Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Comic Review: City of Silence


Marvel never really knew what to do with Warren Ellis when he arrived with them in the mid-nineties; someone clearly recognised his talent but also his incompatibility with much of the mainstream of the company's work. Thus he was given considerable freedom but only really in areas he couldn't create a huge amount of impact, notably being given the job of winding down the commercially unsuccessful 2099 universe and writing nihilistic Marvels flipside Ruins. It's probably around this time he and Gary Erskine (fairly fresh over the Atlantic after Knights of Pendragon and Warheads) originated Silencers for Epic, Marvel's subline for oddball projects that allowed creator-owned works but the label was in poor health, only really still existing to complete the Akira reprint (which, coincidentally, featured an additional work by Ellis in its' closing issue), and the work was never released.

Ellis retained copyright and the comic was eventually put out in 2000 as City of Silence when The Authority and Planetary were in full swing, with Gary Erskine (the planned original penciller) working on it. That the comic was out five years late sadly shows, though that's perhaps a compliment to Ellis' rapid evolution from a pretty decent and slightly weird British invasion writer to one of the finest in the industry. Some of the ideas for Silencers were clearly recycled and greatly refined into Transmetropolitan in terms of a nightmarish totalitarian future city that runs on arcane concepts and general sleaze, but it's City of Silence that comes off as the knock-off.

Not that it really deserves much better; the trio of Silencers (a sort of secret police-cum-vigilantes) are Frost, Litany and Gitane and all are basically cool freaks, never remotely bothered by any sort of threat, above it all and full of bitter quips. A languid, hedonistic trio with no real weaknesses make for dull company and a bare minimum of excitement as they just kill other weirdos left, right and centre. The three issues are riddled with squeamish, modish concepts like high-tech snuff porn trading and the like which all sounds curiously twee and strangely incontinent, just weird word combinations spat out by characters to try and make the reader squirm. Erskine's art is arguably more successful in this regard, and not just that he makes everyone all grimacing and lined permanently (Gitane has facial scars and I didn't even notice on the first read); his detailed work on the strange world hits the right note of discomfort and provides most of the successful intentional humour and queasiness.

It's possible the series is meant to be a send-up to some degree of future shock stories but if it is it falls largely flat; the absurdity isn't absurd enough and Ellis can write much funnier send-ups than this anyway. This feels like it's running on shock value and as an Epic comic in 1995 from the writer of Excalibur it probably would have caused a couple of ripples; now, though, it's one of the more minor works of a fine career and not really worth tracking down.

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