Graphic novel review: “Fell, volume 1: Feral City” by Warren Ellis and Ben Templesmith

This is the stuff.

A lonely detective, disgraced in some way that’s never revealed, sentenced to working homicide in a part of town that’s just about fallen off the world. Snowtown, the environment of Fell, is like the worst parts of Seventies New York crime films turned up to eleven. It’s a fallen place, and worse, it’s still falling, with no bottom in sight.

Richard Fell is perhaps the only sane person in the city, struggling to get justice in a city that has no particular use for it. He’s not actually a terribly likable figure, in himself – he’s an arrogant smartass with a self-righteous streak a mile wide – but he’s the best that Snowtown has, and better, perhaps, than it deserves.

Ellis’ wit has rarely been sharper, and his writing is crisp and intelligent. It’s also minimalist – Ellis is quite happy to let the art do the talking. And the moody, expressionistic art of Ben Templesmith does just that. Trapped in an intentionally claustrophobic nine panel grid, the characters might want to leave their dirty town, but know that they never will. It’s always dark in Snowtown – daytime is rarely brighter than twilight, and most of the time, it appears to be 3AM on an overcast night. The dark watercolours of his panels leak humidity into the room, and you can almost smell the reeking piles of garbage that haven’t been collected from Snowtown’s alleys in weeks (if not months).

There are eight individual stories in this, linked by a small throughline as we learn about Fell and his supporting cast, but each of the stories is effectively a done in one. You could read any of them singly without needing any other background. The only disappointment in the book is on the cover: those teasing words ‘volume one’. Alas, it’s now been nearly a decade, and volume two is nowhere in sight.

Forget it, Loke. It’s Snowtown.

1440 — Gilles de Rais is executed for his crimes

Gilles de Rais first came to prominence as a wealthy nobleman who was one of Jeann D’Arc’s greatest allies, fighting alongside her in battle and helping her politically. But after her burning at the stake, he seems to have lost his way. He spent much of his fortune on self-indulgence and dissipation, and his early high moral standing was slowly but surely tarnished. In particular, he became interested in occultism and did not conceal his contempt for the Church – and that was an enemy he could ill-afford to make.

In 1440, he was arrested and charged with many crimes, including the murder of numerous children belonging to his subjects. De Rais confessed to many of the charges, and witnesses gave lurid testimony. He was hanged above a fire, although his corpse was cut down for burial before it was consumed in the flames.

Gilles de Rais’s trial and execution have been the subject of considerable speculation over the years. His guilt and the veracity of his confession have both been questioned, particularly in light of the fact that there was little evidence other than testimony that is similarly questionable, and the fact that his prosecutors were the Church (of which he was a known critic) and the nobleman who stood to inherit de Rais’ property. Event today, whether as a serial killer or a victim of the Church, he remains a puzzling enigma.

Referenced in:
Gilles de Rais — Brodequin
Into the Crypt of Rays — Celtic Frost
Godspeed on the Devil’s Thunder — Cradle of Filth
Morbid Glory (Gilles de Rais 1404-1440) — Ancient Rites

1854 — The Battle of Balaclava

Beginning about a year into the Crimean War (1853-6), the Battle of Balaclava is perhaps the best known engagement of the war. Its outcome was indecisive; it did not end the siege of Sevastopol, but neither were the Allied losses so great as to constitute a major defeat.

But in its very unimportance, it became something else. An inspiration and a beacon of courage and chivalry. For this one bloody day of fighting saw the famous charge of the Light Brigade, immortalised in poetry by Kipling and Tennyson. As such, its effect on British morale helped that nation and its allies hang on until victory was achieved. (Ironically, the legendary charge was an error resulting from a misinterpreted order.)

Referenced in:
Broken Heroes — Saxon
The Trooper — Iron Maiden

1865 — Paul Bogle hanged

Paul Bogle was a Jamaican church Deacon in the Native Baptist Church in Jamaica established by George William Gordon. Gordon and Bogle, like many members of the church, were critical of the Jamaican governor, Edward Eyre. When a protest over the conviction of a black man under suspicious circumstances was brutally put down by government forces, what would later be known as the Morant Bay rebellion ensued.

439 Jamaicans were killed in the fighting, and another 354 were arrested and executed afterwards, including Bogle. Gordon was arrested separately but tried and executed in the same round of trials. Bogle and Gordon became martyrs to the cause of independence, and heroes to the nation of Jamaica. Today, Bogle’s face appears on the Jamaican ten cent and five dollar coins.

Referenced in:
Maangamizi — Akala
Prediction — Steel Pulse
Innocent Blood — Culture
Born Fe Rebel — Steel Pulse
See Them a Come — Culture
So Much Things to Say — Bob Marley & The Wailers

GothTopia

GothTopia

It’s a small event, mostly spinning out of a three issue storyline in Detective Comics, and frankly, it could have been bigger – it’s an interesting concept that never really gets enough time to breathe.

It can be found here on the main timeline.

