As this article begins to feel more and more bi-weekly, as opposed to weekly, I realize that for a while there the majority of what I was discussing was comics made for younger readers. Sure, readers of any age would be able to enjoy them, and I recommend that you do, but when it really came time to focus, redirect my attention and take a few brief moments away from preparing my students for the AIMS test coming up in a matter of weeks, I realized that I felt I needed to get just a bit darker with my next post.
I don’t mean to say my point of view is going to take a downturn.
I just mean I want to write about something that I would never give my kids to read.
The book is called Fell. The first volume (and right now, only volume) is called Feral City and it features some of the smartest writing I have ever seen
from a crime comic.
The book began publication in 2007 from Image Comics, the publisher known for publishing independent stories. This means that the creators of the series are the ones in total control of the content being published within. This allows for stories perhaps far edgier than what you could find in a superhero comic from either DC or Marvel Comics.
And in a city like Snowtown, where Detective Richard Fell has just transferred, you need a strong stomach and tough will to be able to even survive.
The book is written by British comic-mastermind, Warren Ellis, also known for his strong internet presence and bringing to mind the fear that even retired F.B.I. agents are dangerous. For anyone that saw the 2010 action movie, RED, will know what I’m talking about.
Writing grizzled, dry, sarcastic characters must be a specialty of Warren Ellis.
Anyone that has followed him on Twitter may know what I’m talking about.
The story of Fell begins as Detective Fell, fresh off a stint in the big city, is transferred to what many consider to be a trash dump called Snowtown.
This is a Post-It note left from Detective Fell’s point of view. It’s one of many left throughout the book. Written from a third-person point of view, we never truly know what our main character, Fell, is thinking. And that’s the exciting part of this whole story.
Because there is no over-arching narration throughout the entirety of it, you experience the horror of Snowtown through the eyes of a newcomer, just like Fell. From his first murder case involving creative alcohol poisoning, to meeting his first real friend in the eyes of the welcoming but suspicious tavern girl Mayko, you get a real grasp of the city.
And what you grasp is that everyone is hiding something, even the city itself, as each wall is painted with a symbol.
Just a meaningless symbol Fell thinks, one that Mayko believes wards off evil.
If the symbol is everywhere and it supposedly wards off evil, then what would the city be like without it?
“Moon St. Police Station is to me what Hell is to Satan. The place I got to work, but man does it smell like crap.”
Creepily and perfectly drawn by artist Ben Templesmith, the city of Snowtown comes to life with a bizarre resonance. From muted colors wonderfully mixed with eclectic tints and shades on the important pieces. (You might recognize this technique. M. Night Shyamalan uses it quite a bit in his movies. Important bits are highlighted with the color red.)
You actually feel like there is a history to this city. A history buried deep beneath the bodies.
Now, the first volume, Feral City, is not one completed story. It is a set of 8 individual issues all featuring fell. Heavy on dialogue but never dry in its execution, Fell always manages to keep you entertained. Each issue, being only 16 pages long, must pull off an entire done in one story in one go. No time for waiting. Every issue hits the ground running.
“We cleverly negotiate with the King of Yakistan.” (Post-It used to describe a scene of beat cops beating a crazed, homeless man.)
So what kind of man is Richard Fell? I guess as I was reading that was the burning question constantly going in the back of my mind. What kind of man is he going to turn out to be? You never know in crime fiction, and I guess that’s what makes it so interesting for the avid, and even casual, readers of the genre. You never really know if the supposed hero of your story is going to turn into someone that you despise.
I guess I kept waiting for that in Fell. That moment when I could go “Ahhhh, so Richard is just as rotten as that derange, child molesting father he just bamboozled.”
It never comes.
Even with the odds of the entire city against him, I watch as Richard Fell continues to keep going. We begin to notice a pattern, though. Seeing as how he’s not married and not truly committed to anything except his glowing yellow hair and his place of residence, it’s easy to see he’s attached to the job. So attached, that he becomes severely angered when he loses a suspect because he over-analyzes and breaks down the crime the suspect committed.
Fell is so involved in his work that at times, it’s almost as if he’s losing himself to the city and the Richard Nixon masked nun that seems to always be following him around.
That’s right. A nun with a Richard Nixon mask.
That’s the kind of humor that made the book so endearing, and what made the character of Richard Fell so captivating. Stuck in a town that’s lost all hope, on the other side of bridge that feels like it goes to nowhere, Richard Fell has only one thing to put on his Post-It note to the garbage zone residents of Snowtown:
“This is where I live now. None of you are nothing to me.”
- In addition to writing for the column “Comic Matters” for the Tucson Citizen website, Bobby Acosta is also a 5th Grade Elementary school teacher, frequenter of local comic book shop Heroes & Villains, and explorer of the importance of comics. He recommends each and every comic he writes about. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org