Wednesday, March 12, 2008

WWWednesday: Freakangels

WWWednesday: Freakangels
writer: Warren Ellis
artist: Paul Duffield

I thought that my WWWednesday review of the new Avatar-hosted webcomic Freakangels would offer an interlude in my weeklong look at women in comics, but writer Warren Ellis never fails to impress or amaze with his ability to pen an eclectic cast. In fact, I dare say that he prefers to write the female protagonist; Spider Jerusalem’s “filthy assistants” in Transmetropolitan, the prolific Jenny Sparks, and his upcoming Anna Mercury series (presumably) are all excellent examples of strong, assertive, but most importantly realistic women. (Even his goofy Nextwave team for Marvel had a 3:2 female to male ratio, and one of those males was Aaron Stack, the Machine Man, so he might not even count!) As expected, then, Freakangels is no different, as the first four six-page installments star “KK” in an attempt to recruit her fellow freaks against a mutual nemesis.

Of course, I can’t imagine that Ellis’ hardcore fanbase (myself among them) buy his comics exclusively for the diverse characterization. No, Ellis’ misfits are usually just bit players compared to the lofty concepts he’s willing to throw at the industry, almost daring comics not to let some of them stick. Consider Black Summer: a superhero assassinates the President for causes he believes right and just. While subsequent issues have explored his teammates’ respective predicaments and presented some conspiratorial subplots, the series’ action-packed momentum has all been a result of that simple idea. That’s what I really like about Ellis’ work. Despite his lofty diversions into the science fiction and fantasy realms, he really keeps it simple. Consider his 60 issue opus, Transmetropolitan: Gonzo reporter uses any means necessary to expose the evils of the nation’s political system, particularly the President of the United States, at great cost to his health and career. Does it get any simpler than that?

Heck, I could probably even trim that summation down a little bit more: Crazy reporter versus the corrupt government, plus futuristic genetic manipulation and lots and lots of pills. Am I right, people?

No, I’m not digressing. I have a point! I think Ellis has realized the strength of “the pitch” as “the promotion.” The first page of Freakangels is pure conceptual thesis: “Twenty-three years ago, twelve strange children were born in England at exactly the same moment. Six years later, the world ended. This is the story of what happened next.” Ads for Anna Mercury are just as cut and dry, but I’ll save that one for another review.

Paul Duffield’s art is top notch, too. His character designs are futuristic but down to earth, and his depiction of the dilapidated city is chilling yet appealingly gothic. He excels at both the expressive headshot and the wide angel establishing splash, and Ellis obviously plays to these strengths. Interestingly, these four six-pagers would equivocate to a single twenty-four page comic (I can do math!), yet while little actually happens other than establishing character dynamic, the interactive aspect of the medium creates a brisk, acceptable pace to the piece. Since the series is updated weekly with no definitive “to be continued”-based month-long wait, the reader gets a real sense that this thing could go on forever. If Avatar has its way, I bet it will.

I mean, this thing is totally and utterly free, and the pages aren’t clogged with ads for cell phones or insurance companies. Heck, not even a Suicide Girls ad, and I don’t even really mind those. Between his $1.99-an-ish Fell series at Image and this, Warren Ellis is becoming the most affordable writer in comics. No wonder his cast of characters is so diverse. At this point in his career, practically anybody can access his work . . . you’d have to keep the door open for everybody.

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