Fell (graphic novel)
Written by: Warren Ellis
Illustrated by: Ben Templesmith
Synopsis (goodreads): Detective Richard Fell
is transferred over the bridge from the big city to Snowtown, a feral
district whose police investigations department numbers three and a half
people (one detective has no legs). Dumped in this collapsing urban
trashzone, Richard Fell is starting all over again. In a place where
nothing seems to make any sense, Fell clings to the one thing he knows
to be true: everybody's hiding something.
I picked this up the other day at my local comic shop but I've had it in my Amazon wishlist for quite awhile now. The combination of Ben Templesmith and Warren Ellis was simply too hard to resist when I could actually hold it in my hands, even if it did cost a little more than if I bought it online. (Although hooray for supporting indie book/comic stores!) This book was very different to the series I've previously read by Warren Ellis (Transmetropolitan and Freakangels). It is dark and oppressive and at first seemed devoid of that wicked wit I love so much in Ellis' work. The more I read it though the more that devilish humour came through and the more I really fell in love with this book.
Snowtown is the kind of town you hope could never exist. Only a bridge separates it from a city we'd probably all recognise but Snowtown seems to be from another time, or another world. Broken by rampant violence, crime and crippling poverty, Snowtown is empty of life, colour or hope and the vulnerable town people have reverted back to superstitions and magic for protection from the crime around them ("If Snowtown knows who you are, it won't come and get you")Detective Fell is new to Snowtown from across the bridge and seems immediately out of his depth in the wild and destructive world he finds himself in and the people that occupy it. His one saving grace seems to be an ability to recognise the secrets everyone tries to hide and a determination to unravel them and restore sanity and safety to it, one crime at a time.
The book is broken down into eight chapters, each chapter presents Fell with a new challenge, Snowtown style. Nothing, even crime, is simple in Snowtown and both the crimes and the criminals are complex and completely deranged, yet many have a sympathetic edge to them. Like in chapter 3 when a man driven mad by the grief of losing his brother attempts to bomb the second hand store that secretly sells guns, one of which was used to shoot his brother dead. Or the new guy in town who took to murdering pregnant women and hanging their fetuses from his ceiling because of an old superstition which thought they'd provide protection so you'd never have to be afraid again. Ultimately it's a bitter cycle, Snowtown breeds criminals who keep the regular townsfolk afraid until they snap and do something criminal themselves. It raises the age old question of nurture vs nature, is anyone in Snowtown born/raised evil or is the pervasive sense of doom and gloom that abounds Snowtown that drives them to such actions?
The illustrations* are incredible, they've almost got a life of their own. They perfectly capture the intense claustrophobia, darkness and insanity that pervades Snowtown and bathe the characters in this slightly unfocused unreal quality that matches the complete unnatural, inhuman feeling they all display page after page. It's almost like a bit of the evil or fear inside them seeps out and blurs their outlines, just as their actions blur the lines between right/wrong, sane/insane and good/bad. Ben Templesmith has an unbelievable talent for personifying all of this confusion and emotion in his work, and I don't think this comic would have worked with anyone else.
It's a short graphic novel, each chapter only being about 19 pages long, but the glimpses they provide into twisted and tormented people (both the criminals and residents of Snowtown alike) will live on long past those pages. All in all it was an incredible, dark and disturbingly humorous read and I'm eagerly awaiting the next book.
My rating: 4/5
*I attempted to attach a few pics of the illustrations to demonstrate my point but Blogger isn't playing nice so I'll have to try again later. I suggest you do a quick google image search for 'Fell by Warren Ellis' if you want a quick taster.