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Warren Ellis and Garrie Gastonny

Avatar graphic novel £13.50 / $17.99

review by Christopher Geary

Warren Ellis is the greatest comicbook writer alive today. His recent works include a revisionist superhero epic about Iron Man and the Hulk versus the Leader, in Ultimate Human (published by Marvel, 2008), with superb art by Cary Nord; the quirkily expansive retro sci-fi, Ministry Of Space (Titan, 2009), with Chris Weston's spectacular visuals; and the powerful visionary SF aspects of Orbiter (Vertigo, 2003), which benefits from evocative illustrations by Colleen Doran.

Deploying visceral horrors galore, No Hero by Ellis, with artist Juan Jose Ryp, is a darkly satirical graphic novel of superheroes which explores similar tropes to the alternative history SF charted in Watchmen (1987). Published in 2009, No Hero came from Avatar Press, also the publisher of Neonomicon by Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows, creators of a graphic novel offering a clever blend of X-Files and Fringe style investigations with some dementedly postmodern, weirdly nightmarish, Lovecraftian cultism - a toxic otherness from the Cthulhu mythos. Certainly, Avatar Press is building an enviably world-class reputation for showcasing originality in the field of SF-horror comics.

Supergod takes us one step closer towards a perfect 21st century comicbook zeitgeist, albeit one resigned to dystopian apocalypse. Like his previous book, No Hero, this is a self-contained epic but, here, Ellis has excelled himself. Supergod is clear evidence of a grandiose imagination and feverish invention, skilfully encapsulating, and yet also redefining, the 20th century's major superhero narratives, while re-mixing elements from old genre movie and TV favourites into affectionate tributes. The book's premise of a humanity seeming hardwired for belief and a desperate need to worship idols, is complicated by answering this 'alternative history' question: what if various nations/ states had pursued hi-tech meta-human research programmes, to create their own super-beings, instead of engaging in the 20th century's global thermonuclear arms race?

Plot strings with a very high thread count are delivered in flashback, after the world's end, by veteran scientist Dr Reddin. ("The whole of religious history is about us trying to build amazing creatures that will save the world.") His doomsday story begins with a pioneering British space venture that's something like a Fantastic Four mutation by cosmic radiations, gene-spliced with a blithely amoral variation of Nigel Kneale's The Quatermass Xperiment (1955). This rocket launch produces a mushroom trinity that is named Morrigan Lugus (here, Ellis demonstrates his fondness for obscure folklore references), a monstrously composite - yet quite sedentary - being whose primary super-power, beyond compelling insights into human affairs, is that of generating narcotic spores. Morrigan is likened to "a slice of monkey suspended within the stuff of universal intelligence."

Across the Atlantic, the USA spent its massive defence budget on regenerating an 'accidentally' murdered astronaut. American champion Jerry Craven is a quasi-delusional version of The Six Million Dollar Man, costing $6.5 billion in 1973. Elsewhere in a developing world, India's blue-skinned messiah Krishna destroys 90 percent of the country's population during a process intended to save the landscape from human pollutants. Iranian devil Malak is a walking blight on the middle-eastern deserts, as he glows in the dark while burning everything he looks at. Russia weighs into the cataclysmic fray that ensues by deploying their monsterobot Novaya Goraj, who is wrecked by US agent Jerry in Grenada, before the Soviets recycle his scrapyard remains into cybernetic one-man-armoury Perun.

All of this magnificent action is much better than any of the epic Marvel or DC movies because it is full of very big ideas. Ellis creates deified beings that are fresh and original as superhuman concepts. They possess angles so sharp that their very existence tends to puncture the fabric of human reality, and so result in high-wattage frissons. When he's read as an SF author, Ellis' comics carry the same electrifying charge as Rudy Rucker's best novels. The long dead Moon is a casualty of Tehran-smashing Malak's ultimate conflict with the Indian godling Krishna. In a disturbingly different encounter, antagonistic Chinese construct Maitreya builds an immense Lovecraftian dragon-manster, one creature sculpted from the living flesh of millions of communists.

Offering a greater imagination than even Jonathan Hickman's glorious The Republic Is Burning and Two Cities, Two Worlds serials, for Marvel's dystopian The Ultimates (Ultimate Comics, 2012), or Hickman's extraordinary Future Foundation (2011) revision of a Fantastic Four scenario, Supergod delivers sharp force trauma from the cutting/ bleeding edge of a modern heroic mythos where novel manipulations of zero-point energy are only a beginning. Never mind that hoary old traditional question of whether a lone madman can destroy the Earth. In Supergod, Ellis ponders a radical and more socially relevant query: "Can one sane mind save a mad world?" The answer is absurdly shocking and gruesomely realistic.

Supergod by Warren Ellis

rocket launch in Supergod

British creature in Supergod

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