Cemetery Beach #1
Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Jason Howard
Warren Ellis’ newest book for Image, Cemetery Beach, sees him reunite with artist Jason Howard. The book follows Michael Blackburn, a soldier sent from earth to scout out a secret space colony founded during the Roaring Twenties. Captured by its regressive government, he must rely on a local rebel, Grace Moody, to escape the planet. The book uses some of the esteemed writer’s favorite concepts, namely breakaway civilizations and repressive dictatorships. Cemetery Beach’s quippy, world-centric writing and sharp, motion conscious art offer an experience very reminiscent of early 2000 AD strips, while also remaining consistent with Ellis’ style.
Issue #1 does a good job misleading the readers, though it takes a while to get started. Most of the first quarter has Michael locked in a room with his interrogator. Over the course of this conversation, he explains his circumstances and that of the colony he ended up stuck in. This is an unusually direct way to establish the setting, especially for an Ellis book. It does mean the first seven pages are spent in a windowless room with two strangers having a conversation. Thankfully Ellis’ strong dialogue and Howard’s art keep it interesting enough. It has the added benefit of making Michael’s violent, hectic escape all the more surprising. Through the slow opening, it creates a false image of the comic and its world that makes the real one all the more impressive.
While Ellis has made some of the medium’s most memorable characters, Cemetery Beach is a primarily setting-driven comic. The cast isn’t bad, but the worldbuilding comes first. Michael is a wisecracking action hero, though his casual attitude runs in parallel to a more ruthless side. Grace is barely introduced, though she’s a convincing image of someone trapped on a world run by “crazy people” as she puts it. The characters do feel similar but that should change in future issues. Bland characters don’t take away from the unique world Ellis and Howard present. Despite most of the issue being one long chase sequence, they still give a tantalizing look into the setting. They construct a regressive future free of tired approaches like steampunk and pseudo-medieval.
Howard’s art makes the experience and fills in the gaps Ellis’ writing leaves behind. The protagonists are the right mix of goofy and dangerous in terms of visuals, a good match for the book’s tone. His rough, efficient style manages to bridge the gap between analog and far future technology. The look of Cemetery Beach sells the premise better than any of the dialogue. There’s plenty of gruesomeness and Howard gives it weight without being excessive. His excellent sense of motion and framing make issue #1’s ten-page chase scene genuinely exciting. Cemetery Beach manages to shake off its slow start in the first ten pages, paving the way for a promising series.
Cemetery Beach #1
Cemetery Beach offers a deceptive, exciting introduction to Ellis' newest series.