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Creator / Warren Ellis

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"Alan Moore once told me he works the nine-pic grid because it's cinematic. I told him I work the six-grid pic because it's television. I should think more on that some time."

Warren Girard Ellis (born February 16, 1968) is a British comic book writer, novelist, and screenwriter. He is known for introducing transhumanist elements to his books, and for complex stories, including Continuity Nods, expies, and Lawyer Friendly Cameos. Like other Britwave authors, Ellis often operates as a one-man Deconstructor Fleet.

Ellis originally was known for his comic work, which fills a large bookshelf. Apart from dozens of creator-owned and work-for-hire projects listed below, major works include:

  • The Authority, with artist Bryan Hitch. The Authority gained Ellis his first mainstream comics notoriety, featuring an expansive and epic art style Ellis dubbed "widescreen comics" as well as inspiring the Decompressed Comic movement, which Ellis would later avert in Fell.
  • Transmetropolitan, a Hunter S. Thompson inspired Cyberpunk series, created with artist Darick Robertson. The series ran for 60 issues from 1997 to 2002, proving one of the best-selling titles on the Vertigo Comics imprint.
  • Planetary, with John Cassaday and Laura Martin. While infamous for long production delays, the series was hailed for Cassaday’s fabulous realism and Ellis’ interweaving of historical pop culture expies with a modern superhero universe.
  • Global Frequency, a 12 issue creator-owned miniseries that garnered critical praise and was remade as a TV pilot starring Michelle Forbes of Star Trek: Next Generation and 24 fame. The pilot was leaked to the internet and the show never greenlit. There have been several attempts to develop the property since, though none have yet made it to production.
  • Red (2003), a 3-issue series with artist Cully Hamner, later turned into a movie involving Helen Mirren with a sniper rifle.
  • Iron Man: Extremis with Adi Granov, formed the basis for both an Iron Man anime series and Iron Man 3.

Starting in the mid 2000s Ellis began experimenting with other forms of storytelling:

  • FreakAngels, with Paul Duffield, a weekly webcomic available online and later collected into six volumes by Avatar Press. Ellis described the story as "what if The Midwich Cuckoos grew up, fucked up, then tried to fix it?" and has called it his "forgotten opus."
  • Ellis has written two novels, Crooked Little Vein (2007) and Gun Machine (2013), and a novella, Normal (2016).
  • Ellis’ was sole writer and co-producer of Castlevania (2017), an animated series for Netflix, with four seasons total aired.
  • The Department Of Midnight is an upcoming 2023 audio play, released as a podcast, centred around the titular department's investigator Dr. John Carnack (played by James Callis).

During the 90s and 2000s Warren Ellis was Very Online through his own e-mail lists, moderated forums, blog, and Twitter. His informal online community included and encouraged many younger creators, such as Molly Crabapple, Laurie Penny, Jamie McKelvie, Kieron Gillen, Matt Fraction, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Chip Zdarsky, Ben Templesmith, Katie West, and many more.

Recurring Author Appeal / Author Tracts include nanotechnology, evil corporations, space exploration, people behaving badly, as well a rather unsympathetic view of America and Great Britain. His works regularly feature Black-and-Gray Morality, Violence Really Is the Answer, and This is Your Premise on Drugs. None of the above makes his work any less inherently readable.

He's also known as one of the very few British comic writers of his generation to have never worked on 2000 AD, though it's certainly not out of disgust.

He lives in the coastal city of Southend-on-Sea with his partner. He had a major health scare in June 2015; doctors initially diagnosed him with a transient ischemic attack (a mini-stroke) before realizing it was a recurrance of a fifteen-year old extremely high blood pressure problem (before he had even started smoking or begun his coffee addiction) that had put him in a coma for six weeks.

In June 2020, dozens of women mentored by Ellis described his sexual grooming and predatory behaviour towards younger women. While the initiator of the accusations insisted both that she didn't want Ellis "cancelled", and that he had helped numerous other women without making advances toward them, the fallout meant that several of Ellis's scheduled works were cancelled ahead of release, and he stepped away from his role as a producer on the Netflix Castlevania series for the final season (and is not involved at all with the sequel, Castlevania: Nocturne). Ellis made an apology and, by spring 2022, some of his victims reported that they were working through a restorative justice process. As of January 2023, that process had halted, with issuing a statement that Ellis "took none of the steps we hoped he would" and that they "do not anticipate" any further involvement.

Not to be confused with the Warren Ellis who plays violin for The Bad Seeds.

