Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Fell #3

Fell #1: The clue that solves the case comes to Det. Richard Fell when he happens to save the victim's daughter from a mugging.

Fell #2: The clue that solves the case comes to Det. Richard Fell when he happens to talk to someone that knows about the obscure myth that motivated the murderer.

Fell #3: Det. Richard Fell happens to run into a suicide bomber in a thrift store dressing room.

Three issues, three happenstances, three coincidences that make the story work. What is going on here?

As much as I enjoyed Fell #3, captivated by the sense of place, the rich history of the shop owner, and Ben Templesmith's better-and-better art ... seeing the issue hinge and pivot on yet another coincidence distracted me. It felt like a skip in an otherwise enjoyable record, a flaw in a smooth surface. After all, there's a reason both comedy and fables come in threes: three is pattern. One is incident, two is coincidence, three is signal. Something is happening here, and it's become too prominent to brush aside. I suppose one explanation is that Warren Ellis has run out of tricks, and needs narrative shortcuts in order to keep within the tight structure that a 16-page done-in-one demands. It certainly keeps the story moving, allowing the plot to just straight from A to D without that page-consuming progress through B and C.

I just don't buy that explanation. At all.

Why? Is it simply putting Ellis on a pedestal? Buying the hype? Toeing the critical line?

None of the above. I don't buy it because the alternate explanation is embedded in the very fabric of the book itself: Snowtown. The feral city of the book has a looming, active presence, and people have called it another character. I think, re-reading the series a few times, that Snowtown isn't a character at all ... it's the narrative. Snowtown is the story of Fell, and Detective Richard Fell is simply how it tells itself. The coincidences begin, of course, right after Fell is branded with the Snowtown sigil in the first issue. He is lost in the city, unable to proceed until the city claims him and leads him to the information he needs. Snowtown will take him where he needs to go, and show him what he needs to see as it tries to tell it's story. Maps of the city communicate story, and those dotted lines connecting locales show up in the city itself. Post-its are everywhere, and the first few panels of this issue deliberately confuse Snowtown and Fell's images of it.

I can't help but think that Snowtown's story is one of hope. It is ferreting out its own cancers, and in this third issue it is trying to save its own past. For all the darkness associated with Ellis' work, it's often there for the main characters to work against. The corruption in Transmetropolitan, the cynicism of The Four in Planetary, the bukkake of Desolation Jones: though the nastiness catches the eye, it's just shadow to that the final light looks more bright. The feral dirt of Snowtown is something that's happened to the city. It fell. Fell is the story of a city trying to stand up again.



Spencer Carnage said...

I had a very strange dream last night that had Warren Ellis in it. He was staying in some part of the Bahamas where there was a mass exodus of party people getting off a cruise ship who were walking across a long beach to some kind of event of debauchery. Warren Ellis was watching and talking about how he was using the whole shebang as an inspiration for a comic he was working on. The title had a word in it that started with "sh" and it was something on par of his Authority, Planetary, and Transmet. I woke up and remembered the name for a few minutes, then my girlfriend started bugging me about something or other, making me forget. That's just like her, to do something like that.

Spencer Carnage said...
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Jog said...

I have to say, I read the themes at work in this issue a little differently; I don't think Snowtown is working to save it's past - it's transforming even junk, relics, ephemera into insturments of destruction - I think this is, in part, the area's nature infecting not only its inhabitants, but even inanimate objects (granted, through their use by people). Fell himself may or may not work as an inoculation of goodness; certainly the 'bitter badass hero's decision to better the world' is a common enough motif in Ellis' bibliography... I do like how Ellis is making the evil here more of a nebulous matter, less a personified villain than a series of symptoms of some geographic disease...

I also thought issue #3 was more satisfying from a plotting standpoint... sure, Fell happening upon the bomber is a coincidence, but the resolution of the matter (and the revelations springing out of it) all flow pretty smoothly from that... issue #2 in particular just struck me as jagged and abrupt... acting on bits of historical trivia and firing your gun into the air at random to crack the case just seems overtly artificial to me, though I do like what you're saying about the nature of the town...

Mark Fossen said...

I think this is, in part, the area's nature infecting not only its inhabitants
I think that's probably one of the interesting points of the series: is the ferality part of Snowtown's nature, or is this a condition it is suffering from?

For me, it all starts with those coincidences. Either they are part of the fabric of the book, or Ellis is playing cheap tricks to meet his Page 16 deadline. If Richard Fell is being guided (or manipulated) by these coincidences ... what is the purpose?

Mark Fossen said...

Spencer --

You have strange dreams.

But you live in Simi, so there's your excuse/alibi.

Spencer Carnage said...

Must be something in the water..