Published by Image Comics
The Month of Ellis continues with a look back at one of his most innovative and critically acclaimed books. Fell is the story of Detective Richard Fell, newly exiled to Snowtown from the city across the bridge, for obscure reasons we only glimpse throughout the story.
From the start, the opening panel (below) sets the scene and the dark tone and introduces an interesting element, the post-it notes that are used as a form of narration throughout. In the space of the next six panels we are introduced to Detective Fell and his fellow denizens of this wretched place. We gain an idea that they relate to each other like a twisted version of TV New Yorker’s. Plus we get a dialogue dose of pure Ellis, “Satan’s going to be humping him right in the bunghole for the next million years, you mark my words.”
Snowtown is something else, more than living up to the ‘Feral City’* of the title, echoing with hints of ugliness, brutality and the screams of old struggles. Life seems to hold little value here. There is a dark and hidden mysticism to this town, one that is never overt, but that seems to motivate the actions of many of the citizens.
With Fell, Ellis and Templesmith attempted to keep the price of the monthly comic low. They did this by printing 16 pages instead of the usual 22 (now shrunk throughout the industry to 20). To compress the story they opted to use the mighty nine-panel grid throughout and this allowed them to create a very dense story in so few pages.
Each single issue also included a few pages of backmatter, an essay or story from either Warren or a guest on a variety of topics. Sadly they are not included in this collection but I applaud the attempt to spark some life in the monthly format by giving this a try. It wasn’t just Fell, but also Matt Fractions Casanova and Brubaker & Phillips Criminal that went down this route.
I had Templesmith pegged as a ‘horror’ artist, albeit an excellent one, so to see him deliver action scenes and noir nuance here is refreshing. He does surprisingly excellent and visceral fight scenes with an overemphasis on characters features that enhances their grotesqueness.
Fell is not an infallible hero by any means. He doesn’t always win his battles and is not above fighting dirty to win the war. But the unremitting dark weirdness of Snowtown and his charm as a character keep the reader on side at all times.
The story is not without hope or humanity. On his first day in town Fell meets the woman who runs his local bar. The development of their relationship is deftly handled, rings true and adds the balance to the bleakness that the story needs.
* Feral is a very Australian term, covering the same ground as Chav, Bogan or Trailer Trash, I wonder if Ellis used it in joking reference to his Western Australian artist?
Should I buy it? Undoubtedly. This is an exceptional and unique comic book. Ellis was at the height of his comic booking powers with this one and Templesmiths’ unique art creates an environment like no other. If they kept it up past these issues, Snowtown would go down as one the great dark towns of crime fiction..
Next time: The Month of Ellis glides on with a look at another Warren Ellis classic, Planetary: All Over the World and Other Stories. With the magnificent art of John Cassaday this re-imagining of classic pulp action adventure tropes takes comics into the future by examining their past.