Review: Ocean trade paperback (Wildstorm/DC Comics)

[This review comes from Collected Editions reader David Tobin]

Ocean is a 2004 series from writer Warren Ellis and Chris Sprouse released under the Wildstorm banner. Set one hundred years in the future, Ocean follows U.N. Weapons Inspector Nathan Kane as he undertakes a mission to Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons. A U.N. exploratory station called Cold Harbour has been investigating the oceans on Europa and has discovered the remnants of an ancient civilization, which include countless coffins and weapons capable of planetary-scale destruction. Kane is sent in to assess the situation and keep the weapons and technology out of the wrong hands.

The cast of the book is very well written and Ellis really gives each character their own voice. Each character has an anecdotal moment tied to the main narrative which helps define their personality. Kane, for example, is completely averse to guns of all kinds after his parents were shot and killed, spurring him to become a U.N. weapons inspector.

The dialogue really shines strongly throughout the entire collection, in particular the quieter scenes between Kane and Fadia, any scene engineer Siobhan is in, and the confrontations with the schizophrenic Doors Station Manager who attempts to undermine the U.N. research. The only misgiving I would have with the characters is that I feel Kane can sometimes feel as if he is a watered-down version of Planetary’s Elijah Snow, especially in the action scenes that could have been lifted wholesale from that book.

Ellis portrays technology and science in a very interesting and tangible way by making every advancement tied to a reasonable current-day practice or theory. This one-step-removed way of looking at an advanced civilization is humorously played upon by the character of Kane at the book’s beginning and ending. The technology gives the entire narrative a Hollywood blockbuster feel with giant flying saucers, advanced weapons and ballistics, as well as the book's antagonists, the Doors company.

Doors is the only real mis-step in the book. The ideas of the imprinted human workers and the hive-like structure to the company is interesting and well handled, but the pointed jokes portraying Doors as Microsoft really take you out of the story. Painfully obvious puns like “I mean, could you ever get Doors 98 to work?” are so heavy-handed and out of place. The idea here is interesting but Ellis doesn’t really ever do the concept justice.

Chris Sprouse does an amazing job as always. His clean lines and great sense of design bring Ellis’ ideas to life and have a good coherence between technologies and the clutter of the world. His storytelling is strong and there is never a wasted line. I’ve always been a huge fan of Sprouse, his Tom Strong run with Alan Moore in particular, and I’m amazed that he is still not getting the mainstream recognition he so rightly deserves.

Overall, Ocean is an excellent read. Art and script are excellent despite the niggling issues I pointed out. Anyone who’s read any of Ellis’ Planetary or Authority will love the popcorn movie spectacle and fully fleshed out world.


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