Warren Ellis and Ben Templesmith's hard-boiled FELL

Just finished Fell: Feral City, the first collected volume of Warren Ellis and Ben Templesmith's new hard-boiled, surreal, ultra-violent comic. I've loved Ellis's writing since Transmetropolitan (the comic that got me reading comics again), but I've only just started to notice Templesmith's unique brand of abstract, kinetic, moody painting (see, for example, Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse and 30 Days of Night). Together, they just can't be beat.

Fell is about a fallen cop who has banished to "Snowtown," an abandoned DMZ "on the other side of the bridge," where he is one of three-and-a-half detectives charged with investigating the hundreds of murders that sweep through it like the plague. Detective Fell is like Dante, exploring hell, getting stabbed and having guns thrust in his face, bearing up under heaps of abuse and navigating a police squad where the Lieutenant is a pill-freak who hallucinates and reads Crowley on "magick" as a way of solving the squad's problems.

The characters are somewhat stock — batty Lt; beautiful, smart, fucked-up barmaid girlfriend; disgusting coroner, criminal scum — but that just leaves more room for Ellis and Templesmith to really explore the outer reaches of the hard-boiled genre, combining comedy with sickening violence in a way that is half Transmetropolitan, half Serpico.

Each of the eight collected stories is a stand-alone, and the format will be familiar to lovers of Transmet — Detective Fell shows us a new aspect of the hell of Snowtown in each: the old lady who runs a thrift shop and has a dark secret; the sniper who hates women; the way that the murder victim got so much booze into him without having a drink.

The art and the writing here are perfect complements to each other, and you get a sense of Ellis and Templesmith egging each other on to see who can top whom. I don't know who won, except that the readers all come out ahead.