Fell: Feral City
Warren Ellis’ latest triumph is Fell: Feral City, tight little tales of freaks in a creepy city called Snowtown. It’s a new-style detective comic, one featuring short, satisfyingly dense stories with a distinctive look courtesy of Ben Templesmith.
The use of a strict nine-panel grid packs plenty of plot into a small space. It also gives the comic the feel of one of the procedural TV shows, one where the events matter more than the staging or set design. The focus is on the people, Detective Fell, the victims, the predators. Templesmith’s figures are just this side of grotesque, matching their environment and laid out in dirty colors. The unexplained elements — the Snowtown tag of an S with an X through it, used as a totem to ward off evil; the nun in a Nixon mask — only add to the ominous atmosphere.
Richard Fell, a cop with a mysterious past, has just moved over the bridge to the worst city ever. Each chapter, he investigates a crime, doing his job, even when he’s off the clock. Many of these cases are inspired by real-life, dementedly weird news clippings the author has seen. The dialogue is concentrated emotion: desperation, fear, resignation.
His drug-taking boss lets him loose. His new neighbor is dead and his first case. His new friend, a listening bartender, brands him because she thinks it’ll protect him, marking him as part of the city. His cases include domestic murder, stranger murder, a vengeful suicide bomber, the interrogation of a disturbed killer, and a really disturbed child abusing parent. The book’s about the trade-offs that humans make to keep going in the face of an uncaring world that will do horrible things to its inhabitants.
These things should be unusual to us, odd and disconcerting, but we see and hear about so many of them every day that we can become numb, like Fell. He takes his own shortcuts just to feel like he’s making a difference. Fell’s analyses of situations and people are often right, but they feel like camouflage for his mysterious past. What drove him across the bridge to this living hell? His ego won’t let him say.
It’s concentrated Ellis, with everything he’s made his name on: the taciturn outsider who works to bring justice and only sometimes succeeds; the brilliant but broken woman who cares for him; the fascination with the extreme things humans do to themselves and others. This would make a surprisingly effective outreach book to the millions who watch CSI or similar series, because it demonstrates just what can be effectively done with comics.