Hollywood is always looking for ready-made properties ripe for converting into movies, and graphic novels must be a tempting source. Movies like Watchmen and the various superhero franchises are embarrassingly obvious but savvier movie moguls are looking beyond the ‘superhero for grown-ups’ cliché and discovering works that take science fiction beyond the flying men in capes. And the short stories and mini-series of Warren Ellis look set to be a rich vein.
Ocean is a good example. Clearly influenced by Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Ellis sets most of the action in spacecraft orbiting the Jovian satellite Europa. Underneath its icy crust, a corporate mining vessel has discovered an ancient but vastly superior technology, surrounded by thousands of sarcophagi. What does the tech do and what’s in the coffins? The mining company is hoping to find out with a view to exploiting it. However, a sharp-tongued and typically Ellis-esque United Nations weapons inspector is on his way, to try and stop the company from profiteering from technology that could be Earth-shatteringly dangerous.
It’s not a sophisticated plot but Ellis keeps the drama and suspense on a steady simmer throughout. With the technically near-perfect draughtsmanship of artist Chris Sprouse rounding off the team, it gives off all the signals that a well-crafted graphic novel should. It’s wrung tightly enough to make it a genre piece of significant power but somehow still lacks artistry.
This isn’t to say it isn’t very good – it’s certainly in the top tier of recently published science fiction comics we’ve encountered. But it uses a number of the genre’s well-established if not overly-familiar concepts that will make science fiction fans feel like they’ve been here before.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing for a genre piece – you wouldn’t expect a fantasy to ditch wizards and goblins, nor a horror piece to remove the frights. However, Ellis has spoiled us with genius in the past and, while this is a superbly-crafted and enjoyable entertainment, it doesn’t have that spark of originality that we really relish from Ellis’s superior writings.