The genre of mystery is best handled when the details of a story are dangled in front of the reader but always unclear; always out of reach. As if groping through darkness for a light switch– one that you’re never sure it’s there or not. You reach into the unknown, thinking you have the answer, but never fully secure in your knowledge. That’s a good mystery.
What Warren Ellis has done in Shipwreck #1 is not a good mystery. The details are too sparse and too dense to make sense of. The reader is asked to suspend disbelief, never given anything familiar to hold onto and then plunged headlong into the black depths of the unknown. This book is jolting to read and not in a good way. The plot and the characters are too vague and undefined. The reader is left to swim through a mire of confusion that only gets worse with every page.
We begin by following a wandering loner who follows a murder of crows across the countryside. He stumbles his way into a small deserted café where a lone figure awaits him. The figure only identifies himself as “An Inspector”, but an inspector of what, or with whom– we are never given any more details. The inspector sits at a booth with a full folder in front of him and tells the reader that the wondering man that we have been following for pages is the lone survivor of secret breakthrough propulsion flight known as the Janus Project. The wanderers name is Jonathan Shipwright.
Things become increasingly bizarre, as page after page the lines between reality and dreams seems to warp. The pair of men is seemingly engulfed in a roving nest of spiders as the inspector details the crash that Shipwright survived. It’s all black ops and the fodder of conspiracy, but the Janus project happened, we know this as Jonathan wears a mission patch on his uniform.
The inspector says that the rest of the world thinks that Shipwright is dead. The military denies his very existence, and no one has ever heard of Janus. But somehow this inspector knows enough to bring the audience up to speed.
It’s here that Jonathan begins to wonder why the café is empty. He uses teleportation (it is unclear if this is the result of the failed mission or of something more mysterious) and finds himself in the kitchen of the establishment where he discovers a woman chopping up and cooking her boyfriend. After a short explanation we learn that the woman and the dead man are a couple. The dead boyfriend was the chef at this diner. He was about to leave the small town, and the woman for the bright lights and big opportunities of Paris where he was going to go to cooking school. Jealous of this the woman killed the man after speaking with a stranger in the diner. That stranger it turns out is the very same man who sabotaged the Janus flight that killed shipwright’s crew. Janus confronts the woman, the two tussle; the woman slips killing herself by impalement.
Jonathan leaves the kitchen and discovers the inspector is gone. His only clue is a note left behind. He leaves the diner, once again to follow a murder of crows; the reader left no closer to resolution that when they began reading the issue.
Final Thoughts: Mystery done well is like an addiction, the need for details and information becomes the driving force for a reader to continue pursuing the answers that elude them. Mystery done poorly is confusing and lackluster. The reader never invests enough of themselves into the plot to continue on to the next clue. I would leave this mystery alone. While it comes off as highly thought out there is something lacking in execution.
Final Grade: 2 ½ stars
Story: Warren Ellis
Art: Phil Hester
Inks: Eric Gapstur
Colors: Mark Englert
Letters: Marshall Dillon