Comics · Sci-Fi

Review: Anna Mercury by Warren Ellis

I mentioned Saturday that Anna Mercury by Warren Ellis is a comic book that’s frustrating because I want more of it. Upon reflection, I decided there’s really more to say about it, so here we are. It’s one volume that’s mostly setup for a larger series that never appeared, so I can’t recommend it for sheer pleasure reading or longterm investment, but it is at least a whole story, so you won’t be too upset if you do decide to read it. There are some interesting concepts going on and some beautiful pinup covers, so you might well decide to do that.

None of the summaries really describe the book well, but here you go:

Anna Mercury coverA high-kicking, gun-blazing, sexy secret agent has one hour to save the city of New Ataraxia from an unseen menace from another reality. Dancing amid the spires of a city called New Ataraxia, there is a woman who can cloud men’s minds, leap across buildings as if weightless, unerringly fire twin automatic pistols in the most insane conditions, and disappear in a crowded room. She fights against the political repression of an insane technocratic society, comes from a place that no one in New Ataraxia has ever heard of… and has only one hour to save the city from itself! A high-octane blend of The Shadow, Tomb Raider, retro-punk science fiction, and 21st century Weird Pulp Action, Warren Ellis’ ANNA MERCURY is a headlong adventure serial about a beautiful and mysterious spy-adventurer who is not what she seems.

Avatar originally published Anna Mercury in 2008, about ten years after Stormwatch and The Authority, but it reminded me a lot of that. (Some reviewers have called it “Warren Ellis on autopilot,” but I’m not sure that’s relevant for my purposes. I love The Authority, and I’m interested in this different take on the Carrier or whatever Stormwatch’s base was called, Wikipedia wouldn’t tell me immediately and I gave up looking. Anna works for an apparently-British government agency that oversees nine alternate Earths, surrounding ours but in different dimensions. (Her boss makes reference to “imaginary worlds” at one point, so for a few minutes I expected something Unwritten-esque, but he turns out to just mean parallel dimensions.)

“Nine half-constructed worlds hanging in invisible orbit around Earth. All of which have human beings living on them. None of whom are aware of the other worlds or the existence of Earth. This constitutes the greatest mystery, and the greatest secret, of our time.”

The agency can send agents like Anna to the other Earths, but only for a limited time. The energy it takes to do that can also be used to give her some limited powers, like mind-control and acrobatics, but the more energy she uses for those things, the less she has left to get back and the more dangerous it is, which adds an interesting ticking-clock to the usual hijinx but also makes her “powers” more of a tool, so she feels more like a secret agent than a superhero. That has implications for her as a character, too, when she has those powers in the alternate worlds but not at home.

The Earths have some degree of parallel development. We only see one in this story, but it has a very Classic-Doctor Who “Genesis of the Daleks” kind of vibe to me. In 1943, American battleship randomly appeared on the street in a city called New Ataraxia. They’ve built their religion and culture around that revelation. The city across the bridge, Sheol, didn’t see anything and doesn’t believe, and it’s escalated until New Ataraxia is willing to just exterminate Sheol. Anna is trying to stop that from happening, because the agency feels a degree of responsibility for the situation. Other than that, we don’t get much information about why the ship appeared or what happened, and we know nothing about the other Earths. So, there’s potentially a very interesting set of interconnections between a group of similar worlds… although we don’t get to see what they might be or how closely the Earths are related.

“In 1943, the USS Eldridge — three hundred feet long and twelve hundred tons of electromagnetically active metal — appeared right in the middle of New Ataraxia. It was kind of hard to miss. And it sat there for at least twenty minutes. You’ve heard of cargo cults, right? Same thing. I mean, you’ve got to remember, the boat was surrounded by this huge electromagnetic field, sir. nothing around it would have been the same. Metal would have bent, tarmac would have melted, people too close would have just dropped dead. I could list the side effects for ever, but they all boil down to the same thing. Ataraxian society was irrevocably warped. God turned up in his own sailing boat and changed everything. From that point on, everything they did was about understanding what had happened, trying to emulate it, and hoping it’d happen again. every cargo cult tries to imitate god in order to get him to send another package, after all.”

