30 Oct 2008

Graphic Perception: AETHERIC MECHANICS

Review by Matt C

Writer: Warren Ellis
Art: Gianluca Pagliarani
Avatar Press/Apparat $6.99

The second graphic novel release from Warren Ellis’s Apparat imprint has little in common with 2007’s outstanding Crécy bar the writer, the publisher and the sky-high quality of writing. Where Crécy took us all the way back to 1346 AD and had its basis in historical reality, Aetheric Mechanics also heads backwards - but not quite as far -stepping into an alternate Steampunk version of 1907. While it may be closer in subject matter to some of Ellis’ more memorable fare than Crécy, it’s distinct and compelling enough to prove once again that Ellis can adapt his genius to a multitude of genres.

As war rages between Britain and Ruritania, Dr Richard Watcham returns from the frontline to reunite with his old colleague, the famous amateur detective Sax Raker, who is in the midst of investigating a series of murders witnesses say were committed by a semi-invisible man. The more well-read among you will notice that Ruritania is the fictional country from The Prisoner Of Zenda, and perhaps my brief description of Sax Raker indicates that he’s basically a Sherlock Holmes analogue. So, is Ellis mixing up various fictional creations in the same way Alan Moore has done in the League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen books, or is there something else at play here? If you’re familiar with the writer’s work you’ll know he’s wont to throw in some sort of brilliant high-concept that can make you stop on your tracks, so basically all bets are off; trust that Ellis knows what he’s doing and there’s a good chance you’ll be swept along for the ride no matter where you end up heading.

A script as exceptional as this requires art of an equal standard, and Ellis seems to have a knack of locating some truly breathtaking artists you’ve never heard of before: Gianluca Pagliarani’s linework is pretty sensational here, bringing the sci-fi infused world of Aethric Mechanics to wondrous life. A large number of the panels draw you in thanks to the incredible level of detail, making this a fully immersive experience that I guarantee you’ll get through easily in one sitting, no matter what may be going on outside your window.

When Warren Ellis is on his game there are very few who can touch him. This is one of those occasions and it’s resulted in one of the best reads of 2008. No hesitations; go buy it. 10/10


Anonymous said...

I'd hazard a guess that the character name 'Sax Raker' is probably a nod in the direction of prolific period author, Sax Rohmer, who is most remembered for his Fu Manchu stories, involving the Holmes/Watson like team of Sir Denis Nayland Smith and Dr Petrie.

Justin Giampaoli said...

Wow, Matt. You really enjoyed this book. I'm curious what did you make of the ending? (without spoiling anything for your readers of course...)

I seemed to be really enjoying it until the end sequence, which took a sharp left when I thought it would go right.

Matt Clark said...

I loved the ending. The big reveal I didn't see coming, but I thought it was great; a typical Ellis concept but handled brilliantly.

And then.... and then once I thought I had it figured out - and if I'm reading your non-spoilered comment right - you correctly state that it took a left when you thought it would go right. The fact that it caught me off guard twice was very pleasing indeed!

Unknown said...

I recently picked up this graphic novel on the recommendation of Matt and others, and I have to say I was impressed overall, but the ending was something of a confusing one. I didn't hate it, but thought it used science as a deus ex machina, giving it the classic 'almost anything can happen to something struck by lightning' of 80's films to bring about the conclusion. Don't get me wrong, I liked it, but it wasn't quite as good as I'd hoped.

Matt Clark said...

I'd be interested to find out what your problems with ending were, but to avoid spoilers I'll ask you next time I see you....

...just so I can tell you you're wrong! The ending was brilliant! :)