Notable Works:

Tropes associated with Warren Ellis and his works:

  • Adaptation Distillation: Two of his works, Iron Man: Extremis and Red have been the basis for major films, Extremis as part of Iron Man 3 and Red as, uh, Red. Only in the case of Red was the storyline drastically altered, as trying to film the book as written would have probably resulted in an NC-17 rating. Ellis has gone on record as saying he didn't mind the changes, to the "Extremis" story in particular; his feeling being that "Extremis" was work-for-hire, and that since Marvel paid him for the story, it was theirs to do with as they pleased.
  • Anti-Hero: Spider Jerusalem is easily one of the morally (definitely not socially) nicest, and he will shoot the President with a gun that makes him shit himself, then un-pawn a child's stuffed animal.
  • Artistic License – Biology: After he explained the difference between normal and artificial mutants (or were they mutants from alternate reality? Probably both) in his first Astonishing X-Men story, people at Scans Daily pointed out that genetics don't work that way. Ellis admitted his mistake.
    • When Ellis wrote Iron Man: Extremis, he explained the eponymous magic bullet (a single injection which would turn ordinary mortals into supermen) as a "Data package contained in a few million carbon nanotubes, injected directly into the brain". The information package would then rewrite the repair center in the brain — that is, the part of the brain which keeps a complete 'map' of our organs and functions. "The brain is telling the body is wrong"... and it compliantly changes according to the Extremis instructions. Perhaps needless to say, there is no "repair center" (although the "sensory homunculus" seems a little bit like what is described). Later writers retconned Extremis into a viral package, which is at least borderline believable.
    • And in Supergod it is a point that "mushrooms only grow on dead things". Which, well, they do not, as anyone who's ever had athlete's foot can tell you.
  • Author Appeal: New Media. His run of JLA Classified is basically an Expy of Global Frequency; the Leaguers simultaneously find something so weird their brains go blue-screen, so they all call up Martian Manhunter telepathically. He then calls up Oracle of the Bat-clan, who powers up all her computers and digs in.
    Superman: J'onn, do you hear me?
    Wonder Woman: J'onn, this is Wonder Woman. I need a consultation.
    Green Lantern: J'onn, this is Green Lantern. I could use some extra brains here.
    Martian Manhunter: I Hear You All. This is J'onn J'onzz on the Lunar Watchtower, activating the Justice League Telepathic Link.
    Oracle: This is Oracle in the Gotham Watchtower. Information mining system on. You Are On The Global Frequency. Justice League Is Go.
    • Secret Avengers also bore a lot of similarities to Global Frequency, complete with "mini-teams" similar to the GF teams.
    • He's also very interested in space-flight, trans-humanism and the Singularity, all of which tend to pop up in his works to some degree.
    • Nanomachines and corrupt mega-corporations pop up all over the place in his work.
    • A large number of his protagonists wear white suits.
    • Guns feature heavily in his stories.
    • Other times, Ellis wholeheartedly admits to creating books based around his artists' Appeals to give them work and indulge a bit.
    • Use of psychotropics come up. A lot.
  • Author Filibuster: His more misanthropic characters are always ready to explain at length their views, sometimes at odd moments.
  • Awesome, Dear Boy: Ellis is completely okay with any and all changes made to the film of Red (2010), because said changes ultimately resulted in Helen Mirren wielding an automatic machine gun.
  • Badass Boast: Ellis knows how a superhero battle goes down.
    J'onn J'onzz: We're the Justice League. We've beaten up real gods and made them cry. You are nothing to us. (cue League delivering epic smackdown to mind-devouring abomination.)
  • Berserk Button: Holy shit, does he hate dogs. Ellis will rant about this on his website or Twitter if given an excuse, but he finds a lot of reasons in his work for dogs to die in ways that he finds funny: accidentally crushed underneath a falling unconscious goon, "culled" for being feral and sentient, infected with a zombie gas, etc.
  • Beware the Superman: He has to like this trope very much; Black Summer, No Hero, Supergod are all about it, echoes of it can be found in Planetary, Authority and Thunderbolts, and one of his first Stormwatch stories quoted it explicitly.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: Many of his titles.
  • Black Comedy: As a result of the above.
  • Composite Character: Ultimate Pete Wisdom, introduced in Ellis' Ultimate Human is a mix of mainstream Wisdom, Neil Burnside, and Hulk's archenemy, The Leader.
  • Characterization Marches On: Following the direction Joss Whedon took Cyclops, Ellis ignored the Badass Decay the character has been subjected to by other writers, and wrote him true to the spirit of Chris Claremont's portrayal, who'd always seen Summers as "a Heinlein character". Maybe even took it step further, as he admitted trying to make Scott Batman with eye beams. (Opinions vary one whether it was this trope or Scott simply taking a level in Jerkass.)
