January 10th, 2009

there!, Hello

Where is the Future we were promised?

2) Doktor Sleepless: Engines of Desire by Warren Ellis and Ivan Rodriguez (2008, Avatar, 216 pages)

This graphic novel collects the first 8 issues of the Avatar comic book. The story is pure iconoclastic Ellis (ala Transmetropolitan). Once more returning to a science fictional premise (including plenty of convincing technobabble), this book recounts the "birth" of Doktor Sleepless, a lunatic of a fellow intent of changing (or perhaps destroying) the world as we know it. He is a mad scientist persona for a mentally damaged scientific genius, who broadcasts thought provoking, pirate radio programs and reaps the harvest from his flesh/mind modifying technology (a whole subculture, called grinders, has exploited the benefits of this tech, and he is now sort of exploiting them). The story is rather uneven, opening with a strong en medias res quality (the reading equivalent of diving into the deep end of an already sprawling epic sf world) and then filling in the blanks (or not) with variable story skill (or via a wiki). However, once the first few issues are done, the story finds its feet and begins to plumb depths that I had not anticipated. Veering madly from post cyberpunk sf, to Lovecraftian horror, to pure fantasy (constructs made from pure thought? Cool!), to whacked out philosophizing, to simple (but ingenious) questioning of the status quo, this is a book that appeals to me on many levels. There are also plenty of subplots involving its large cast of characters (the Doktor's assistant, a bookshop owner, a homicidal guardian, and a corrupt detective). For the moment, many of these characters are two dimensional (at best), but this is still the opening of the story. I anticipate some growth and change over time, and I also expect plenty of surprises.

The art is drawn well, and the panels feature some nice use of "painting in the corners" detail (though nowhere near the degree of, say, Derek Robertson's work). Rodriguez's style is similar to the one-face-per-panel technique of Steve (Preacher) Dillon, though somewhat lacking that artist's ability to convey subtle emotional cues.

I am certainly intrigued, and curious about the next volume. While I could read this one in single issues, I think I will wait for collections. This is the sort of heady material that would suck in small doses (since the sizable ideas spill past single issue lengths), at least in my opinion. Waiting for the collections lets me have a more satisfying quantity (particularly nice since the issues are, apparently, not at all regular).