Friday, July 15, 2005

Desolation Jones #2

The first panel strikes a real chord, and serves as an excellent setup to the issue. Jones' "alien spaceship" house hovers behind him, as he sits dragging on a cigarette. Somehow, in the midst of the Los Angeles hills, Jones manages to stay in the dark. It would have been an easy trick to set most of the scenes at night, but a scene like this first panel makes the character clear: Jones lives his life in the shadows, and he's a fish out of water in the glaring California daylight. I don't know where J.H. Williams III lives, but he knows California well. Though it's a small thing, as a former denizen of the Sunshine State, that cinderblock wall with weeds and grasses poking out along the bottom nails the location. L.A. is a character in this book, and Williams draws it well.

The first issue ended with a full-page splash of Jones looking out over Los Angeles as a vision of golden angels swirls before him. We see this again on page 3, as Jones removes his sunglass goggles, and once again literally inhabits the "City Of Angels". This vision is more brutal than what we saw in the first issue, with these angels chained and streaming blood. Last issue's angels were out of Blake, these are out of Bosch. As the series progresses, I think Jones is seeing more of the true nature of the city he inhabits.

Ellis has acknowledged his debt to Chandler, and like Chandler's best work Desolation Jones is not actually a mystery. Though the central figure is "a private dick on a case", it's really an excuse to journey through the fantastic worlds contained within Noir Angeles. The search for the Hitler Porn isn't the point, and neither is the complicated web of who's "in the business". Instead, the mystery is just a motivating factor to explore characters like Dirty Sanchez in the first issue, or the stunning Emily Crowe in this one.

Emily Crowe steals the issue out from under Jones and his mystery. Though the concept of the Black Widow is familiar to anyone who's read or seen much noir, Ellis takes the concept of the deadly vamp and spins it on it's head.

She's ex-Agency, like you and Jeronimus. And, like Jeronimus, she had surgical alteration. She was supposed to be the ultimate honey trap. Overproduction of sex-trigger pheromones.

Didn't work.

What she produces is something that hits the arachnid reaction. It's fear and revulsion and the disturbance of proximity to something alien.

Williams draws her as a goth beauty, but with a small smile as she clearly enjoys spending time with Jones. When I think of Warren Ellis' work, one of the last adjectives I'd ever use is "touching", but this passage most certainly is. Crowe provides Jones with information, and draws him out about the mystery he's trying to solve. Like a spider, her web of information spreads out from her lonely home, and she's only too willing to share the vibrations she picks up on each sticky strand. Williams even sets the background of this scene with webs in the gutters along the sides of the pages, and Jose Villarrubia steeps the scene in arachnid blacks and blues. There's a growing feeling that perhaps Jones will be a fly caught in her web, but Ellis flips the convention again. Where the femme fatale attracts people only to end up alone, Crowe is repellent but only seeks human contact. The gut-punch of the scene comes as she confesses her fear of loneliness:

Jones, there's a long mirror in the bedroom, laid on it's side on the floor. Sometimes ... Sometimes I have to lay in front of it and look at it. Just to pretend there's someone else with me.

Just to not be alone, for a little while.

And then I have to lock up every sharp thing in the apartment.

She begs Jones to stay, and he does. Two utterly broken people trying to find comfort from their past sins.

The panel spreads across two pages (my scanner can't handle it), and it's a quiet moment of repose that caps this incredible scene. It's as emotionally powerful as I've seen Ellis write, and gets to the heart of what this series is about. Jones and the others have been left unfit for the world they live in, and need to somehow fill the voids inside them.

Good noir is often a good ghost story ... they're not dead yet, but the haunting has begun. Williams again ends the issue with a stunning splash page, showing us the scarred body of Jones. He looks like a lifeless corpse.

The Jones/Crowe relationship isn't about the usual noir trappings of sex ... and, of course, neither was noir itself. Not really. What Desolation Jones sees is that noir's always been about loss and loneliness and need.


zilla said...

Great review mark. Just read DJ #1 and i'm actually dropping a light-hearted review of that tonight at some point. I'll have to pick up #2 shortly. Any idea if this title is ongoing or a mini? what issue are we up to (just #2?)?

PS my wife is a middle school teacher and i have the horror of knowing where the name "dirty sanchez" came from and what it means out there in the world - and... you don't want to know. ha.

Mark Fossen said...

if you check out the Director's Commentary to Issue #1, Ellis explains the Dirty Sanchez. :)

The title is like Planetary. It's not quite a mini, but there's an end in site. I think a few years out, though.

Issue #2 is the most recent, just came out Wednesday.

zilla said...

good - i'm not too far behind. i'll have to grab #2 next time i pass by my LCS. thanks mark. still going to pick up planetary soon BTW.

Johnny B said...

Nice job. I think Jones (and Emily Crowe, too) is one of the most interesting characters Ellis has come up with in ages.

Mark Fossen said...

Jones looked initially like another hardass, chain smoking Ellis stand-in: Jenny Sparks or Pete Wisdom or Spider or ....

But there's really something different about him. He's wounded and doesn't do a good job hiding it.

Ellis is a master of many things, but the raw power of that Crowe scene just amazed me - it's not something I expect.

BTW - I am a fan of the JBC ... glad you stopped by my humble digs.

Jog said...

I caught the spidery bits too... notice how Williams does away with his web-border pattern after the two spend the night, the clinging ambiguity sort of melting off in each other's arms... the web-border literally cuts one page in half to symbolize the passing of the night... it's really excellent stuff.

Johnny B said...

Thanks, Mark!

I found myself wondering what was up with all the rectangular shapes that were framing certain things in each panel towards the end...the obvious answer would be someone is taking survellience pictures, but that's a little too obvious and I don't think Jones would be spied on that easily. Maybe it was just JHWIII being all arty & stuff, but that's unlikely, too. Guess we will find out eventually...