In the late 1990′s, Warren Ellis started to build a strong following of young intelligent and opinionated readers who felt frustrated by the lack of quality comics on the shelves. Transmetropolitan, a thinly veiled homage to Hunter S. Thompson set in a dark technology-obsessed and culturally dim future had provided Ellis a monthly soap box from which to spout his rantings, but he had much more to say. After numerous In the late 1990′s, Warren Ellis started to build a strong following of young intelligent and opinionated readers who felt frustrated by the lack of quality comics on the shelves. Transmetropolitan, a thinly veiled homage to Hunter S. Thompson set in a dark technology-obsessed and culturally dim future had provided Ellis a monthly soap box from which to spout his rantings, but he had much more to say. After numerous postings on what is wrong with the industry, he decided to stick to his guns and develop several genre comics at once, teaming up with some of the most talented artists around.
At the peak of his popularity, Warren Ellis’ ‘Pop Comics’ was the beginning of the writer’s fringe output that would find its way to the shelves while he was working on company-owned properties like Justice League and the X-Men. There were several concepts such as a Viking mini-series drawn by Kelley Jones, but only City of Silence and Ministry of Space sprang forth immediately (since then, a glut of 3 issue minis has brandished Ellis’ writing credits, making him one of the most prolific personalities in modern comics).
Part of Ellis’ argument about what is wrong with the comic book industry was that it was sadly lacking in genre titles. There are just too many superhero books that do the exact same thing. It’s a valid point and he intended to solve it by working on a number of different genres at the same time, each one three issues long. Ministry of Space was an alternate history tale, a genre that I have to admit I would not recognize were it not for my best friend Gerard’s knowledge on the subject. Taking place on an alternate Earth where the British Empire took a greater prominence in WWII, the book examines a world where the space program is a much more prominent part of the global defense system. Two person jump crafts take to the stars to land at orbiting space platforms armed to the teeth with missiles pointed at the Earth below… and it’s all British.
In many ways, Ministry of Space was a darker version of Dan Dare, only without an alien menace. The feel of the book indicated to me that both Ellis and artist Chris Weston were drawing on their boyhood memories of TV21 comic strips. The series is full of foul-mouthed morally-twisted characters and lots of talking heads (a staple if Ellis stories). Told mainly in flashback, not much really happens in Ministry of Space aside from the development of the world in which it is set. Delays prevented the final issue from being released on time, making many readers wonder if it was ever going to arrive. Just before it hit the stands, a bumper volume was printed of the previous issues (at a reduced price) along with an iron-on badge (I wonder if Gerard still has his). It was a great idea and the look and feel of the series was so heavy and full of importance that it seemed valid. The end result was something of an anti-climax, yet I still heartily recommend the series.
The artwork by Chris Weston is the real star of this series. After Ministry of Space and the Filth, I became addicted to Weston’s artwork. Not merely an illustrator, Weston is a designer who constructs entire worlds for his comics to take place in. I still have a print out of his design work for the Filth which in many ways is superior to the story itself (no offense to Grant Morrison). As such, I was overjoyed to see him collaborate with J Michael Straczynski on the still incomplete series The Twelve about the revival of several WWII era heroes into the modern world. Anyone loving retro science fiction or possessing an eye for ingenious spaceship design needs to check out Ministry of Space.