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Sunday, August 19, 2007

Crécy by Warren Ellis and Raulo Caceres, published by Avatar Press.Warren Ellis's Crécy -- It's entirely possible Crécy is the perfect Warren Ellis comic book.

It's profane, it's violent, and it's extremely British. It's also funny, smart, and will teach you things you probably already ought to know (and most likely do if you were schooled in the UK or France).

Most relevant to my theory that it might be the perfect Ellis comic, not a page feels wasted or compromised in the way his Marvel and DC work sometimes evinces. As with the best of Ellis's work at Avatar (Dark Blue, the current Black Summer), his imagination runs at feverish full speed even as his writerly instincts retain primacy to create a controlled and quite compelling story. And Crécy even offers up something else: It's written in a manner quite unlike anything Ellis has created before.

First and foremost, Crécy is history. It's about a specific moment in time when the English and the French had a decisive confrontation that has informed, we're told, many (if not all) battles that followed and defined how the two nations see themselves and each other politically and culturally. It's narrated by a blunt, coarse and hate-filled archer named William of Stonham who speaks directly to the reader in a third-wall breaking monologue that occasionally intersects with the action in real time. Other comics may have featured this technique in short segments or stories, but Ellis utilizes this unusual stylistic choice to great effect, drawing us right onto the battlefield and making us sympathize with the cause and motivations of our foul-mouthed protagonist. It really is extraordinary, just how effectively this allows Ellis to communicate to us the enduring importance of this historic battle.

Artist Raulo Caceres is a fine fit with Ellis's script, delivering illustrations heavy on mood, atmosphere and most essentially, a sense of place. Maps and widescape vistas give a solid sense of Crécy as a real place in space and time, and his depiction of the requisite uniforms, weaponry and horses -- all difficult and research-heavy items to have to illustrate, to be sure -- come off as convincing and natural. His style could be described as EC-era John Severin meets Bernie Wrightson, influences altogether appropriate for Ellis's tale, which could easily have been placed in Two-Fisted Tales decades ago, were it not for a generous use of profanity and violence.

But what, most of all, may make Crécy the perfect Warren Ellis comic is its final panel. After all we've seen and all we've learned, Ellis ends on one last bit of business that is both profanity and information all tied up in one unforgettable visual punchline. I'd guess, and I don't know either way, but I'd guess that the entire reason for Crécy's existence may stem from Ellis's desire to comment on the legendary gesture that closes out the story. It's witty and subversive and uniquely Warren Ellis, and more to his credit (and his publishers), it's neither censored nor explained. You either get it or you don't, and it works either way.

It's a perfect moment in a great graphic novel that rises to the standard of other great, idiosyncratic historical works in comics like Chester Brown's Louis Riel, Rick Geary's Victorian Murder series or Jack Jackson's Texas histories. As history, as comics, and as evidence of Warren Ellis's gifts as a writer, Crécy is essential stuff.



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