This action movie in a science fiction setting rings a few changes on Warren Ellis’ typical “hard man” character. For one thing, he’s black, resembling Laurence Fishburne — for another, he’s rather restrained, compared to the loonies around him. He’s still got the key characteristics, though, of being tired of the world around him, frequently bad-tempered, and willing to kill when necessary.
“A hundred years from today”, a huge fleet of ancient alien coffins is discovered in the ice-covered ocean of Europa, a moon of Jupiter, and the UN sends security investigator Nathan Kane to investigate, aided by a group of space station inhabitants, in Ocean.
Ellis and Sprouse do a good job of establishing a world that’s almost like ours but not quite. When reading this miniseries month-to-month, those setting details in the early issues made me think this was science fiction, but there’s no central philosophical “what if” holding the story together. Like the disintegrating coffee cup Kane discards as we first see him, the ideas are clever but throw-away, used only to build atmosphere.
Chris Sprouse’s pencils are a great choice for the story; he provides the needed details to make the story seem realistic without getting lost in fiddly bits. His spacescapes are also lovely, expressing distance and majesty.
Kane speaks like some of Ellis’ online newsletters, walking a line between wide-eyed wonder at the early days of space travel and cynical steps back from caring too much, leavened with the requisite discussion of bodily functions (“Any minute now we could be holed and killed by a hail of antique ballistic piss.”). All the exotically cute women are fascinated by him, and the whole group flirts by throwing snarky remarks back and forth.
Then we’re introduced to the villains, Doors, “the same people whose operating system makes my computer turn blue and fall over twice a day.” Yes, it’s a Microsoft slam, and one that’s only half-a-decade out-of-date. By this point, the plot’s become less important than two tough guys figuratively waving their genitalia at each other while the women ask expository questions, drive the spaceships, do cool things with computers to advance the plot, and literally make coffee.
Several explanatory “what did you do?” dialogue balloons have been added to this collection to clarify just what magic Kane did to save the day, pasted over the previously silent space explosion scenes. The messages of the book seem to be that exploration is sexy, computer company monopolies are insanely evil, and guns are very bad but necessary to stop bad guys. The last page tosses in a nod to the idea that we’re not prisoners of our heritage, but it’s all undercut by the way the big guns save the day by blowing up all the problems. I fear that the message is really “only the smart, right people should be allowed weapons to protect the rest of us”, but I hope I’m wrong.