I actually had been reading this one as a “monthly”, but when scheduling issues caused partly by Warren Ellis’ hard drive problems sidelined this book, I stopped. Walking through my local Half-Price Books I came across the collected volume and decided it was time to get the whole story. Most of the story, anyway, the series ran 9 issues (of a supposedly planned 16), the first 8 of which are collected in volume 1: Feral City. (part of my renewed interest in all things Templesmith come from the interview that I will be doing in a few days with Ben and the guys from 44FLOOD–watch for it here and at Bleeding Cool)
Written by Warren Ellis with art by Ben Templesmith, this is a God-awful masterpiece. It does what it does so spectacularly well that you cannot put it down. At the same time, it is so unpleasant, so dark and mired in the crud of this city, that you feel slightly icky while reading it. It is the story of Richard Fell, a police detective in the area of the city called Snowtown. He has been transferred from “across the bridge” into Snowtown for some unspecified transgression and is assigned to the Moon street precinct with a drug addled and probably insane commanding officer and “3 ½ other detectives” to cover the entire precinct. Snowtown is the most horrible place you can imagine and is very much in the real world, but Templesmith’s art gives it a dark, evil kind of fairytale glow to everything. There is nothing happy or good here and the place is an example of a city that hates itself and consumes everything touched by it. The small supporting cast is not terribly well-developed, but you don’t need much. They are not the story; they are the color around Fell’s life. In fact, the way they are written makes them seem as oddly unreal as the city itself. They are less like real people and more like anthropomorphized aspects of the city around them. An uneasy friendship is started up by Fell with the owner of a local bar, who is a damaged as everyone else in the book. No one here is pure in any way. That is not to say pure of heart, but rather they are not purely any one thing, as characters in these kinds of book often are. They are not metaphors representing anything, they are shadows, and like shadows they flicker in and out of perception. They are never much more than shapes given voice. All this adds to the hopelessness of the world. While that may all sound a bit pretentious or overstated on my part, this is a very difficult book to describe. Quick descriptions like Hollywood might use such as “Die Hard on a bus” just don’t do it.
The art and storytelling style ignores the trend in “widescreen” comics and goes for a compact 9 panel format. There is a softness to Templesmith’s art here that is not generally present in his other work. This serves the story wonderfully; giving the glow of the city a deathly feel that is so powerful that the city feels as though it might overwhelm the characters at any moment. The color palate is muted in just the way you would expect, but the occasional bursts of powerful color are actually shocking to see. You cannot help but feel pushed down by the city just like Fell, and that is entirely the art doing that. Ellis is a powerful writer, but for this book, Ben Templesmith is really doing most of the heavy lifting.
I cannot say enough good things about this book. While it is NOT for everyone, there is a mountain of dark humor and powerful situations that aid in creating this amazing book, and anyone that likes it a little dark but still very real, WILL enjoy this special title.