  • Creator Thumbprint: Many of Ellis's protagonists are partially or wholly defined by their addictions: smoking, drinking, caffeine, self-destructive behavior, etc. To listen to him talk on his various blogs and newsfeeds, Ellis himself wasn't far behind them for most of his life, until a health scare in the 2010s got him to cut back on most of his vices.
    • Many of his protagonists are also former idealists, who've become cynical or at least more realistic due to greater experience in the world. In his longer-form works, these characters' arcs are often about overcoming that and accomplishing something anyway. Switchblade Honey in particular is notable in that it compresses that entire set of character beats into a single-issue story.
    "I went to war and I stayed in the Navy because I knew that I needed the human race.
  • Deconstruction: He wrote a whole trilogy which is deconstructing Super Hero genre, telling what would happen if superheroes were too human (Black Summer), crazy assholes (No Hero) or have no humanity at all (Supergod).
  • Digital Piracy Is Okay: Ellis has been very outspoken about how internet filesharing is just part of the future and we shouldn't try to stop it, going to far as to ask people back in the day on his old forums what the best programs for torrenting were so he could use them. Needless to say this position didn't endear him so some other comicbook authors.
  • Eagleland: Any of Warren's works set in America will feature people who are either selfless, heroic martyrs, or abusive, misanthropic jackasses; and locations ranging from a splendid New York City to the most rundown trailer park imaginable. Ellis has said in Q & A's that his feelings on America are mostly that while he thinks it is the greatest country in the world, he also feels it has the potential to be far greater, and is annoyed by this.
    • Somewhat inverted in his Secret Avengers run: Americans ends up being the only people moral enough to step in and stand up for some Eastern European villagers being hunted and abducted, and in the end of the issue it turns out the ones responsible for the abductions were all British, with Steve suspecting they may have government ties.
  • Expy: Eli Warren, created by Kieron Gillen in his Iron Man run, shares a name, an accent, an appearance and an obsession with Transhumanism with Ellis. (Of course, given that he lives in the Marvel Universe, he's more inclined to act on that obsession...)
  • The Government: Often opposing and critical of it. In particular, Ellis seems to like having the president of the United States of America killed or at least disgraced in his works.
    • They're also hilariously ineffective, as seen in The Authority and Planetary; In the former, no government or political power can stand against the threats he lines up, and in the latter, the world's progress is actually controlled and allowed to progress at a snail's pace by an evil pastiche of a popular superhero group.
    • Also in Global Frequency, where The Government has usually created the threat of the week but fucked it up to such a degree that they're unable to handle it when it gets out of control, and thus have to rely on the global civilian network to clean up their messes.
  • Insult Backfire: Ellis related a time when someone who hated his work tried to dishearten him by showing his books in a discount bin. Ellis was instead enthused by this due to such discount bins being where he was first exposed to reading (he came from a rather poor family), which eventually led him to be a writer, which meant the hater accidentally encouraged Ellis by implying someone will be inspired by his work and take up writing as well.
  • It Amused Me: This was literally his answer to why the G.I. Joe character Dial Tone was Gender Flipped in G.I. Joe: Resolute after Hasbro insisted that a tech Ellis gave a lot of dialogue to be a named Joe.
  • Knight in Sour Armor: His favored protagonists tend to be world-weary and cynical chain-smokers living in Crapsack Worlds who nevertheless possess rigid moral cores and a commitment to doing the right thing despite themselves.
  • The Mentor/Team Dad: Kind of is this among current Marvel writers, as several important creators with the House of Ideas admit being influenced by Ellis: Kieron Gillen learned scriptwriting from his scripts, Brian Michael Bendis calls Ellis his favorite writer, Jonathan Hickman, Matt Fraction and Kelly Sue DeConnick were frequent users of his fanforums(Fraction and DeConnick actually first got to know each other posting there, then met in real life, began dating and ended up getting married) and he introduced Brian Wood as his protege in the 90s.
  • Must Have Caffeine: There's nary a character in his works that don't demand coffee.
  • No Ending: A fair few of his shorter works don't end so much as they stop.
  • Random Events Plot: Ellis admitted that his Ultimate Comics Armor Wars miniseries was just essentially Marvel paying him for his Stream of consciousness writing. The result? Tony Stark beating on — in order — Dr. Wily with a MODOK in his head (Dr. Faustus); Dr. Fakenstein in power armor (Dreadknight), SPARTAN ripoffs in the process of doing what the project was canonically designed to do - slaughter protesters (Operation: Firepower); And finally, Howard Stark, Sr. AKA "Ernest Borgnine in an ill-advised love triangle with farming machinery and the wreckage of a Lincoln Continental".
