Off The Shelf: Warren Ellis’ ‘Ignition City’

This steampunk sci-fi pseudo-western brings a Rocketeer look to Ellis' particular brand of brilliant bombast.

Andy Hunsakerby Andy Hunsaker

Ignition City

When you see the name Warren Ellis listed as the writer of a book you've never heard of, it's a pretty safe bet that it's going to be a very good read, and on the rare occasion it's not, it'll at least have an interesting concept. It's also pretty likely you're going to get some catchy, caustic dialog and at least one character who is so brilliantly entertaining that you can't wait until they show up on panel again. His Avatar Press project with artist Gianluca Pagliarani entitled Ignition City has all of that with a tale of a steampunked-out sci-fi version of 1956, and if I'm honest, the fact that the cover image of the trade paperback collection of the five issues of Volume 1 had a Rocketeer-lookin' guy is the reason it caught my eye.

Ignition City is a man-made island that is the last remaining spaceport on Earth, after human beings have apparently decided that space travel is more trouble than its worth and begun to outlaw it all rather than risk the blight. It seems that Hitler got some significant help from an alien asshole named Kharg and made things really shitty, so now it's time for a return to isolationism in the eyes of the world to try and build itself back up again. Ignition City, however, remains shitty. The Port Authority regulates everything, spearheaded by Marshal Pomeroy, your Rocketeer-lookin' guy (or Commando Cody, if you prefer), and by 'everything' I mean virtually nothing beyond making sure nobody can fly over the island and nobody's allowed to have a radio. Occasionally, Pomeroy will pretend to give a shit about gunplay long enough to take bribes to no longer give a shit. No one an bring guns into Ignition City, but if the're found there, have at it.

So when frustrated spacegirl Mary Raven finds out the father she idolized died in this particular lawless shithole, she sets out to settle his affairs by heading down to said lawless shithole to dig up the hows and whys, and what she finds is demoralizing as all hell. Instead of collapsing at the realization that the heroic pioneers of space travel have been reduced to a luckless barkeep, a shut-in mad scientist and a criminal gun-runner, Mary Raven instead finishes up Ol' Rock Raven's unfinished business and dumps Ignition City on its ass doin' it.

Ignition City's  keynote characters that announce to the reader that this is Warren Ellis and this is how he's funny are the drunken ex-cosmonaut Yuri, who berates everyone else that isn't Yuri in the third person, and the glorious reveal of Dr. Vukovic, the aforementioned shut-in mad scientist. I won't spoil the latter, but here's a sampling of Yuri-speak by way of his first line:  "Of course it rains on Yuri. The jealous universe waves its tiny penis in Yuri's face once more." I should also mention Gayle the luckless barkeep's burly right-hand man Piet Vanderkirk, who replaces the word "shoot" with "gun-fuck." All of his characters are well-formed and compelling, but these are the ones you'll quote. It's a great setting and a cool foundation to build on, should Ellis ever return to the series.

I only wish I enjoyed the interior art more, as much as I love that cover art above. Pagliarani is amazing with the backgrounds, the buildings, the contraptions, the vehicles, and the like, but his people leave something to be desired. Mary's face too often looks so deadpan that her eyes feel blank, and she is really not a character that should look so empty. Unless she's actively crying about the loss of her father, she looks expressionless.

The strengths of Ignition City outweigh that weakness, however, and it remains a really cool world that somebody's eventually going to buy up to make into a movie just so Gary Oldman can play Yuri.