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Harlan Ellison’s Phoenix Without Ashes #1 – Review

By: Harlan Ellison (writer), Alan Robinson (art), Kote Carvajal (colors) & Robbie Robbins (letters)

The Story: Something weird is going on in this comic adaptation of Harlan Ellison’s long out-of-print novel Phoenix without Ashes.  A young man named Devon finds himself getting crossways with the Puritanical leaders of his community except this isn’t the 1600′s, it is set in 2785!

What’s Good: I enjoyed the basic concept for this comic book: small town is shut off from the outside world, set in the future but has a 1600′s Puritanical leadership and the leaders seem to be taking orders from a funny computer.  That’s all cool stuff and I actually didn’t realize that this was adapted from a novel of the same name until after I read it.  Ordinarily I don’t enjoy comic adaptations of novels.  Call me closed minded, but prose works should be enjoyed in the theater of the mind.  But, in doing my crack research for this review (i.e. searching on Amazon) it appears that Phoenix without Ashes is sooooo out of print that you cannot even buy it from the Amazon.  So, I’ll give it a pass on being a relatively novel story.

The characters in this story are pretty incidental (more below) because the primary hook for this tale is the series of questions that the story begs: Why is a city 700 years in the future being run by Puritans?  Why are they taking orders from a computer?  Do the leaders have an ulterior motive?  Why does this city seem to be inside of a sphere?  The list goes on and on.  In a lot of ways, this is similar to the recent Wildstorm series, Sparta USA.  But, whereas Sparta never hooked me and I dropped it after one issue, I’ll keep getting Phoenix to learn the answers to the mysteries.

From an art standpoint, I’ll say this is “competent”.  I can’t give it bigger praise than that, but it certainly doesn’t stink.

One other thing I will point out is the nice job that IDW does with their comics.  They aren’t flippy-floppy like a Marvel comic and they don’t have wrinkly pages like most Image comics.  It is just a professionally put together comic book and it is nice to see a publisher executing on the easy stuff.

What’s Not So Good: The characters are pretty forgettable.  I think the whole point of this series is the “mystery”, so the characters do not really matter.  But, if you really love comics with great characterization you might want to look elsewhere because these characters aren’t very deep and I doubt that will improve.

I don’t have a lot of other complaints other than that the comic didn’t floor me with its hook AND I am leery of these sorts of stories since I have see way, way, way too many sci-fi tales in my life with promising set-ups and BS pay-offs.  But, I hold out hope that Phoenix will pleasantly surprise.

Conclusion: It didn’t blow my socks off, but it has promise and might be worth checking out if you like mystery sci-fi.

Grade: C+

- Dean Stell



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