go and spend that cash on Ellis’ finished product, Global Frequency, and just ignore these short stabs at brainstorming.


Robert Sparling

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