Prologues
Birds of Prey #27 [1] Birds of Prey, vol.5: Soul Crisis
GothTopia
Detective Comics #27 [2] Batman: Detective Comics, vol.5: Gothtopia
Catwoman #27 Catwoman, vol.5: Race of Thieves
Batgirl #27 Batgirl, vol.5: Deadline
Batwing #27 Batwing, vol.5: Into the Dark
Catwoman #28 Catwoman, vol.5: Race of Thieves
Detective Comics #28 [DC] Batman: Detective Comics, vol.5: Gothtopia
Detective Comics #29 [DC] Batman: Detective Comics, vol.5: Gothtopia
Aftermath
Birds of Prey #28 [3] Birds of Prey, vol.5: Soul Crisis
Batwing #28 [4] Batwing, vol.5: Into the Dark

Notes:

  1. Mentions that something weird is going on in Gotham, but doesn’t actually show any action.
  2. Only one of the seven stories in this issue is a part of Gothtopia.
  3. Placed here to avoid spoilers, as this issue covers events in Detective Comics #27-29.
  4. This story is specifically set after Detective Comics #29.

1865 — George William Gordon hanged

George William Gordon was a Jamaican businessman who established the Native Baptist Church in Jamaica, of which Paul Bogle became a deacon. Gordon and Bogle, like many members of the church, were critical of the Jamaican governor, Edward Eyre. When a protest over the conviction of a black man under suspicious circumstances was brutally put down by government forces, what would later be known as the Morant Bay rebellion ensued.

439 Jamaicans were killed in the fighting, and another 354 were arrested and executed afterwards, including Bogle. Gordon was arrested separately but tried and executed in the same round of trials. Bogle and Gordon became martyrs to the cause of independence, and heroes to the nation of Jamaica. Today, Gordon’s face appears on the Jamaican ten dollar note, and the parliament of Jamaica meets in Gordon House, named for him.

Referenced in:
Prediction — Steel Pulse
Innocent Blood — Culture
Born Fe Rebel — Steel Pulse
See Them a Come — Culture
Silver Tongue Show — Groundation
Give Thanks and Praise — Roy Rayon
Our Jamaican National Heroes — Horace Andy

1903 — Curly Howard of the Three Stooges is born

Curly Howard was the youngest of the three Howard brothers. His real name was Jerome Lester Horwitz, but it was as Curly that he captured the hearts of America, becoming the best loved of the Three Stooges. His performance was notable for its physicality, even in the days of vaudeville, when comedy was more physical in general – one of his recurring set pieces was breaking things over his head.

Curly, more than the other Stooges, was also famous for his catchphrases, suck as his trademark ‘nyuk nyuk nyuk’ laugh or his exaggerated Brooklyn accent on words like certainly (‘soitenly’) and circumstance (‘soicumstance’). Unfortunately, his health was never good, and he died aged only 48 in January of 1952.

Referenced in:
The Chanukah Song (Part I) — Adam Sandler

1939 — The Uranium Committee meets for the first time

The first meeting of what would evolve into the Manhattan Project – at that time called the Briggs Advisory Committee on Uranium – was held in Washington DC on October 21, 1939, a little less than two months after the outbreak of World War Two (and more than two years prior to the USA actually entering the war).

The first meeting was basically a planning session. It identified four key problems that needed solving – finding a reliable source of uranium, developing better methods for extracting uranium-235, making atomic (fission) bombs and finally, exploring the use of nuclear fission as a power source. In addition, $6000 was allotted to Fermi and Szilard to continue their experiments (which promised to shed light on at least one of the four problems).

On December 18, 1941, the S1 Uranium Committee was reorganised under the leadership of Vannevar Bush and tasked with developing an atomic bomb, a mission that would reach completion on August 6, 1945, in the skies above Hiroshima.

Referenced in:
To The Teeth — Ani Di Franco

Shocktoxin

Shocktoxin was created by an unrevealed US military contractor for use by S.H.I.E.L.D., who in turn issued them to members of the Secret Avengers team. Crafted into flechettes with a monofilament edge, Shocktoxin projectiles could slice through almost any armour, and shots that missed left little evidence as the compound dissolved in minutes if left in the open air.

A hit from a Shocktoxin flechette would allow the never toxin to do its work – and a single flechette can knock out a healthy bull for about six hours. Human test subjects reported experiencing truly horrifying nightmares while knocked out by the drug. It is not known what the bull experienced.

1973 — “Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em” premieres

“Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em” was an iconic British sitcom in the 1970s. Its lead character, everyman Frank Spencer (played by Michael Crawford), went from disaster to disaster, and was terrifically annoying – yet somehow, Crawford’s performance (and the writing) never made him unsympathetic.

“Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em” ran for a total of 22 episodes, split into three seasons (7 episodes in the first season and 6 in each of the other two) and three Christmas specials, the last of which screened in 1978. It has frequently been repeated in Britain and throughout the Commonwealth, being particularly popular in Australia (which, in turn, lead to a plotline about Frank moving to Australia in the final season).

Referenced in:
Kylie Said To Jason — KLF