1.04.2009

Switchblade Honey

Are you getting tired of all this Star Trek talk yet? Are you not a fan? Do you find Star Trek dull, pompous and ridiculously self-important? Are you happy that Enterprise got canned and there's no new Trek show clogging up the airwaves? Mate, has Warren Ellis got a comic for you!

According to this book's introduction, Ellis was subjected to entirely too much Trek while his girlfriend was convalescing after childbirth and came up with the idea for this graphic novel as a result. It occurred to him that, more than anyone in the world, he would want to see British character actor Ray Winstone as the captain of a Federation starship. As he ruminated on the idea "all my loathing of that profoundly ordinary, polite, self-important and bland future presented by TV science fiction came surging up. All yellow, and with bits in."

In this "mental puke", Ellis stacks the deck a bit by presenting us with a sort of evil twin to the Federation. Rather than using a thinly-disguised noble and well-meaning UFP to fulfill the role of straight-man, he stacks the deck by making the Earth alliance a bunch of right bastards. Far from following a Prime Directive, humanity in this future lands wherever they want to, and rape the land and the locals however they see fit. This comes back to bite them on the ass when they make a mess of the Chasta's homeworld. What no one realized was that the Chasta only choose to present themselves as simple and primitive for aesthetic reasons; they are actually packed with implanted technology, telepathically connected via hive mind, and consider the invading humans to be "ebola with shoes."

The war with the Chasta has gone so poorly that Earth is a month away from being occupied by the enemy. The situation is so desperate that one maverick general decides to spring some incarcerated officers and turn them loose on the Chasta. Of course, since the military are a bunch of assholes, it turns out that most of the characters are in prison for bogus reasons. The anti-hero of the tale, John Ryder, is being detained for disobeying orders to destroy a friendly vessel in order to wipe out the Chasta attackers in its wake. His new gunner is in prison for refusing to fire on civilians, and his electronics expert is being punished for figuring out a way to kill Chasta by blowing out all the airlocks on their ship-- thus depriving the gunner, a rear admiral's son, a chance at a medal. John's new first officer, Susan Nile, castrated her captain when she caught him raping a junior officer. So these people are all "criminals", but ones that you actively root for.

Many stories have a macguffin to get the action going; in the case of Switchblade Honey just about everything in the book: the setting, the mission, the plot, are all one big macguffin in service of getting these colorful characters together, bouncing off each other and doing their thing. And basically their thing is smoking, drinking and swearing. Ellis calls this book anti-Star Trek, "an extended gag at the colourless, clean SF of the big media." Simply put, it's an excuse to get Winstone on the bridge of a Federation starship, bouncing a cigarette butt off the back of his straight-arrow pilot's head and calling him a "twat". Notice how the titular spaceship has a cheshire grin on the cover of the book?

This story might be pretty lightweight, but they sure didn't skimp on the artwork. Brandon McKinney is a polished penciller who takes the project seriously, regardless of the actual content. I see hints of Dave Gibbons and Alan Davis here, but McKinney most closely resembles Mark Bagley. If you ask me, that's pretty good company to be in. It's a testament to Warren Ellis as a force in this industry that no matter which publisher he's writing for or how much of a lark the project is, he always attracts first-rate artists to work with.

I'm not entirely clear on the publishing history of Switchblade Honey; I guess it was originally published in 2003, although it was recently resolicited in Previews, which is when I ordered it. Perhaps this is a new printing. At any rate, this book gets most of its mileage out of enjoyment of the kind of rough, sarcastic, borderline misanthropic characters Ellis (not to mention Garth Ennis and Mark Millar) likes to use. At this point, though, this archetype has sort of lost its attraction for me due to extreme overuse, meaning this book may primarily be of interest to diehard Ellis fans and fervent Star Trek haters.

Rating: 7/10

1 comment:

Shem said...

Hmm. I like Ellis, usually, but I'm wary of these "take the piss out of X" stories. They just seem to get shrill and unfunny really fast (see Garth Ennis, who ran "superheroes suck" into the ground years ago).

By the way, thanks for American Shaolin. Good one.