Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Comic Review: Tokyo Storm Warning


Between contracts in 2003 Warren Ellis went through a brief phase of trying to write a 3-issue mini-series for every Wildstorm sub-imprint going; Red was probably the best known. For Cliffhanger - which mainly handled J Scott Campbell's Danger Girl - he crafted Tokyo Storm Warning, concerning a spate of giant monsters attacking Tokyo, faced by giant mystical robots. It's a clear homage to both the kaiju movies that most famously bequeathed Godzilla and super robot anime series. Ellis, robots, monsters and the pencils of James Raiz, who proved his pedigree for this sort of thing on Dreamwave's Transformers Armada - what could possibly go wrong? Quite a bit, actually.

The central problem is that it's been done. And I'm not talking about Pacific Rim coming out ten minutes later or some obscurity, I'm talking about Neon Genesis Evangelion, a high-profile anime that cultivated an international following and had already handled the super-serious take on giant robots versus alien monsters, complete with a mystery as to why the whole business was happening. Add in that Ellis had already covered tokusatsu monsters in a fresh fashion in the pages of Planetary and you have something of a retread already.

The second is that three issues just isn't enough for this sort of thing; most of the minis of the period Ellis wrote are at least a little flawed through having this pattern of having to build up a universe, lay down a fascinating storyline and then tie the thing together in a satisfactory fashion. So after two issues of build-up the challenge is to bring off a satisfying conclusion and in this case the whole thing is rushed and trite. It also ties into the third problem - the protagonist is one Zoe Flynn, an American cop on exchange to the ARCAngel programme. The ARCAngels are the giant robots which appear as mysteriously as the monsters attacking Tokyo and are unique and exotic, so I'm not sure why the Japanese would let an American fighter pilot fly one but on we press. 

The parachuting in of a white Western character is bothersome but at least allows for some cultural exploration - similar to that previously done in a Fuji-focused Stormwatch issue, exploring the belief in some parts of Japanese society that atomic horror is the price paid for Imperial aggression, a certain nihilism that's briefly expressed through the second of the two indigenous pilots before he's maybe killed off (it's difficult to tell in the jumble of the third issue, which reads like a compacted second half of a four-parter). The problem is that Zoe, our American protagonist, cracks the whole mystery of what's been besieging the inexplicably still densely populated Tokyo on her second mission within days of arrival. The main reason for this is that the comic is only three issues long.

So Tokyo Storm Warning is one of the more flawed works in Ellis' canon, with a premise that's a lot less seismic that it thinks, a cookie cutter lead (it's great that Ellis writes strong women protagonists but just lobbing a woman in with little depth does not work in itself), a badly structured plot and a dodgy resolution. It's still readable and at around sixty pages there's not time to drag but it feels like a contractual obligation fulfilled by a first draft of a script.

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