|And you thought house prices in|
your neighbourhood were bad?
Truth is stranger than fiction so they say, a fact Warren Ellis contests throughout the dark and ominous pages of Fell Volume 1: Feral City. There are no strange costumes or fantastic powers in Fell, no origin story or cross over event. This graphic novel is about a cop. A good cop (as far as we know) who finds himself on the wrong side of the bridge, in Snowtown. This is not a place where good things happen and Detective Richard Fell quickly realises he is going to need all his skills of observation simply to stay alive. It also helps he’s no slouch at fisticuffs.
Each story in Fell revels in the sick and the wrong, and somehow justifies it without ever excusing it. The gross out moments are laugh out loud funny, but there’s plenty that will draw a morbidly fascinated silence out even the most jaded reader. The moral spectrum here is as muddy and warped as the art itself, provided by Ben Templesmith (Wormwood Gentleman Corpse). The art style is perfectly singular, strange but always coherent, at times adopting the best hallucinatory, dream-like qualities of cinema.
And it’s not just the stories that skew from the traditional superhero fair (but you already knew that superheroes are only one genre in the medium, right?). Each episode is limited to just sixteen pages (American comics a regularly 22 page affairs). This makes the story-telling brief and snappy without ever feeling cluttered and condensed. The dialogue is paired down, almost beyond brevity, further adding to the vein of noir that bleeds through Fell.
Long term comics readers will also note the nine panel grid, used to create a steady and orderly pace in story-telling, only broken to establish scenes, capture the action or heighten the atmosphere. And there is atmosphere aplenty in Snowtown.
Note also (pun intended) that Ellis and Templesmith are not tied to such a prosaic thing as a caption box to display the exposition. Detective Fell’s yellow, hand-scrawled, post-it notes introduce us to each locale, often underpinned with gallows humour. It’s this humour that leavens the black as pitch tales of criminality in Snowtown. Adding further richness is the author’s great humanity -- Detective Richard Fell cares, and so does Warren Ellis.