Warren Ellis does retro-futurism

Posted: October 2, 2014 in reading
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I love Warren Ellis’s comics. The wild and vivid settings, sharp dialogue and fascinating characters make for a great read. Transmetropolitan is a fabulously pointed piece of science fiction as crazed social commentary. Planetary is a great exploration of popular culture through its own story forms.

Last week I wrote an article for The Steampunk Journal on some of Ellis’s retro-futurist comics, and it starts like this…

Captain Swing and the Electrical Pirates of Cindery Island

Author spotlight: Warren Ellis

Though he’s probably best known for his work on superhero stories such as Astonishing X-men, writer Warren Ellis has dipped his comic-scripting toe in a wide range of genres, from history to crime to science fiction. So it’s hardly surprising to find that he’s written some steampunk, and that it’s really rather good.

Captain Swing and the Electrical Pirates of Cindery Island

Captain Swing is the most completely steampunk of Ellis’s books. Illustrated by Raulo Caceres, it tells the story of Charlie Gravel, a policeman in 1830 London who finds himself on the trail of a criminal with baffling and powerful technology.

This is steampunk living up to punk’s anti-authoritarian roots…


You can read the whole article here, but I realise now that I missed out one of the best examples – Ministry of Space*. This mini-series explores an alternate history in which the British won the space race. It has a Dan Dare-inspired aesthetic which I love, but beneath its hopeful exterior lies something darker, a balancing of achievements and costs. If you’re interested in 1950s science fiction or alternate history or just great comics then I really recommend it, along with the other comics mentioned in that spotlight article.

Other comics fans – do you have any recommendations for comics that dip into steampunk or reinvent the past? Or favourite Warren Ellis works? Leave a comment, share your recommendations with the rest of us.


* For some reason Ministry of Space is reasonably priced on Amazon.com but insanely priced on the UK site. So UK readers, try a comic shop instead, because this is a good comic, but not hundreds of pounds good.

  1. I’ve only read three volumes of Planetary but I was surprised by how meta it was — having gone into it expecting something vaguely superhero-y, since it is adjacent to the rest of the DC Universe I believe. But it was definitely interesting in the way that it reflected back on itself.

    Haven’t seen Captain Swing yet, and our library system doesn’t seem to have it. Maybe that’s something I should recommend we purchase…

    • A lot of Ellis’s superhero stuff is smarter than your average superhero comic, hence interesting things like Planetary and the original run of The Authority. Planetary started out as part of the Wildstorm universe, before that got swallowed up into the DCU, but by the time it finished it wasn’t even paying attention to Wildstorm continuity, just kind of doing its own thing. And it’s worth reading to the end – there’s only about five collections, and Cassaday’s art is fantastic throughout.

      • Ooh right, The Authority — I’ve got the first volume of that too. Cool stuff.

        Since I get pretty much everything from the library, I’m constrained by our collection (why purchase when there’s so much freeeeee?), but if there are only five Planetary collections, then there’s no reason for us not to finish it up. Time to make some requisitions…

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