Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Warren Ellis's & Paul Duffield's FREAKANGELS

Warren Ellis is one of those handful of strong writing voices in the medium right now. His work can be hit or miss for me - though there are far more "hits" than misses. But since TransMet and Planetary ended (two of his longer, signature storylines), I'd been searching for that next big "Ellis" story.

Freakangels was/is it.

A free webcomic published by Avatar Press, Ellis and artist Paul Duffield - whose list of credits was minimal prior to this collaboration - finished their story earlier this year. Six volumes (of 144 pages each) comprise this story, and it's not only available to read for free but Avatar has also collected it into hardcover and softcover collections for one's shelf. And, at some point, I plan on getting them because this is something I want to own and be able to easily share with others.

A near-future dystopian tale about a group of kids born at the same moment who were mysteriously, and unknowingly, imbued with powers that, seventeen years later, caused much of London to become a flooded wasteland, Ellis and Duffield join this group six years after their powers manifested and caused the widespread destruction.

Through the course of the series, readers watch as these young men and women - all scared and just trying to maintain some semblance of a normal life - discover the full extent of their powers. With this recognition of how powerful they truly are, the Freakangels finally decide to take more responsibility for their previous actions and return to what they originally sought to accomplish - make the world a better place for everyone.

As trite as that sounds, if you are familiar at all with any of Ellis's work, you know that it's not as easy as this. He puts these characters through the wringer, revealing ugly truths in their pasts that inform their futures, pushing these characters to grow even as many only wish to turn in on themselves. It really is some of his best work, and Paul Duffield's fully-realized and beautiful artwork complements the story wonderfully.

One last thing about this story that stood out for me - and I can't say whether it's perceived or actually something Ellis consciously did in the writing - was the very different feel it had with regard to the pacing of the story. Basically, this lengthy narrative (864 pages) takes place over the course of just a few days (maybe even two), and it feels as if Ellis is able to just take his time with the story. I attributed this, initially, to the fact that it was a webcomic, and thus, was free of the trappings of the periodical print comic, which has strict page counts and certain tropes, such as the cliffhanger at the end of an issue, that work to encourage readers returning for subsequent issues.

As I stated, I don't know if this was just the manner in which I read the story or an actual conscious effort on Ellis's part to structure this story differently (he stated early on that he did not feel beholden to end every week of 6 new pages on a cliffhanger, which was refreshing from my point of view as a reader), but it worked for me. And it allowed the narrative to flow more naturally, which, I believe, is why I feel so strongly about Freakangels.

If you haven't checked it out yet, do yourself a favor and start at page one. I don't believe you'll be disappointed.


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