On of the many pleasures that I have been gifted since starting to really read comics and graphic novels is some of the quality work that fall in an almost unclassifiable genre. One of those titles is the excellent noir detective series from Warren Ellis called Fell. Fell is atypical in its approach for there is a surreal supernatural tone to the stories that the reader can’t quite place.
The story opens with Detective Richard Fell being transferred “across the bridge” to the slum-packed, cesspool of a city called Snowtown. Law breakers are rampant in Snowtown, from muggings and crimes of passion to more sensational crimes. The homicide division is made up of Fell, two other detectives, and a detective who is missing his legs. The Lieutenant of the division morosely quips that he is staffed with “three and a half men.” The reason for Fell’s transfer remains vague and the reader gets the sense that Snowtown is akin to an existential dimension that exists separately from the barely referenced “outside” world. Utilities and public services are a mess and there is little or no faith in the police force.
At times Fell views Snowtown as a living malevolent entity – that it is the enemy whom he is waging battle against. And Fell takes the battle seriously. Using deductive reasoning and the willingness to do what’s right, if not legal, Fell will answer any call at any time, and use any means, while refusing to give in to the nature of Snowtown.
Early in the series, Fell meets a local bar owner called Mayko – a youngish Vietnamese woman. Mayko is mysterious and unstable, but in her Fell finds someone else that has not given up the fight against Snowtown’s oppression. Additionally Mayko explaines the meaning of the omnipresent graffiti, a crossed out S, found throughout Snowtown. People believe it to be a form of magic that protects them from the city. The importance of the symbol, though unexplained, is referenced in several of the stories and at times its presence or lack thereof aids Fell in solving a mystery.
The supporting cast of characters are bizarre and largely unexplained. There is the constantly depressed head of the homicide division; an eerily manic receptionist who is on the verge of losing her mind due to her husband leaving her for their poodle; and a nun dressed in a habit and Richard Nixon mask who appears for only limited panels in a few of the stories, but in such a way that one assumes the importance of this strange character who is seen perpetrating ominous tasks such as enlisting a hooker and buying a handgun.
Many of the supporting characters are cast off panel where they are often referenced but relatively unseen. It is in this wide open interpretation of characters and plot that I think makes Fell the perfect property to develop into a television series. Like Rizzoli & Isles and Dexter, a Fell television series could lift its inspiration from Ellis and artist Ben Templesmith’s pages while maintaining distance from a direct page to screen adaptation. As seen in the art above, the artwork in Fell is impressionistic which would allow for a television series to not require matching character art to actors. That being said, from the moment I started reading the book I thought Fell resembled Giovanni Ribisi.
Given the dark themes and other non-traditional elements, a television adaptation of Fell would be perfect for a cable network that is not afraid to take chances and give a show time to grow. FX would be a contender, but they canceled the vastly underrated and criminally unwatched Terriers, so as a punishment I am assigning this show to AMC to go along with its excellent line-up of original dramas.