Desolation Jones: Made in England

Author: Warren Ellis & J. H. Williams III
Year: 2006
Genre: Mystery

Film noir, in its golden age in the '30s and '40s, was a chance for audiences to shock themselves a little. The stories were filled with dirty people doing dirty things, but in the end, the hero would always prove himself to be a moral man in an immoral world, or else be punished for his transgressions.

In this comic-book/superspy updating of The Big Sleep, Warren Ellis goes to some extremes of dirtiness and immorality in order to shock his comparatively jaded 21st-century audience. Excessive violence abounds, and the MacGuffin is a missing porno film starring Adolf Hitler. While the hero does follow his own personal code of ethics to the end, he goes to great lengths to show that he's not above killing and maiming when he considers it necessary. This makes him difficult to relate to, and the story, on balance, seems callous and cold.

The art, on the other hand, is so good that it makes the whole experience worthwhile. Williams moves easily between washed-out L.A. scenes, trippy psychedelic hallucinations, first-person torture flashbacks, and slow-mo superspy fight scenes. In one memorable sequence, high-contrast black-and-white-and-red are paired with moment-to-moment transitions to show Jones fighting dirty to beat a 300-pound gimp in a Lucha Libre mask.

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