Trading Up: Freakangels

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Freakangels is a webcomic that is written by Warren Ellis and Illustrated by Paul Duffield. It is also one of the more exciting things that Ellis has written in quite some time.

All too often, the masters of their craft fall into easy territory, choosing to rehash the same material over and over. Ellis has done this to a certain extent. How many times can one writer take Super Heros to their most (il)logical extreme? How many times can one writer use conspiracy and techno futurism to expose the problems in current society?

Certainly, these motifs have been prevalent themes in comics since before Mister X, but anyone who has purchased Dark Horse’s anthology of that landmark independent book knows that Ellis holds that book in the same kind of awe that most fans look at Watchmen. It is no wonder then that so much of his work has had an esoteric and skeptical tone to it. Twenty-five years later, he is trying to match that work. No matter how different Black Summer, No Hero, Planetary, and The Authority are, they are at their core thematic synonyms. The execution and actual mechanism may be different, but the ideas presented are much the same. Certainly the same can be said for works like Doktor Sleepless and Transmetropolitan.

What is refreshing about the story here is that while there is an amount of power corrupting absolutely in this work, the work itself seems to center on the characters who have been thrust into a post apocalyptic world. Sure, it is slowly revealed that their powers led the world to its desolate stature, but here the characters are forced to deal with the ramifications of what they have done. In other books, there are consequences faced, but most of the time Ellis is dealing with how the meta beings came to have gone to far.

Freakangels instead deals with characters who instead of feeling above the normal people, are plagued with guilt over what has happened. The reader must assume that over time the cataclysmic events that got these folks to this place are going to be explained, but for now he must delve into what motivates these characters after they have done the worst they could do. The story in its milieu and pacing has an almost Miyazaka flow to it. The great auteur of Japanese Anime uses location, culture, and history to create something that resonates at a deeper level then much of the popular art form. Here instead of shocking sexual orientations and brash escapades (although it is an Ellis book so there is plenty of that there) the reader is lost in this post informational society’s devolution into steam punk mechanics and tribal social groupings.

It is almost as the worst that could have passed in Princess Monoke did and Humanity is left in an intelligent place but lacks the resources to continue life as we knew it. It is what the world would have been like ten years before we met Mad Max or the Mariner. Ellis takes this setting and populates it with his familiar archetypal characters creating something new and fresh in their story.

This reader is unfamiliar with the work of Paul Duffield, but his express lines and creative scenery make this book a delight to read. There is definitely a European animated influence on the work and if the artist is not drawing and coloring on plastic cells then he has developed a photoshop technique that generates much the same effect. The exuberance of his playful character designs helps us remember that Ellis’s characters here were stunted in their emotional development. It is easier to take in their playful childlike behavior when they look like children instead of post Armageddon worn adults.

Not since Ellis started working with Ryp has he teamed with such a perfect match as an artist. Together they bring a fantastic steam punk world to life. It is almost enough to make me read a comic book on the computer, instead I think that I will wait out the larger story chunks this way. I am sure that the two creators appreciate the money flowing their way.

Warren Ellis (W), Paul Duffield (A), Avatar Press, $19.99


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