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.