Any new work by Harlan Ellison is cause for joy here in the ol' man cave. Ellison is not only my all-time favorite science fiction writer (a pigeon-holing he detests), but one of my all-time favorite writers, period. I must confess that it was through his science fiction writing that I first discovered his work (and there's a longer piece coming about that experience) so that's how I thought of him at first. He is, of course, much, much more than a mere sf writer.
That said, his latest project, HARLAN ELLISON'S 7 AGAINST CHAOS (DC Comics, 2013) is an original graphic novel (beautifully illustrated by Paul Chadwick) that is pure, mind-bending science fiction. I was aware of this book back when it was first published but it never crossed my path. I knew it was out there but I didn't make an attempt to seek it out. Too many other things to read, doncha know? When I stumbled across a brand new condition copy recently at Half Price Books, I snatched it up immediately.
I sat down and read it today and boy, it's a doozy. To call this a science fiction version of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, is to not do justice to either this magnificent work or the legendary film. Yes, there are seven heroes at work here but their personalities, milieu and mission are vastly different than anything I've ever encountered in film or fiction before.
A mysterious robed man seeks out various individuals during the first part of the story. These include Urr, the renegade robot, Mourna, the seven-foot Amazon with claws for hands, Tantalus, the insect-man, Ayleen, Venusian noblewoman whose fire power threatens to consume her, Hoorn, the cat burglar with no face and Kenrus, the disgraced technologist who's as paranoid as he is brilliant.
Once all of these players have been assembled, the robed man reveals himself to be Roark, a military leader thought to be dead. Roark tells his team of a dire threat to reality itself, a threat that only these seven can hope to overcome. Doing so involves traveling through a black hole back to a primordial earth where they confront Erissa, a lizard king with plans to reset the timeline so that reptiles become the dominant species rather than mammals. But the possibility exists to create two timelines, one for reptiles, one for mammals. I won't spoil the ending except to say that it's a classic "lady or the tiger?" situation.
There's more here, much more but I'll leave it to you to discover the various quotidian pleasures to be enjoyed within these pages. Ellison does a good job with both believable, sympathetic characters and high concepts involving space, time and reality. Chadwick's art is uniformly good throughout and there are some pages in which he appears to be channeling the spirit of the great Jack Kirby.
Ellison name drops "Kersh" at one point, perhaps a reference to the late Gerald Kersh, a writer Ellison in known to hold in high esteem. And there's a nifty little shout out to something called the "Carlson's jangle paradox", a sly reference to George Carlson's golden age comic book series JINGLE JANGLE COMICS, which Ellison has sung the praises of many times.
If you want an original graphic novel by one of the greatest American writers of both the 20th and 21st centuries, if you want terrific artwork and storytelling, if you want a science fiction adventure on a grand scale, do yourself a favor and get a copy of HARLAN ELLISON'S 7 AGAINST CHAOS. Oh, and set aside a pretty good chunk of time to read it. You'll want to savor this one.