Amish in space. At the most basic level, that’s the easiest way to describe Phoenix Without Ashes. But as with anything that Harlan Ellison writes, there’s also a much deeper level of complexity that involves this strange juxtaposition as a metaphor for fundamentalism running headlong against progressive thought. With Phoenix Without Ashes, Ellison reinforces the science fiction as metaphor legacy that is often missing from contemporary sci-fi – certainly in comics.
Set in a rustic village that has an obviously strange relationship with advanced technology which the villagers look to for prophetic wisdom, Phoenix Without Ashes quickly establishes that nothing is simple or as it seems. Illustrator, Alan Robinson does an incredible job of allowing various levels of technology share the panel and page. He presents this in a way that makes it all seem natural, as it should be. This is particularly important because it’s how the characters of Phoenix Without Ashes see their world.
Ellison, a long-time veteran of novel writing shows that he’s got some serious chops when it comes to writing comic books. Specifically, Ellison does a great job of writing dialogue and not over-loading the book with exposition. He often chooses to show the reader what they need to know rather than telling them. There are in fact, several pages that have little or no text. Ellison does what great comic book writers do when he lets the artist tell as much of the story as the writer does.
Phoenix Without Ashes makes for an enjoyable read that is both well-crafted and thought-provoking. There should be more science fiction like this in comic books.