Fell #1


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Fell #1


  • Words: Warren Ellis
  • Art: Ben Templesmith
  • Inks: Ben Templesmith
  • Colors: Ben Templesmith
  • Story Title: N/A
  • Publisher: Image Comics
  • Price: $1.99
  • Release Date: Sep 8, 2005

Mr. Prolific strikes again, this time with a straight ahead story that finds plenty of rules to break.

Snowtown is a feral city, the sort of place real cities become when they die. We don’t know why Detective Rich Fell has come from "across the bridge" to this Mogadishu in the making, but he hasn’t even moved into his dreary apartment before a corpse rolls past his front door on a stretcher and the dead drunkard’s wife is calling him "devil cop" for asking a few questions. The rest of the day only gets stranger. A nun blowing smoke from behind a Nixon mask. A lieutenant damned to protect and serve. A bartender named Mayko who brands him with a glyph to protect him from Snowtown. And a troubled young girl who has no place to go after her father has died from alcohol poisoning. Detective Fell’s genius for reading people puts two and two together, and getting something a little more than five, and a lot more like murder, he learns that the strange days in Snowtown have only just begun.

Artistically, it’s amazing how much freedom one can find in restriction. In Fells’s restrictions—16-page one-and-done stories based on a nine-panel grid—Warren Ellis finds the freedom to break, if not some of his own "rules," then certainly some of his more conspicuous ticks. While the protagonist is a darkly cheeky, whip-smart loner, virtually everything else in Ellis’ script is different. No wasted pages or panels, for instance. And though his scripts lately have read like nails in decompression’s coffin, he’s still susceptible to the scene that runs a beat or page too long. There’s none of that in Fell, either. Likewise, Fell has a resolution that actually feels like one, not simply a poignant moment on page 22. Lastly, instead of crazy, freaky ideas coming at the reader like maniacs turned loose in an asylum, Ellis’ characters live a crazy idea—that as much as "the city" can be civilization’s highest expression, it can also be its darkest nightmare. For the citizens of Snowtown, this idea is deep down, accepted with a grim resolution. Cut the power and water, give up on law and order, and it’s all too easy to picture people living like Fell’s landlady ("If you’re gonna shoot porno, don’t clog the drains") and his precinct’s divorcee secretary ("Aren’t my nails pretty enough? Didn’t I wear that suit for him? / My voice is raw from the barking.") These characters play their insanity sanely, too broken to think that the difference matters. Consequently, with Detective Fell, Ellis flips the script on his trademarked archetype—Fell is the sane one, a force for order to such an extent that the city of Snowtown itself, and not its criminals, is his true antagonist.

Larger, widescreen panels can make pacing and characterization tricky. By contrast, with more panels a writer can make story tempo more immediate by actually showing it. Likewise, subtleties of characterization and dialogue can be explored without dragging the story or eating up pages and panel space. Nimble with the nine-panel grid, Ellis achieves a fluidity of both character and plot. Detectives always have and always will do the great bulk of their jobs by talking to people. In Fell, the dialogue’s punchy flow and low-level, off-kilter intensity establishes character, while also driving the narrative forward to the meat of the plot.

Ben Templesmith is known for challenging artwork that pushes the boundaries of representation. Usually thriving on large, free-form and gutter-less panels, in Fell he downshifts towards a more linear realism that anchors the eye while he uses color to play nuanced shades on the overall dark mood. Though he’s working off of the nine panel grid, even in close shots the interplay of foreground detail and murky backgrounds conveys a larger sense of interior space. It’s also interesting that there are no God’s-eye views of Snowtown, Templesmith opting instead for multi-media, photorealistic effects in smaller, tighter establishing shots that are eerie, yet intimate. Lastly, as Snowtown is a feral city gone to the dogs, at times he captures just how close civilization there is to the edge by depicting characters with animal-like qualities. He keeps his strokes light, though, and hits the point home without hitting the reader over the head.

Two bucks for a great story. Takes me back to the old days when comics didn’t cost as much as magazines. No doubt about it, I’ve fallen for Fell. Forgive the cliché.

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