Sunday, November 24, 2013

Warren Ellis and Jason Howard's "Scatterlands"

Starting in February, Warren ("Planetary", "Authority") Ellis and Jason ("Amazing Wolf-Man", "Super Dinosaur") Howard started a daily webcomic, styled after newspaper strips. Updating every workday, "Scatterland" released one panel at a time until it reached the end of its first storyline in June.

The limited palette restricts itself by focusing on stark red and grey, with subdued black and white giving a duo-tone look. Styled after the classic newspaper strips like "Prince Valiant", the panels are captioned in an engaging style, giving more depth to the futurescape and providing the title character with a clear motivation for her journey in a hostile land.

The story concerns Amira, who left the Western Court to journey to Bioscape, searching for a Songline. Before the reader is able to parse this information, the story unfolds in a string of well told action sequences, forcing the reader to return for another read, providing a better context for the dynamic adventure that they've just been taken on. The writer's love of science fiction and technology shines both in the world building and the gadgets given to the characters, all of which are used in the service of the story and don't detract from the rushed pace given to Amira's actions in Bioming.

It stands as a testament to the creators' strengths that the journey of the reckless, yet highly competent character stays gripping the whole time, with the each challenge in the new land presented in a visually arresting way. The inventiveness used by Ellis and Howard stems from the angles the panels are presented in, as well as the artist's clear definition of the characters. The use of red is particularly noteworthy in that it helps the elements of the composition stand out from the crosshatching and anchor the scenes in an urgent manner, befitting the tone of the script.

The creators present the protagonist fully clothed, with the long cloak presenting the character's defining visual element. The addition of the pouches to her belt completes the design in a way that feels practical as she proceeds to her objective, despite the threats from the local sect and her Western court pursuers. The webcomic dispenses with dialogue bubbles and sound effects, relying completely on the captions and visuals in presenting her mission.

Interestingly, the story ends a definite progression, as Amira leaves the Bioming and the book dispenses with the color scheme to signify the change. What little the reader sees of the new location supplements red for the blue, with the final panel containing the story's sole dialogue bubble. This is enough to pique the readers' interest in the upcoming developments, and given that the story has reportedly been plotted on the day to day basis, its remarkable how well it stands on its own.

As of now, no further work has been presented online or in print, despite the announcement that the story will be continued from Warren Ellis' website to its own domain. Image has released the first volume of the story as a webcomic in July, billed as their initial digital-first comic book. Despite the announcement, the story has yet to be released in the print edition.

Hopefully, with the Warren Ellis' return to writing the serial superhero stories for Marvel will mean that he will find a place in his schedule to continue the collaboration with Jason Howard.

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