Slimline Second Chances
When Warren Ellis and Ben Templesmith launched Fell, a 24-page comic series about a detective banished to the worst part of a corrupt city, there was a lot of talk that it would fail. A regular comic in full color for just $1.99? Let's not be silly. Instead, the follow-up was Matt Fraction and Gabriel Ba's Casanova, also in the new "slimline" format. With a dimension-jumping playboy entering a dimension where he's the hero instead of the disappointment, and things rapidly spin out of control in double- and triple-crosses within a top-secret organization of spies, it was hard to not get pulled right into the book.
And now, for everyone who missed out, you're getting another chance. Today, through a nice bit of timing, collections of everything released to date for both series are hitting stores. Who says good things don't always happen at once?
What's nice is that each creator has taken a different tactic. Casanova Volume 1 is a big and sturdy oversized hardcover, letting Ba's two-color art pop off the page in a way that looks even more beautiful than the original issues did. Casanova could best be described as a frantic madness, each story starting slightly crazy and then just getting more so. At the same time, there's always a level of control displayed by Fraction and Ba throughout Casanova. You get the impression that they know exactly where this story is going, pace by pace.
Even better is that while each issue was absolutely an adventure in its own right, these seven issues are also all acting as parts of a greater whole, building towards a climax in which... well, that would be spoiling all the fun, right? But as much as I enjoyed the serialization of this first volume, because Fraction really understands how to give a cliffhanger that both resolves the current storyline and simultaneously leaves the reader screaming for more, I think it actually works better as a collected edition. You can see things pay off in issue seven that were set up months earlier, and the end result is a comic that out-Hollywoods the movie industry when it comes to larger-than-life ideas and spectacle.
While Casanova could best be described as the craziest fireworks show you've ever seen, Fell is a much quieter, more subtle book. Ellis and Templesmith's book of nine-panel grid storytelling avoids the splashy reveals or amazing spectacle. Instead, it's a series of police work stories in a place where most people really don't (and shouldn't) be thrilled about living. Detective Fell's a strong enough protagonist, but the more you read of Fell the more you understand that he's not the real star of the book.
It's perhaps cliché to claim such, but in this case it's the truth: Snowtown is the real star of Fell. With each new story, it's less about Detective Fell or the rest of the police, but about the entire city. You begin to understand the thought processes of the people who live there, and that's a slightly scary thing. Templesmith coats the entire book in a fine layer of grime, a comic that will make the more finicky readers want to scrub their hands before too long. He and Ellis also use the nine-panel grid quite well, a combination of tight close-ups on character's faces and glimpses of the world itself.
The one downside to buying the collected editions instead of the single issues is that all of the "extras" from the single issues are gone. Casanova's collection does include thumbnails of the first issue, a nice behind-the-scenes look at how Ba lays out the pages of comics, as well as a couple of production sketches. But all of the essays by Fraction and Ellis were confined to the singles; consider them an "early adopter" bonus to people who bought them in that edition. Nonetheless, these editions are handsome enough that you'll be quite happy to have them.
If you haven't picked up Casanova or Fell yet, well, here's your opportunity. With more Casanova and Fell on the immediate horizon, this is the easiest way to get ready for the next installments. For people who have proclaimed the serial format dead to them, here's another option. Just be warned that when you're done, well... Don't blame me if you find yourself ordering Casanova #8 or Fell #9, that's all I'm saying.