Harlan Ellison’s Phoenix Without Ashes Review

Harlan Ellison’s graphic novel Phoenix Without Ashes is a story that grabs you by the collar and and wastes no time shoving you into the fray. Ellison pulls no punches in his first comic in fifteen years.

The story is set in the distant future and features Devon, a young man living in a puritanical world that stretches roughly fifty miles. When Devon begins to question the motives of the ruling party, and the decisions of the great machine that their society is founded on, Devon is hunted as a heretic. While on-the-run, he discovers a dangerous secret that will shape the future of his society and the course of the human race.

This summary is intended to be vague because I don’t want to spoil the story for anyone who hasn’t read it. Ellison’s ability to engage the reader never ceases to amaze me. I’ve read quite a few Ellison stories and they always force me to pay attention to the images I’m forming about the characters and setting, while at the same time he’s slightly twisting reality. In this case, Alan Robinson’s artwork does that for me. The comic reads like an Ellison story, a factor I hoped wouldn’t be lost when I opened the first issue.

The themes explored in this mini-series deal with man’s unwillingness to conform, and to follow his intuition and ask questions, even at the risk of being cast out, or worse. Our man Devon fights for his right to freely exist. On the other side of the spectrum, the antagonist in charge of their society finds Devon to be a troublemaker which needs to be dealt with by any means.

Phoenix Without Ashes also comes with some baggage, as this is not a newly written story. It’s resurrected from a failed 1973 Canadian produced sci-fi television series entitled The Starlost, which was conceived by Ellison, and was riddled with so many production problems, he left the show before the first episode aired.

Fellow writer Ben Bova was brought in as a science advisor, only to run into the same issues and eventually left the series as well. Ellison comments on his Starlost experience in the essay “Somehow, I Don’t Think We’re in Kansas Anymore, Toto” in his book Stalking the Nightmare. Coincidentally, Bova reflects on his experience in his satirical novel The Starcrossed. Nearly forty years after the Starlost debacle, Ellison brings his idea to life to a new generation, in a medium that can do his vision justice.

Comments are closed.

RSS for Posts RSS for Comments