Sunday, July 31, 2016

Review: Fell, Feral City

Fell, Feral City Fell, Feral City by Warren Ellis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Warren Ellis’s Transmetropolitan is the second best collection of periodical comics I’ve ever read. (Eric Powell’s The Goon is better, but that’s it.) So when I found out that Ellis had a series that takes on the hardboiled detective genre, I had to check it out.

There are some definite virtues here. Ben Templesmith’s illustrations have a nice, washed out look to them, and they manage to move the story forward on their own. His fight scenes are blunt and muddied, but they’re surprising effective even without words.

Ellis hasn’t lost his ability to tell a tight, clever story either. Each issue is a self-contained narrative, almost like a classic cop procedural. The approach is fresh in every case, and there are legitimate surprises in the twists he introduces.

And the writing is often strong in its feel for language and dialogue. The first frame, when Police Detective Richard Fell has just signed a lease on a new apartment in the rundown Snowtown area, has this great exchange with his elderly new landlady. “Can I move my stuff in tonight?” “Gimme the money. You can do what you like with it. If you’re going to shoot porno, don’t clog the drains.”

So the details and feel are terrific. The rest, not so much.

Fell himself makes a great detective, but not as great a character. He’s committed to helping the helpless, to looking after the citizens of his adopted city, but, after the eight issues collected here at least, there’s no explanation why. There’s some teasing about why he’s been exiled to this backwater, but it stays as backstory. Bottom line, he’s mostly just a white knight here.

On top of that, the episodic nature of the individual issues gets old. As clever as each separate story is, it starts fresh. There’s little building from one story to the next, and I miss that. It’s definitely worth reading the first couple of these, but the payoff diminishes as you go.

I’m not giving up on Ellis, not at all, but I don’t think this is ultimately his best work.

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