Fell: What am I missing?

Bloggified by Jake on Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Sometimes popular opinion goes one way and I go another. Full House remained on the air for nine seasons, producing 192 episodes, and finishing in the top 30 Nielsen ratings for six of them and in the top 16 for four of them. Even today, more than 80% of 1647 voters at TV.com consider it "superb" or better, yet I've never watched an episode in my life. I thought Star Wars Episode One was poorly scripted, poorly acted, and poorly directed, but its worldwide box office take of $924.3 million shows I was wrong and that Jar Jar Binks is, in fact, a much better character than Sam Spade, Don Corleone, and T.E. Lawrence put together.

Most recently, I've found myself on the less popular side of the internet's opinion of Fell. When Chris declared it his best ongoing series of the 2005 (and Bill Reed of Comics Should Be Good, I responded that it was overhyped, badly written tripe with bad art, and reader markus correctly called me on the carpet for sniping without posting a definitive review of Fell of my own.

Newsarama has posted the entire first issue online, prompting the following comments on the message board:

  • So good, why isn't everyone buying this?
  • The best first issue I've read in a long time!
  • This is one of my favorite singles of 2005.
  • My God, that writing is bloody brilliant!
  • Gang, if you're not picking this book up month-to-month, there is something WRONG.
I've read #1 again, thinking maybe I just missed something. However, that's just not the case. I still see an overhyped, nothing comic. I rely upon you, good reader, to steer me back to sanity and explain what I'm missing.

First off, let me make clear I understand the appeal of a two dollar book and I understand the appeal of self-contained issues that make it possible to pick up any issue and enjoy it without needing to know seven years of canon and backstory. In that sense, I appreciate what Fell is trying to do, but the point I made in my ravaging of Mothspy remains pertinent here: having a new idea doesn't make it a good one. Furthermore, a good idea doesn't automatically work if the execution is bad. For example, sodas with no calories in them is a great idea and could drastically trim down America's bulging waistline, but until I try a diet soda that doesn't leave the taste of carcinogenic chemicals in the back of my throat, I'm not drinking them.

The first symptom of Fell-fever seems to be the need to point out the cover price and use some variation of the phrase: "Though it's only 16 pages long, it reads like a 32-pager because of the density of the what Warren Ellis has packed into every page."Yeah, that's great writing making the most of every panel. One of my biggest complaints about Ellis (and Grant Morrison and Garth Ennis for that matter) is that so often he confuses "outlandish" for "enthralling." A woman who doesn't listen to a stranger's questions and instead goes off on an unprompted soliloqy of her husband's beastial tendencies is not an interesting character, nor even a believable one. If this dialogue was coming from a schizophrenic homeless person, I'd still label it as uninspired and serving no purpose other than shock value, but at least I'd believe it. Coming from an office worker, I just roll my eyes. The same goes for his boss's "I don't care what you do. I'm going to take a lot of pills" mope-fest that preceded this.

Also, contrary to what every reviewer on the internet indicates, Snowtown having 3 1/2 detectives because one of them has no legs is mildly amusing, but it's not Shakespeare.

As for the "murder mystery," I find it hard to consider this book very heavy on mystery when the first panel of the second page practically screams "IMPORTANT HINT HERE!"Ben Templesmith might as well have put a huge red arrow pointing at those bottles and hoses in the background. I admit I incorrectly guessed the wife had fed the hose down his throat and poured the booze directly into his stomach while he was passed out or sleeping, but that wouldn't be pointessly outlandi--er, I mean intriguing enough for an Ellis story.

Having given us our first and only clue by page two, we wallow through twelve and a half pages of people telling Detective Fell that Snowtown is a bad place full of bad mojo where bad things happen.But how's life in Snowtown?I'm not sure I've got it? Is Snowtown a good place to live?How are the public schools? I'm so in the dark as what kind of place Snowtown is.Well, I suppose I'll never get a straight answer.Why do I have these bumps on my head? Oh, well, I'm still not getting it. If only we had more than sixteen pages to continue the debate over the pros and cons of life in Snowtown maybe I'd finally get it.

With the page count quickly coming to a close, Fell runs into his deus ex machi--er, uh... neighbor in an alley. She is the eighth person he's talked to since arriving in town and the fourth with valuable information on the unsolved murder. Not to disrespect Detective Fell's sleuthing skills, but if 50% of the people I spoke to every day just happened to mention important facts about mysterious deaths, I'd probably solve a few crimes myself.

Off to the scene of the crime for the wrap up where we figure out that the victim's wife usually piped a daily enema of wine into him, but switched to whiskey today, causing him to die of alcohol poisoning.How outlandish and unnecessarily provoc--er, I mean INTRIGUING.

As a sixteen page story, it's about fifteen and a half pages too long. There have been three-panel Garfield strips with as much plot. Frame one: Fell spots booze bottles with enema hoses attached and notes overwhelming scent of whiskey. Frame two: daughter points out dad couldn't drink whiskey. Frame three: Fell accuses mom of murder and eats Jon's lasagna. Granted, we know less about the municipal utilities of Snowtown, but that could be handled the next day while kicking Odie off a table.

Tell me, comicbloggowebasphere, what am I missing?

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