Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Ben Templesmith
Publisher: Image Comics
NOW I know what Shaun Manning was raving about; Fell offers impressively compressed murder mysteries in 16 pages of atmospheric Ben Templesmith art at an attractive price (US $1.99).
In this issue, Detective Richard Fell has to solve the murder of a pregnant woman. The purpose of the murder evidently was the taking of the woman’s foetus (End Note 1). After examining the victim’s body in a hilarious exchange with the coroner, Fell returns to the scene of the crime to perform some deductive reasoning, visits an acquaintance and learns about Cambodian “Smoke Children” (no, we’re not talking about adolescent cigarette smokers---not even close) and then cleverly finds a way to locate the culprit…, and this is done…let me repeat…, all in 16 pages.
And the story isn’t rushed or “crammed.” I didn’t even realize the issue only contained 16 pages of art until I read Ellis’s “Back Matter” at the end of the issue where he discusses presenting a 24 page story in 16 pages. As one would expect, plenty of pages utilize the 9 panel grid. Indeed, every page in this issue has three rows of panels (End Note 2), and the format doesn’t become tedious because with the exception of a few pages, the dialogue is not particularly verbose. Fell #2 is a simultaneously a quick story and a dense one, fascinatingly rendered by Ben Templesmith’s unique style: characters appear mildly grotesque, seemingly diseased, with angular flat bodies, rail thin wrists and necks, and bright fluorescent eyes emerging from slit eyelids. Dreary color washes emphasize a barren, dismal city, what the coroner calls a “broken, feral town.”
If I have a complaint about Fell, it’s that I don’t have any particular sense of the kind of person Richard Fell is… beyond being the generic smart homicide detective. This is a complaint I probably shouldn’t even raise; characterization is inevitably sacrificed for plot here because a murder mystery has to be launched and resolved within 16 pages. That leaves very little space for characterization. For all I know, Ellis may be intending to develop Richard Fell in tidbit fashion from issue to issue, much like how the television show C.S.I. intersperses character moments (for example, the recent development between Warrick and Catherine) within its plot-driven episodes. And there IS something going on here between Richard Fell and Mayko.
Ellis’s “Back Matter” is just as interesting as the story preceding it. Among other things, Ellis elucidates the term “Smoke Children” and its reflection on recent Cambodian history.
Fell provides what you’d expect from the prolific Warren Ellis: an intelligent, well conceived professional story. Add Ben Templesmith’s expert execution and gloomy palette, and you‘ve got a unique comic book for… did I mention it only costs $1.99?
1. Apparently, Brits spell “fetus” as “foetus”--- and I’m having fits stopping my spellchecker from Americanizing the British spelling.
2. Ellis admits in his “Back Matter” that he originally intended to script 16 panel grids but found that format “killed” the dialogue.
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