By Zack Quaintance — In the first issue of this series, we got an adequate amount of backstory, enough to ground us in this world: in 1920, a group of industrialists and scientists invented space travel and sent colonizers to another planet...and we’ve had no communication with that planet in the years that followed. Civilization took hold and has since modernized, but, indeed, still looks anachronistic. Now, a scout has arrived to check things out, and what he’s found is chaos and barbarity, with no enthusiasm about reconnecting with home.
It’s an interesting premise, one writer Warren Ellis and artist Jason Howard established briefly before launching their central character (the visitor from Earth) into a prison escape chase scene that set their plot in motion. This second issue gives us a bit more info, opening as it does with a scene that stars a powerful man from the new world, who notes in no uncertain terms that he will do whatever it takes to prevent the visitor from “old home” (as they call it) from escaping, lest he eventually return with an invading force.
The philosophical argument being made by the presumed leader of the colonized planet is, essentially, that it’s best to be defensive. It’s a paranoid knee-jerk move in which he casts himself as victim to justify whatever he will do next (sound familiar?). In the course of this leader elaborating, we see him portrayed as glutinous, uncaring, and obsessively concerned with upholding power structures that serve him. He orders the capture of our hero and the death of his companion (whom he aggressively brands a dissident), and then smiles as he notes that if capture becomes too difficult, death is also fine.
What Ellis’ script for Cemetery Beach #2 seems most interested in is showing the absurdity of assigning all conflicts a pair of equal sides, noting that we all see ourselves as the heroes of our stories but that alone doesn’t make it so. It’s a timely and interesting concept, and it’s also one that doesn’t really stand out as heavy handed. No, just as with the first issue, Cemetery Beach #2 is first and foremost an action story in which two people flee the state, blowing up flying motor bikes and running through underground tunnels in the middle of the night.
In terms of the artwork, Jason Howard continues to make the most of the idea that a space colony was built with the mechanical capabilities and design sensibilities of 1920. The machines, clothing, and weaponry here are all futuristic, yet clearly extrapolated from what was possible in that era rather than in our own. It adds an extra layer of immersiveness to an already entertaining story.
Indeed, this comic continues to be Warren Ellis at his most accessible, even if the ideas its built upon are, as per usual, heady and complex. This approach blew me away in the first issue, as I wrote in my Cemetery Beach #1 review, and I’m still enjoying it a great deal here. If I have a complaint about this second chapter, however, it’s that it didn’t move the narrative forward in any truly unexpected way. We got confirmation that the colony’s leader was the big bad and we learn from the hero’s new friend that there are layers of inequity a plenty at work here, but we could have mostly surmised that from the subtext in the first issue. I’m still very much in on this book, but here’s hoping the next issue will find some less predictable ground.
Overall: In Cemetery Beach #2, Ellis and Howard continue the high-minded adventure started in the debut issue, pulling the curtain back a bit on the political dynamics at work on this forgotten colony established a century ago on some far-flung planet. This continues to be Ellis at his most accessible, expertly crafted in a way that doesn’t sacrifice complexity. 8.0/10
Cemetary Beach #2
Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Jason Howard
Publisher: Image Comics
Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.