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. Even him.
How to even begin describing Fell to the uninitiated? It’s equal parts disturbing, grim, insane, disturbing and horrific. Warren Ellis and Ben Templesmith together paint a city that screams to be put out of its misery. Just take Snowtown to the pound and put a bullet in its fucking head. Volatile, relentless, homicidal, diseased. Anything mean and nasty, Snowtown’s got it. Fell’s got it.
So why did I think this was an incredible, beautiful and joyous read?
I’m no expert in comic books. I’ve never been a particular fan of the medium and it’s only in the last few months that I’ve acquired a feigned interest in catching up with some of the modern classics that everyone I know keeps banging on about. More on that to come elsewhere in the coming weeks, but Fell is the first that I’ve read and actually said to myself: “YOU IDIOT!” - I had no idea comics could do anything like this.
Fell is absolutely dripping, rotting, congealing, with atmosphere. Unlike anything I could ever experience in a novel, Fell literally paints a picture of a decrepit city, full of deranged criminals, hopeless citizens and mostly insane cops. The artwork is consistently outstanding. At times minimalist (to the point of barely drawn sketches) to fully detailed images of a city in decay. The pairing of Ellis and Templesmith is a genuine wonder to behold – one of those times when you have to put it down to some sort of (slightly disturbed) divine intervention that these two met to create such a work of art.
But atmosphere is just one element in this rich tapestry of urban horror. We have the city, the people, the atmosphere. But it needs something else – something to make you want to read; to stay in this place. And Fell has it.
Fell is absolutely all of those things I’ve described. It’s disgusting, it’s volatile, it’s diseased. But at its core is something far more important.
Fell has a heart. A soul.
In Richard Fell we have a weathered cop. The man who has Snowtown thrust upon him like a plague. Our lens to this place. This is his story as much as it is that of Snowtown. We follow him through case after case of grinding depravity and insanity, but Richard never loses his cool. Moving through the various plots of Fell is a redemptive arc of someone we don’t know needs redemption. But he does. Richard Fell and Snowtown were built for each other. Only together can they redeem each other and that makes for a wonderful analogue that deserves to be experienced from start to finish.
There’s no overarching storyline in Fell, but that doesn’t matter. It’s about the people, the place, the man at the centre; the city at the core. As much as I may hope Ellis and Templesmith continue with another volume, I’m satisfied in the knowledge that I’ve experienced something which has opened my eyes to a whole new medium of storytelling. I can’t really ask for much more than that.