  • Shown Their Work: Whether he's writing about bleeding-edge speculation about physics, biology, and technology; world history; or the characters of an established Shared Universe, Ellis demonstrates a knowledge of even obscure or minor details.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Generally pretty cynical though to what extent varies from story to story. There's often a small glimmer of hope at very least, regardless of how dark the plot is. His Avatar Press Superhero trilogy is notable for veering hard right into the furthest reaches of the cynical side of the scale, all ending in a complete Downer Endings.
  • Spiritual Antithesis: Ellis himself put his Black Summer in contrast with Mark Millar's Civil War (2006), saying that latter is watered-down vision of conflict between superheroes and government and the former is what would really happen. He also responded to Kurt Busiek's Marvels with a extremely depressing miniseries called Ruins.
    • His Switchblade Honey is this to Star Trek: it shows a future where the exploration of space is handled by a bunch of insane egomaniacs, which leads to a war with a much more powerful enemy, which humanity is losing. Heroic idealists, who would become great heroes of Starfleet in Star Trek, here end up in prison for opposing the corrupted system.
  • Status Quo Is God: Criticized a lot, especially in Planetary, which really strongly criticizes Reed Richards Is Useless and similar tropes used by editorial mandate to make their worlds closer to ours and preventing any changes. Even John Constantine has been criticized for not really changing since his first appearance (oddly, Planetary suggests Constantine should become more like Spider Jerusalem, although Ellis insists that this was a Throw It In! by John Cassaday and he actually didn't intend for this).
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill: Averted; most of his heroes don't have those kind of issues. There's an oddly frequent idea in his work, that some people contribute nothing to the world but sorrow and thus need killing. It's most clearly articulated in the Hong Kong issue of Planetary.
    • He occasionally causes controversy when he does work for hire, because Ellis flatly refuses to write a character with an iron-clad code against killing. The closest he comes is Swift in The Authority, who under his pen will kill if necessary but doesn't want to. (This was not a trait that later writers adopted.) There was a mild controversy after Ellis's first issue of Secret Avengers, after he had Hank McCoy make an impossible choice: either use an improvised dirty nuke to kill a few hundred members of the Shadow Council, or lose the city of Cincinnati to a weaponized time machine. Hank picked the first one, but not without comment or complaint.
  • Took a Level in Badass: It may sound impossible, but he made Iron Man take one.
    • As a matter of fact, it transpires that this was, if not impossible, than at least hard to swallow: in order to make Stark more badass, Ellis first made him a bitch. Extremis in a nutshell; a Right-Wing Militia Fanatic shoots up with Nanomachines, and the resulting Hulk-level sociopath Curb Stomps him. The hero who once flew a nuclear reactor the size of a city block in the process of meltdown out to sea ends up in severe danger of being killed by a redneck using a car as an improvised sledgehammer. Stark survives to shoot up on nanomachines himself, enabling him to plug his brain into a brand-new suit, then goes back in swinging an earthmover bucket like a foam rubber bat.
    • Also, Ellis' Doc Samson was probably the most spot-on compelling portrayal that the character has ever received. It would have been awesome to see more Ellis work starring the literally ragingly ethical Balls of Steel bruiser psychiatrist. Just say that Loeb's version was a clone, life mode decoy android, an anal Skrull, one of those alternate universe tourists that Dan Slott introduced, or somesuch. It didn't get the history straight anyway.
  • Torture Always Works: A recurring theme across his works has characters from Captain America to James Bond to Batman endorse and employ a variety of forms of torture, which is always efficacious in producing vital information. Several characters mock the idea that "torture doesn't work," typically while torturing people using techniques which are known to be immensely unreliable in Real Life.
  • Trenchcoat Brigade: Ellis seems to love the hell out of John Constantine, given that a chunk of his characters are essentially Expies of him.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Thunderbolts during Ellis' run were so popular they had their own line of toys.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: The Authority and Doktor Sleepless.
  • World of Snark: We dare you to find a Warren Ellis book where there aren't any grumpy smartasses.
  • Writer on Board: Often very unsubtle about his opinions. If he writes a Take That!, you'll probably know it.
  • Writing for the Trade: In his early period Ellis made a point of avoiding this in his comics, making each issue as self contained as possible even in larger stories. More recent comics like Trees and Injection are structured like novels and tend to read better in collections than single issues.

"It's been a weird old life. But I did get to buy my daughter a pony."
Warren Ellis, Orbital Operations