I love the unintended meaning of the title, “Pheonix without Ashes.” Legendary speculative fiction writer Harlan Ellison originally wrote an episode for a show called “Starlost” titled “Pheonix Without Ashes”, which was later adapted into this book (published by IDW, drawn by Alan Robinson with gorgeous covers by John K. Snyder III). It was a teleplay that never aired, yet managed to win an award in 1975. And here it is, the idea reborn again in graphic literature.
If you are not familiar with Harlan Ellison, I would argue that you might be - he has contributed to shows like The Outer Limits, Star Trek, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Alfred Hitchcock hour, and more. His short stories rank high in my esteem, right up there with classic Isamov and Heinlein. I personally recommend “I have no mouth but I must scream” - I’ll stop here, but if you want to gush about classic scifi, the door is always open.
The book’s back cover can explain the plot better than I ever could.
Your name is DEVON. Don't worry about your last name: there aren't enough people in this awfully nice world for you to worry about having a last name. Or to worry about why the sky seems unreachable, and made of metal. Maybe it's metal. So don't worry about not having a last name. And as long as you believe God lives close by, only 185 miles from you (that's what Elder Micah says) or sometimes it's 135 miles, and once it was 216, and as long as Cypress Corners - and awfully nice world maybe 300, 400, something like that, miles from one end to the other - is as nice a world as it is, you've got nothing to worry about. Except why they, the Elders, won't let you wed RACHEL. They want her to marry Garth. He's an okay guy, Garth is, but you love Rachel... and she loves you. So why does everybody get so nuts when you defy the elders. What the hell is going on here? I'll TELL you what's going on here! It's more complex than any 18th century agrarian community ought to be. It's a got a root so deep you can never figure out you're in a damned PRISON, even if it's awfully nice. In short, DEVON, have you ever asked why the world is only 300 miles wide, and why the steady awfully nice breezes always come from the south? Ask now, my boy; ask now.
If that doesn’t make you want to read it, you may want to discuss this a trained professional.
The writing is very reminiscent of the Isamov/Heinlein style of writing. It’s not that it isn’t nuanced or subtle, but it treats the reader as an active character as opposed to a fly on the wall. It reads like a stage show, and the actor is mildly aware of the audience. I might say that it is without intimacy (in the same way that old Star Trek episodes threw intimacy away when kirk would take a full pause before kissing the latest alien princess) but that would be misleading; this is not a story about being intimate, this is very intended to set a story.
The art is not truly remarkable, but very good. The expressions on the characters are well done, and characters very distinct in personality. Without spoiling it, there are scenes that require much larger panels, and the artist does a very interesting thing with the panels - this is where the artist really shines. Using the full view of a subject as the background of the panels, the artist uses the paneling to show what the character is looking at /in context/ with the entire image. Of specific note was the covers, included in the back of this hardcover edition of the collected issues. My god, they were good. Worth it on their own. Do not stop reading because you hit the ending; continue through to the art gallery and taste glory.
The downside is that I was left somewhat hanging but the resolution. This is a very strong television pilot that got turned into a comic book. As far as I know, there are no plans to continue this in comics. This makes me sad; when I read the comic again, I found myself immediately curious when the next issue would come out. I’d love to read it.
Well, Mr. Ellison?
TL;DR: With gorgeous covers and a classic science fiction plot, Harlan Ellison does not disappoint in this foray into graphic literature. Wish there was more. Recommended.
“ Phoenix Without Ashes” is written by Harlan Ellison and drawn by Alan Robinson with covers by John K. Snyder III. It is a hardcover collection of the series "Phoenix Without Ashes" issues #1-4, published by IDW. You can find it at your local comic shop, for order on Amazon.