Crooked Little Vein
Readers find the underworld fascinating, despite its enormous misgivings. Here’s a world populated by the scum and refuse of our own world, a world we loathe and despise, but we keep diving in, in increasing numbers and vigour.
Warren Ellis, author of the groundbreaking and bowel-disrupting Transmetropolitan, is the underworld’s preacher. Don’t mistake my use of the word; Ellis doesn’t sing hosannahs (I don’t believe he’s capable of the motion) but rather rains down fire and shit-splattered brimstone. There hasn’t been a comic I’ve read by Ellis that hasn’t elicited some horror or revulsion in me about people or what they’re capable of. He’s a horrific writer of the first degree, and he doesn’t rely on the supernatural (though he’s more than eager to exploit it at times), but instead puts the grainiest and bloodiest of mirrors in front of our faces.
Then comes Crooked Little Vein.
Here is a book that had me laughing out loud on the subway, bus, streetcar, and lunch-room, but at the same time, the book left me positively indifferent despite its catalogue of grotesqueries. Here is a writer who has horrified me time and time again preaching at the same altar, beating the same horse, slapping the same flaccid . . . yeah, well, you get what you pay for when you read Warren Ellis.
The book, in short, is a Chandleresque mystery possessed by the spirits of William S. Burroughs at his most drug-addled and pornographic and Philip K. Dick on a little less speed and a little more paranoia. It’s a roller-coaster of paranoid delusion and erotic fantasies coupled with Ellis’s most well-known tropes: a foul-mouthed, funny-as-hell male protagonist; a hot-as-hell, tattooed, sexually – I’m loathe to use the term liberated – uber-democratic (?) Goth girl love interest; a government drowned in filth, smut, drug addiction, and above-and-beyond deviancy.
I’m sad to say this about Ellis, but it’s ridiculously funny and tired at the same time. It’s a paradox. I want to recommend it for its laughs, but if you’ve read the man, particularly Transmetroplitan (and there’s more than one echo of Spider Jerusalem), well, you’ve read it before just with less foul language. Is that a selling point? That’s up for debate.