The final thing we need to talk about here is whether or not this is pure exploitation. The cover I have, and the one I put up there at the top, has a more retro-scifi feel, but other covers (by Juan Jose Ryp or Felipe Massafera) and a lot of the interior art pieces (by Facundo Percio) are more sexual. The whole vibe of the character is a pulpy James Bond/Lara Croft mix but in the Matrix. Reviewers actually refer to Anna as a “dominatrix,” which I assume is just coming from her clothes, there’s no reference to that in the book. Honestly, sexualized exploitation art isn’t really Ellis’s thing in any of the books I’ve read from him. Anna Mercury has the art style, but it doesn’t really have the objectification or sexualization, there’s no sexual tension with anyone in the story and while I thought her poses were sometimes over the top, it’s just not the same as other books I’ve read where the women were just there to pose. (Remember that New52 Starfire that was so awful? I remember.) So, I don’t mind saying how beautiful I find the art to be, especially the variant(?) covers at the end, and I believe this could’ve been headed toward a statement or exploration of the trope. Her hair is a wig, but I don’t understand the explanation:

“I’ll never know why you wear this for missions–” “Hey, would you believe in me if you saw me in the street? Hurry this up, they’re doing a cut-down ready call in mission control, and I need to go to work.”

Does she mean that she wants to look unbelievable on the other Earth? Or that she doesn’t think she looks impressive/believable enough as herself? I mean, I’d be scared of her arms no matter what her hair looked like. So I’m just not sure what that statement was supposed to mean.

There were a few more single issues released after the arc reprinted here, and I may actually track them down to read them. I’d really like to know more.

Anna Mercury On Goodreads | On Amazon

6 thoughts on “Review: Anna Mercury by Warren Ellis

  1. I have found Warren Ellis’ writing to be *very* hit or miss, but this does sound like it had a certain potential.

    Ellis working for Avatar Press was a, um, interesting partnership. Avatar was a publisher that specialized in X-rated ultra-violent “bad girl” types of books. I don’t know what the specifics were that led to Ellis working for Avatar, but I suspect that they promised him complete creative freedom, i.e. literally *anything* went, including explicit sex and graphic violence. I read his first project for Avatar was Strange Kiss, which was incredibly twisted, and ultimately left me cold.

    I am curious how much of the visual design for the character of Anna Mercury was devised by Ellis, and how much was a result of Avatar telling him “Hey, wouldn’t it be great if you could write a series featuring an incredibly sexy, fetishistic bombshell babe who we can feature on some really provocative covers?!?” 🙂


    1. Heh. It sounds like that’s pretty much what Avatar said. It doesn’t read like “yay, I can do explicit sex and graphic violence now” because there isn’t any of that in the book. It has kind of the tone that it’s going to go there, but actually it’s not interested in that at all.


  2. I have yet to see a satisfactory explanation where a male author tries to get his female character to explain why she “chooses” to dress the way he chooses to have her drawn. There may be some good ones out there, but I haven’t seen them.

    Ultimately, I think it’s because none of these characters ever “choose” anything for themselves. We’re always choosing for them, always putting words in their mouths. We can make them “say” anything we want to explain why they “chose” to do the things we chose for them, but the real explanations always lie in us, in our motivations, in our decisions, and not in them. Even if you can write an explanation that sounds convincing, it isn’t true, because it will always imply they chose for themselves, when it will always really be us who chose for them.


    1. Fair enough. But like, if I could afford it, I’d totally choose to dress like Anna Mercury. I don’t think that’s inherently sexist. My question is more toward the reasoning behind the wig, just because I literally don’t understand the statement that was made.


      1. It’s actually a really nice costume, and based on your description, I can see why you want more of it. “Dimension hopping secret agent who becomes Trinity + The Shadow when she’s in the other dimension” sounds cool as hell.

        I just meant that her explanation for why she wears it isn’t very good (indeed, it doesn’t even make sense) – and that this is a problem I’ve seen other times authors have tried to get female characters to explain why they chose to have their costume look that way. It seems there’s just no way to make these explanations sound authentic. It’s probably a topic they’re better off not addressing, since there’s probably no way to address it well.



Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s