Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Ben Templesmith
Published by Image Comics

Warren Ellis is stealing my money again.

As thefts go, $1.99 ain’t bad. Too many comics go for $2.99 or $3.99 for some books making comic book collecting a hobby for the rich more than something kids can readily get into. So Ellis, missing the days when kids could take a handful of change and come away with a slice of pop culture (to paraphrase Alan Moore) decided to do something about it. He set out to create a comic book that was more affordable, self-contained, and wasn’t bogged down in decades of continuity. The hope is that such a book might help solve one of the major problems plaguing the comic book industry: drawing in new readers turned off by inaccessible and rather expensive books.

This all also points to Fell being more an experiment of form as well as business. The book feels flimsy, downright fragile with its 24 pages (not the standard 32), with only 16 of those pages being comics. The other 8 are filled with text about the comic, which makes it the most fun backsection of a comic book since Powers. Each page is basically made up of 9 panel grid, though without Brian Michael Bendis-style talking heads.

Ellis’ “crammed” story telling style is a departure from his other landmark work (Transmetropolitan, The Authority, Planetary, Global Frequency). Ben Templesmith (30 Days of Night) is on board doing a Bill Sienkiewicz impersonation (mind you, I never got Sienkiewicz’s art during his New Mutants run but I thought it was brilliant in Elektra: Assassin. Though that might point to the difference in taste of a teenager vs. a young adult). The moody artwork, not nearly as murky and muddled as his 30 Days of Night work, fits perfectly with the tone of the book.

“You’re living in a broken town, Detective Fell.” –Coroner

Richard Fell has transferred to the worst section of town, as part penance and part opportunity to shine. Irregardless, he is a man in an uncertain world, a detective drawn to sensational crimes, ripped from today weirdest headlines. He’s a bit like Gil Grissom from C.S.I., a bit of a cypher who we will learn about in little glimpses of his personal life between the procedural aspects of the story. Otherwise, all we know is that he is an intelligent, observant detective, quite insightful and looking for the right place to have his talents noticed.

“Ain’t no Jesus in Snowtown, Detective.” –Dock worker

It doesn’t take a detective of Richard Fell’s obvious gifts to determine that this world is screwed up. It is almost like we’re aware that there was a created order, a way how things were meant to be, and somewhere along the lines, things went awry. Whether by design or by working through inadvertent stumbling, Ellis finds himself exploring the doctrine of the fall. We look around creation and realize that something went wrong, that there is something broken about our reality. Fear, doubt, and death have made life scary.

For me it helps to think of life like the elements of story: setting, conflict, climax, and resolution. The setting of life is creation, the world in its entirety, both physical and spiritual. The conflict that enters the story of life would be the fall. The fact that things became off-kilter, people and nature not being the way they were meant to be. There comes a point of climax, a decision that we have to make about life – who are you going to follow as master-teacher? Philosophy, science, Christ – sometimes it takes something outside of ourselves to set things right. The resolution of the story is a matter of who you choose to follow.

Fell, judging from the number of additional print runs the first few issues have had, is well on its way to being a successful experiment. Both grim and eccentric, filled with interesting yet personable characters, Fell is a compressed murder mystery that cleverly examines the despair of humanity. Ellis is clearly having fun and doing some of his finest work here.

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