Let us here at PoP! guide you through a minefield of books that seem full of win from the word go, but which once you crack them open have you shouting… It’s a Trap!
Ruins #1 & 2
Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Cliff & Terese Nielsen and Chris Moeller
Published by Marvel Comics
Marvel’s mid-90’s Alterniverse imprint only produced a handful of books. One was the highly entertaining Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe. On the other end of the spectrum is Ruins. Conceived as a parody of Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross’s seminal Marvels, it takes the company’s familiar “My superpowers are a curse!” trope and cranks it up to eleven. The result is one of the most unpleasant and depressing comics I’ve ever read. And from Warren Ellis no less, the guy who wrote Nextwave, one of the most entertaining comics of all time. Strap in, PoP!ulation, we’re in for a bumpy ride.
Ruins is told from the point of view of Phil Shelton, the photographer protagonist from Marvels. Like in Marvels, he’s working on a book about various superpowered beings. But in this reality, in his words, “anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” So as Phil does his research, he and the reader discover the gruesome fates of numerous beloved Marvel characters. It opens with the military blowing up of the last Avengers Quinjet, killing both Captain America and Iron Man. Matt Murdock never became Daredevil, as he died from radiation burns in the accident that blinded him. Wolverine is a drunken barfly with a bone disease. Hawkeye was shot in the head. Captain Mar-Vell and a group of Kree refugees are slowly dying of cancer in a government reservation. It was contracted when they discovered the body of the Silver Surfer in orbit, who apparently clawed open his own chest in order to experience breathing again. Nick Fury is a paranoid lunatic who kills himself in front of Shelton. Finally Phil interviews a drugged out Rick Jones, who tells him of how Bruce Banner’s sacrifice resulted in the scientist transforming into a huge mass of tumors dubbed The Hulk. Rick’s dying of cancer as well, of course. The first issue ends on the cheery note of Phil stumbling over the dead body of the Punisher.
The second issue opens with Mystique’s brain imploding and face melting while next to Phil on a plane, a result of all her shape-shifting. When the plane lands government agents take her away, shoving away an old hippie in the process. Bad idea, as that was Magneto (of course it was), and the fall broke his homemade anti-Magneto device and causes his powers to flare up, crushing him beneath a mountain of magnetically attracted metal. Phil visits a prison for mutants run by the Kingpin. Here we see, among others, a blinded Cyclops and quadruple amputee Quicksilver. Apparently President X sometimes visits, and once dropped his pants and yelled “You all came from this!” Lovely. It’s here we learn that Phil himself is dying. After a brief interlude with Phil and a little girl that seems completely out-of-place, its off to the carnival where Princess Python engages in a carnal act with a snake. The headliner is stunt cyclist Johnny Blaze, who proceeds to light his head on fire and drive around the desert screaming. Later Phil interviews former test pilot Ben Grimm, who tells him how his friend Reed Richard enlisted Sue and Johnny Storm and Victor Von Doom to steal his spaceship to research cosmic rays. The ship wasn’t properly shielded of course, and the four return to Earth horribly mutated. Reed deflated, Johnny burned from the inside out, Sue was turned completely invisible and blind, and Doom was wearing his internal organs on the outside. The book ends with Phil succumbing to his disease. Was it the same cancer that took the life of the 616 Phil Shelton? Of course not, that’s not depressing enough. No, this was a disease passed on from that punk kid Peter Parker, who was infected with a contagious mutant virus after being bitten by a spider he’d irradiated. And so it ends with Phil dead on the sidewalk, completely ignored by passing pedestrians.
At the risk of sounding repetitive, I can’t reiterate how utterly depressing Ruins is. Readers are just hit over the head again and again with how bleak things are for their favorite characters with no chance to catch their breath. Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe had characters dropping like flies as well, but it retained a certain black sense of humor. So too did the various Marvel Zombies stories. Those are just as graphic, if not more so, than Ruins, but contain a sense of absurdity that is completely lacking from this humorless mini, unless you find Nick Fury gunning down a prostituting Jean Grey funny. The painted art by the Nielsens is too rough for my taste, though that grittiness does reflect the story well. It’s not helped by the jarring art shift partway through the second issue when Chris Moeller provides much cleaner paints for the last seventeen pages. As for the writing, Ellis has done far better than this fatalistic work. I had to reread Nextwave right after to cleanse my palate. (Not that I ever need an excuse to reread Nextwave, of course.) For some reason, possibly alcohol related, Marvel decided to release a collected edition of Ruins in 2009. If you’re feeling too good about life and want a bitter shot of depression to lower your spirits, look for it or the original issues. I’d give you mine, but I might need them in the future for pest control. I assume that after they read it the mice will exterminate themselves. Ruins gets 1 out of 5 Galactus corpses.