Its really 3.5 stars, but I'm rounding up 'cause I'm sick of being so negative.
You'll have to excuse me, but I have a hard time reviewing this work without reviewing it in context of Ellis as a writer.
Warren Ellis writes Warren Ellis stories. You're either a fan or you're not. All Ellis stories have X amount of things that are in every one of them and these all fall into three different categories: 1) the stuff you love about him that make you a fan (wide imagination, fun characters), 2) the stuff that he pulls every time that would be annoying if any other writer did it but, whatcha gonna do, its Ellis (dialog crammed full with expletives in manners that no one has ever spoken in) and 3) the really, really bad, borderline ego-feeding crap that he pulls more often than he should (deus ex machinas from nowhere, anti-climax, self indulgent characters that are unrelateable and offensive for shock's sake).
Really, the quality of story you get out of Ellis hinges entirely on what sort of mixture you get from these three elements.
A few years back, I was a fan of pretty much everything the man put out. He was my only "buy on sight" writer. In his heyday of Planetary, Authority and Transmet (though, on occasion, Transmet did delve into self-indulgent territory) Ellis appeared to do no wrong.
Then, he had a bit of a whore phase-- pumping out forgettable crap for the Marvel and DC.
But, in the last few years, looking over his recent resume, it appears as if he's made somewhat of a return to form, focusing much of his energies back on self-owned titles and mini-series set within their own continuities, beholden to nothing before them.
In the last few years, he's churned out Doktor Sleepless, Black Summer, Anna Mercury, Wolfskin, No Hero, Aetheric Mechanics, Frankenstein's Womb and a few others. Now, most of these were for Avatar Press (just like Ignition City) and most of these were really bad.
Ellis is a great science fiction writer. He isn't a good science fiction writer. He is great.
He has admitted on several occasions that he is, in no way, a scientist himself. But he loves science. He loves it in a way that a person who can't draw a stick figure but loves art loves art. He obsesses on it and he enjoys both the minutia and the majesty of science and that's what makes him a great Sci-Fi writer. He has a learned man's grasp of what scientific understanding is today and a dreamer's enthusiasm of what science could be if we all had Jet Packs and fought invaders from alternate dimensions.
But Ellis just can't help but fall prey to his own self-indulgences.
He's long touted himself as the grumpy old bastard of comics. And that's fine. It kinda make him lovable. But its starting to feel like when a child says a dirty word and his parent's find it cute so they rewarded the child with attention, so the kid keeps saying it, and now the kid won't stop yelling the same swear word and is confused why he's not getting the same level of attention for his efforts anymore.
Ellis's dialog, which was always "stylized" even in his earliest works, now comes off as little more than bullet points to move the plot along or, more often, turrets styled spewings of increasingly improbable connections of words, most having to do with leakage from some human orifice or sex acts illegal in any God fearing, industrialized nation.
In addition, Ellis has problems with sporadic fits of graphic violence, cliche characters and bleeding heart liberalism out of characters who, two panels ago, just stabbed a man to death in cold blood. Also, I've never known of another writer of such ability that, so frequently, can turn in stories that just completely jump the shark midway through. He is a phenomenal writer, but he can stretch a premise until it rips in half and, often times, he's the only one who doesn't notice its torn.
Now, for Ignition City.
I'm pleased to say that this is Ellis largely back to writing like Good Ellis. Gone is the ridiculously bad, trying-to-be-Morrison, SF-meets-metaphysics garbage that was Aetheric Mechanics.
We're back into Steam Punk and a post-pulp, post-WWII era with astronauts, ray guns and a murder mystery.
It almost works as a good Planetary substitute for those of us who've been fiending for another fix. The story revolves around thinly veiled analogs of Dan Dare, Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, Commando Cody and the Lensmen (well, one of 'em) and that's a good thing. Ellis has a talent for taking what was good about the past --boiling something down to the bright shiny version of how you remember it-- and then reworking it for his purposes. A skill only Moore or Mignola can rival him at.
Our good lady protagonist drinks hard, pines for the stars and hates everyone around here-- like all good Ellis protagonists... most bad ones, too. She gets to where she's going with no real issues and then proceeds to start unearthing major clues into her father's death shockingly easy. Like, easy to the point that maybe somebody should have just called her and told her everything and saved her the jet fuel she expended getting there. But it doesn't matter, because in a story like this, the murder mystery is secondary to the insane characters surrounding it.
The world created in this story --or the island, in this case-- is well defined and limited, so Ellis gets a lot of mileage out of only five issues in setting up major players, the worlds they come from and the Hell they've now given into.
I won't spoil to much plot-wise, but I would feel remiss if I didn't mention that the blatant Western formula setup becomes close to overbearing by the end and Ellis may have benefited from taking two steps back from that obvious line.
Sadly, the story is not all wine and roses, though, as it is a victim of anti-climax. The five part-er should have easily been six, and the organically building finale turns into a sadly overused Ellis trap of the main character launching into a "well, let me explain everything out to everyone so we can avoid having to use additional panels to build towards where this story is gonna wind up anyways." It was a very unfortunate and abrupt ending to an otherwise enjoyable yarn that left me wishing to know more about these characters.
As for the art, on initially opening the book, my first words were, "wow, this interior art is terrible." However, very quickly into the read, it grew on me. Is the art breathtaking? No. In fact, my guess is that most the faces seem drawn on as afterthoughts. But Erik Larsen always had a great line about comic book art: "Comic art is just supposed to keep your eyes moving between word balloons." ... mind you, I'm paraphrasing.
Really, once the story begins to move, Gianluca Pagliarani's art is great at pace, movement, storytelling and his action sequences and wide shots are very well done. He also does a great job of drawing a world filled with old scraps of spaceships.
Lastly, I would feel remiss if I failed to mention the quality of the book. I understand that Avatar is kinda newer and smaller kid on the comic publishing block and I understand that, to stay in contention, they may have to move numbers a bit here and there, but the paper quality is somewhat lacking and their prices are more expensive than any other TPB publisher that I can think of.