Warren Ellis and Jason Howard, creators of the thought-provoking Trees, teamed back up in the seven-issue miniseries Cemetery Beach. Sadly, those looking for Ellis’s usual excellent world-building will be disappointed by this dreary, repetitive exercise in meaningless violence.
Here’s the lowdown on the plot: in the 1920s, an off-colony was established. In the modern day, Mike Blackburn, an Earth agent, is sent to investigate, only to be captured. After killing his interrogator, he rescues the rebellious Grace Moody and the duo set off to escape at Cemetery Beach.
However you cut it, Cemetery Beach doesn’t work for entertainment or edification (whatever you come to stories for). As actionpalooza, it’s repetitive and barely stops when it gets going. It’s scene after scene of perfectly choreographed explosions and headshots. Usually when Warren Ellis pens fight scenes across a series there’s some variety — take The Wild Storm for instance. Yet, Cemetery Beach is obsessed with ships chasing and erupting each other for page after page.
Beyond that, what’s the point of this comic? Other than being a slightly cool concept that cribs mass destruction cues from Akira and a chase mentality from Mad Max, what are we readers supposed to get out of this action sludge?
A relationship forms to some degree between Mike and Grace, but more problems arise. First of all, they’re too similar to develop their dynamic much. Grace is more level-headed and Mike ends up more aggressive, so that’s something I guess. However, there’s barely any real conflict between them since the issues are so focused on “oh no, the 531st bad guy ship is coming after us!”
I mentioned Mike gets really aggressive. As the series continues, he takes more risks and gets increasingly more violent, like squashing civilians with a tank without caring. The upped violence seems to be a conscious choice, as if Ellis and Howard want us to dislike him. Take for instance the scene where Mike blows away a gaggle of clueless guards while screaming, the color palette painted blood red: “Space Nazi gunk-drinking bodysnatcher giant toilet planet ASSH*LES–“
At that point, I was sure Ellis was intending Mike to go full-Daenerys. I mean, Mike is unhinged now, right? Surely Grace is in danger now. Nope! She just tells him to “pull yourself together” and they continue like nothing happened.
So we’re left with two options. Either a) Ellis and Howard included immense levels of callous bloodshed and psychopathy and don’t find anything wrong with that, or b) they want him to be unhinged but for some reason don’t want you to care. Without giving anything away, we’re supposed to deeply care about this Rambo wannabe by the end as he once again recounts how his family was killed by modern earth life. But it’s hard to find sympathy with a guy whose sister died in a school shooting after he slaughters a crew of clueless, possibly very young guards (who hadn’t even attacked by the way).
If you go back and read some of my previous reviews for individual issues, I posited that it’s a darn shame we don’t get a decent tour of the off-colony since the series is always about moving forward and killing. That’s still a problem, although it’s harder to notice in this TP without blatant issue breaks.
Unfortunately, this problem goes hand in hand with the overall mind-numbing, meat-headed quality of Cemetery Beach. A new character is joining the fray? I wonder if this’ll break up the action and lead to some interesting character conflict. Nope. Just more ‘splosions. Yay.
Most impressive is Jason Howard’s art. As opposed to his Trees work, Cemetery Beach is grimy, gruff, and soiled looking. Every surface is grainy and caked in dirt. How he designed all these different ships and locations is beyond me, but nonetheless incredible. His color work is also quite intelligent and work as stellar transitions, breaking up grey mundanity with flashes of red and yellow.
Cemetery Beach is a vast disappointment as a Warren Ellis comic. Yet, even viewed as its own thing, it’s a muddy, miserable collage of destruction and wasted potential.