Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Ben Templesmith
Publisher: Image Comics
Each issue of the intermittent Fell seems like a special occasion. It's been a good few months since the last instalment, but whilst the disturbing content of issue #6 might still leave a bad taste in some readers' mouths, Ellis presents a different kind of story this issue, examining how Snowtown's detective Richard Fell's penchant for the dramatic can sometimes be his Achilles' heel.
With Ellis at the helm this title was never going to be normal, but the writer still manages to make the more outlandish and extreme story elements seem like an acceptable and realistic part of detective Fell's working life, with an attention to detail that can only come from someone who is as intrigued by the concepts of his story as he wants his readers to be. The book remains completely unpredictable and challenging, abandoning some of the recurring elements of the first few issues (the ongoing soap-opera of Fell's sometime girlfriend; the presence of Snowtown as a character in its own right) to spin a yarn about a criminal who is granted a reprieve as a result of Fell overplaying his hand during his police interview. The presence of one of Fell's ex-colleagues this issue gives little away about the detective's former life, but does just enough to perpetuate the enigma of the character, and Fell's personality is actually given more depth by Ellis' writing of him this issue: it's far more interesting to read about a fallible, flawed human being than it is a heroic, insightful cop who always wins the day. I can only hope that the book's erratic schedule is a result of Ellis having to juggle a heavy workload with other publishers rather than his losing interest in his titular detective, because it still feels like the book has plenty of avenues to explore yet.
Artist Ben Templesmith's style isn't anywhere close to photorealism, but somehow his characters carry the authenticity that is necessary if they're to be sympathetic and relatable. His visuals serve to give the book a very strong sense of identity which would be lost with a more traditional style of comics art, and he has a knack of injecting life into even fairly static issues like this one (the majority of the book's scenes focus on a straightforward back-and-forth conversation taking place in a police interview room). Templesmith also gets the chance to cut loose with some slightly more vivid colouring this issue, in his flashback illustrations of a firefight at the docks and his depiction of the psychedelic effects of a controlled substance which is central to the story. The book even departs from the discipline of its usual nine-panel grid during this section, underlining the warped outlook of this issue's villain whilst under the influence. It's telling that the more powerful gruesome and action-packed scenes are played the straightest in terms of the art style, with Templesmith reserving his moments of exaggeration and caricature for instances of more subtle emotional content which need extra emphasis.
In truth, though, there's something about this story which feels a little thinner than usual. It's a fairly simple plot which is spelled out for the reader without much in the way of twists and turns, and which doesn't contain quite as much human drama as previous episodes. In a sense, Fell is a victim of its own success, as the consistent quality of each issue combines with the long wait between instalments to create expectations for the next which are unreasonably high; as such, it almost feels like a disappointment when an issue like this one is merely good, not great. However, the book still provides a unique reading experience thanks to Ellis' distinctive voice and Templesmith's deceptively simple art, and at $1.99 it's great value for money - even when the always-enjoyable "Back Matter" section (which regularly features readers' letters, photos and Ellis' own insightful ramblings) is curiously absent as it is here.
What did you think of this book?
Have your say at the Line of Fire Forum!