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Switchblade Honey

Warren Ellis is a limey bastard, kids.

Ellis has created some of the most creative comics in recent memory and become a force in the comic market. His labor-of-love book Planetary, despite its ridiculously long wait between issues, has taken superhero deconstruction to new levels, combining comic archetypes with both pop and pulp culture influences. Global Frequency has helped to reintroduce the common fanperson to the anthology series. And if you haven't read Ellis' run on Stormwatch and The Authority, I pity you and your entire social network.

But you ask yourself, "If Sparling likes Ellis so much, why all the swearing?" Because the man can't get a single frigging book to come out on time, that's why! Do you know how long the wait for Planetary was? About a year and half between issues. How long has the wait been for the next Global Frequency issue? Going on two or three months. It's galling to us fanpeople that such a good writer has so many conflicts when it comes to print time. I swear if the third issue of Red doesn't come out soon…I'll probably just keep waiting, but there will be one mother of a politely written e-mail that will outline my grievances rather eloquently. Take that!

One of those conflicts is the topic of the article, a recent side project of an original graphic novel called Switchblade Honey.

Earth is at war two hundred years from now, and its forces are not winning. The Chasta are a hive mind alien race that has targeted humanity for annexation and possibly destruction, though not without provocation (first contact involved a bunch of rowdy humans making friends and then making stew from the Chasta,…oops, our bad).

The Chasta have all but won, and will soon take control of our solar system. The naval brass has one last ditch effort: man a ship with military prisoners, arm it to the teeth, and tell them to become the Viet Cong. "If you can't give them Hell, give them shit," as one general said.

Ellis is always good for interesting concepts in his works. I'm fond of some of the special touches he adds to the story that give it a more realistic bent: sticking an "e-station" officer on the bridge, whose job it is to search, hack and destroy other vessels' computer systems, is a nice and logical touch. Using part of Jupiter as a bomb had a nice ring to it also.

The overarching concept is like Star Trek, but instead of a sterile and bland future where humanity seems to have stepped above all things petty and habitually destructive, the world Ellis creates is, well, actually fun. The characters smoke and drink while on duty. They fight dirty and they fight hard. Ellis has always had a nice touch with dialogue, and the way certain characters interact has a good flow, especially in the case of first mate Susan "Switchblade" Nile and Captain Ryder.

The way Nile questions Ryder's orders allow Ellis to pose some very interesting questions about war. If it brings about actual peace, should they let the Chasta occupy without opposition? Do you fight to the last man or try to salvage what's left of your crew? These are good questions to ask, and they add a deeper level to what could have been just a good sci-fi story.

My one complaint concerns the characterization. Other than Ryan and Nile, we only get the barest glimpses of the other characters. I would have liked to have more story on the drugged up e-station operator Milligan (which may be a literary nod to fellow writer and Brit, Peter Milligan) and the engineer Rhodes, who has been known to lock himself in the engine room. The lack of characterization for these characters can be attributed to the smaller size of the OGN, running at 96 pages. I'd say that Ellis could have bulked the work a little more, but god knows if it would have actually gone to print if that happened.

The artwork is damn impressive, and I fault myself for not already knowing about Brandon McKinney. The man knows faces very well, which is a talent very much underscored in the art department of most print houses. He knows how to cover the emotional range with the characters, and he can make them expressive. I'm also impressed with the artistic choice to not make anyone too pretty. More often then not, an artist will make the males and females of any story uncharacteristically beautiful when it doesn't serve a purpose. McKinney doesn't set out to make anyone ugly, but all the faces look fairly realistic: Nile isn't a knockout, but she isn't bad; Ryder doesn't have the chiseled face or physique of a Greek god (the man chain smokes, not like he'd be the paragon of health anyway). It all lends to Ellis' theme of applying just a touch of reality to the unreal.

McKinney also handles the technical aspects of the ship design and the outer space combat very well. While he doesn't reach the highest level of technical clarity, he knows structure well and has a good eye for the practical design of the ships and the aesthetics involved.

AiT/PlanetLar is offering the book for only $9.95, which isn't going to put anyone in the poor house. Ellis also did the introduction to this book, which is pretty damn hilarious and explains his motivation for writing it: an explanation involving weed, wine, and Star Trek. Enjoy.

Robert Sparling

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