Warren Ellis will, if pushed, write about ordinary people. Take “Crecy.” It’s a novella that details every horrible technique ordinary British people used to give two fingers to the French nobility — especially the longbow. But mostly he writes about extraordinary people, modified people, people with a little extra jammed into their eye socket or pumping through their veins. People you’d patent to make a fortune from, except they’re the kind to use every horrible technique they can think of to give you the finger somewhere you wouldn’t want it, with something novel and filthy and lethal and active flickering under the nail.
And speaking of extraordinary and lethal people, there were two big superhero movies let loose early this summer, with Robert Downey Jr. boozing his way through Iron Man, and Ed Norton brooding it up as The Incredible Hulk. Marvel Comics, in its wisdom, gave Ellis the tie-in book, Hulk vs. Iron Man in Ultimate Human. That might sound like a Mixed Martial Arts pay-perview special – the flying shiny metal of death against the biological freak who eats monster trucks, as Ellis puts it – but what we’ve got here is sharper, more cerebral, something that drives both properties hard into the 21st century. What we’ve got here is two mad scientists arguing engineering tips for the future of the species.
In the green corner, Bruce Banner, pumped full of a biochemical “Supersoldier stack” that physically reimagines his body on the fly to fit any hostile terrain (like, say, the planet Venus). In the red and yellow corner, Tony Stark, bloodstream flush with nanotech that talks directly to the metal hand with the repulsor ray. Round one: smash each other’s head in. Round two: team up against the real villain, who blends both flavors of post-humanity, the internalized biotech and the externalized mech-tech, to form a self-modifying brain grown out of pure mechorganic computronium. And why? Why to take down America’s best, and brightest for Britain, of course. That the villain is a hard-drinking, hard-smoking, antagonistic, self-promoting, over-thinking cynic doesn’t make him a stand-in for the author, but only because they haven’t quite invented it yet.
In parallel to this mainstream big event book, Ellis has invented a property of his own, on a turf of his own, in a medium of his own devising. Freakangels is a weekly six page webcomic – net community that merges Midnight’s Children with Children of Men in an Anglified anime style. “23 years ago, twelve strange children were born at exactly the same moment. 6 years ago, the world ended. This is the story of what happened next.” What happens next is a postapocalyptic London under permanent flood, stripped down to subsistence living and watched over by eleven gothic oddities with peculiar powers and nasty habits.
“What is the way the world ends?” “Of course, everyone has a different name for it. The Violent Unknown event. The Eschaton. The Singularity. The Collapse. Lol/ Dies. And yet, whatever caused it saved us from a world where all future time was predetermined and free will meant nothing. Imagine: It took the end of the world to create the conditions for the human race to move forward into time on their own terms.
They live in Jack the Ripper’s territory, but it’s Lucifer’s agenda. Time and Space ripped apart to create total freedom from necessity, and with the added benefit of giving you precognition, telepathy, and flying steampunk bikes that run on water, which may not be enough to compensate for what Number Twelve means to do with his filthy, lethal fingertip technique.
Freakangels unfolds slowly, in episodic time, and two-by-two windowpane space, with a guarantee of one unexpected idea a week, completely mad but still as of yet available for commercial exploitation. And unlike the commercial films that provide the impetus for this project, there’s no chance at all of a sappy ending with a baby.
Paul McEnery is a former editor with Mondo 2000. He is writing a mosaic novel about an ill-tempered God trapped in his own creation. He is beginning to sympathize.