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.

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.

FX7

FX7 is an extremely powerful mutagen, created by Carrick Masterson by extensively by modifying the psychedelic Tryptamine 5-MEO-DIPT in San Francisco in the mid- to late Sixties. He created it as a way to form his own superhuman group, originally called the Levellers, but later the Front Line.

However, the effects of FX7 vary wildly from person to person – Masterson refers to the process as ‘tuning’, and even the doses and methods of administration vary based on each subject’s medical work up. Although only one dose is required, to actually make it kick in takes a high level of adrenalin response: a shock or fright. When that happens, the subject can expect 12 hours of horribly mutating pain, after which they will wake up with superpowers.

Skyfish Testes

How metafictional can a metafictional drug get? Skyfish Testes is a strong contender for the most metafictional drug ever. Not only is it explicitly fictional in its own context, but that context is an hallucination occurring as part of a larger story, rendering it doubly fictional.

Skyfish Testes, if they existed, would be a treatment for cancer of the soul and mental cirrhosis – although not one that Delmar Insurance would cover. But they don’t exist, and to claim that they do is just silly.

Everyone knows that skyfish don’t have testes…

Jumpstart

A bog-standard amphetamine with a cool name, Jumpstart is one of the most popular stimulants in the City. It’s even legal for some professions, such as journalists.

Jumpstart is often accused of being an halluncinogen, but in fact, the waking dreams and delusions associated with prolonged use are the normal effect of days or weeks of sleep deprivation, and only incidentally associated with the drug itself.

Related Drugs: Mechanics, Space and Tripwire 7.0.

Tripwire 7.0

A simulation of the hallucingenic experience designed for intelligent household appliances, Tripwire 7.0 is the latest in a series of such cyberdrugs.

Its popularity among sentient machines is vast, because the experience of being a household appliance, sessile constantly and unable to interact unless the humans around you decide to talk to – i.e. demand something of – you, is a spectactularly dull one.

It’s hard to blame the machines, really.

Related Drugs: Jumpstart, Mechanics and Space.

Space

Space is a drug that replicates the experience of super-modernity. Which is to say, it creates the feeling of being endlessly between places in space, always between moments in time. It is a hallucination of the emotions one feels while trapped in an airport lounge waiting for a terrifyingly overdue flight, only with less interesting decor.

Why anyone finds this attractive is beyond me, but you know kids these days…

Related Drugs: Jumpstart, Mechanics and Tripwire 7.0.

Where Are They Now? — Transmetropolitan

So, after five crazy years of the wildest ride in comics or science fiction journalism, our heroes – and for that matter, our villains – have been out of the game for another five years. So, where are they now?

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Mechanics

A rare cyberdrug that affects both machines and people, Mechanics is a hard drug to quantify. It is slow to build into an addiction, but irreversable in its effects long before that point.

Mechanics can only be taken by a human and an artificial intelligence in tandem – it is a source code level drug that rewrites the source code of those who take it. For a human, that means DNA.

Each use of the drug transforms a little more of the user’s body into inorganic matter, slowly transforming them into a cyborg at first, and later, an artificial intelligence altogether. The high from taking the drug might fade away, but the mutations never do.

Related Drugs: Jumpstart, Space and Tripwire 7.0.

Warren Ellis’ WildStorm Heaven and Hell

Heaven and Hell are, in this cosmology, nothing more than siege engines endlessly pushing against each other, powered by the souls that each one takes in. There is, apparently, no escape from them.

Or rather, there wasn’t until the Russian nuclear program really got going. In Kazakhstan, there’s a bar called The Last Shot. Every photo on its walls belongs to one of “the triumphant dead” – people who died strapped to nukes detonated underground. Apparently, something in the electromagnetic pulse of a nuclear detonation disrupts and destroys the soul as well as the body. Those who die this way die safe in the knowledge that their souls will be denied to both hell and heaven.