Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Ben Templesmith
Publisher: Image Comics
There are some comics which are so widely praised that you just know you’re going to end up reading them eventually. With Ultimate Spider-Man I waited the longest time before biting the bullet and picking up the hardcover editions to see what I’d been missing; with Bendis’ Daredevil, it took me a good 12 months to jump on board and catch up with one of the best pulp comics of the last five years. Determined not to miss the boat with Fell, and hearing such high praise for the book from online critics and inhabitants of my local comic shop alike, I recently went out and picked up as many of the issues released so far that I could find. A pleasant surprise, then, to discover that the praise for Ben Templesmith and Warren Ellis’ sellout series is justified, as Fell is one of the most effective, efficient and – critically – accessible comics I’ve read in quite a while.
This issue sees the unusually observant, insightful and still slightly mysterious detective Richard Fell given just one hour to break a stonewalling suspect in a case of multiple shootings, before the police force’s holding period expires and the guilty man can walk free. It’s a simple setup for a story which is almost exclusively a two-hander between Fell and his felon, giving writer Ellis the chance to have as much fun as possible getting inside the heads of the cop and the killer without being disturbed by any foreign elements which aren’t absolutely necessary for the story to work.
For such a static setup, artist Ben Templesmith manages to keep things very interesting, capturing the nuances of body language which are integral to Ellis’ plot and conveying through his linework bucketloads of character information which isn’t given in the text. It’s work like this which shows how well a writer and artist can gel when they’re so clearly on the same page (no pun intended), and the economy of storytelling which is necessitated by Ellis’ strict layouts – almost always a nine-panel grid on every page – really helps the story to move. The story unfolds like a short play, and over the course of the issue’s pages we really get a sense of getting to know the complicated character that Fell finds himself opposing in the interview room – a feeling that helps to round out the tale into far more than just a generic interrogation scene, and which makes the issue’s climactic final few pages all the more powerful.
Another attraction of the book is the “Back Matter,” a text-only section of the book where Ellis discusses the mechanics of writing his comics, elaborates on key aspects of the every issue, and generally talks about whatever he likes each month. This time, he talks a lot about Will Eisner and his Spirit: it’s inspiring stuff that really gets me interested in the bread and butter of the creation of comic books, and which definitely makes me want to track down the books he mentions for my own education. I love sections like this that allow the creators room to talk about their work, and along with readers’ letters, photos, and other contributions, it’s a lot of added value for a comic which is already so inexpensive at $1.99 a shot.
In issue #1 of the series, Ellis spoke of his desire to make every issue of Fell an affordable “slab of popular culture” which didn’t require any outside reading or even previous knowledge of the series to enjoy on its own terms. Well, he’s succeeded – and as this issue shows, there’s a lot that can be done with a comic when you’re willing to be as disciplined and focussed on story above all things as Ellis and Templesmith clearly are here. I look forward to tracking down issues #2 and #3 to complete my Fell run so far, and I’m already eagerly anticipating the next issue. Readers with an interest in crime comics, fresh and original artwork or simply the craft of comics storytelling should check this book out – they won’t be disappointed.
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