COMICS: John Reviews “FreakAngels Vol. 1” by Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield

Well, it’s been a while since my last review.  Be sure to learn from my mistake:  If you’re planning to write a review of something, don’t carelessly lend out your only copy to a friend!  I was certain I had accidentally left it on the bus one morning until a friend of mine returned it amidst a stack of comics I had lent her.  This means I won’t have to buy a new copy (yay for saving money!) but it also means I no longer have a good reason to buy the hardcover version.  But enough of this gay banter, it’s time to get down to business.

This is KK.  Shes a FreakAngel, and she can totally kick your ass.

This is KK. She's a FreakAngel, and she can totally kick your ass.

The phrase “Post-Apocalyptic” almost immediately conjures images of a certain sort in potential readers’ minds: Desolate wastelands, motorcycles adorned with spikes, and scary-looking mutants wearing some strange amalgamation of football pads and scrap metal.  By no means does a “post-apocalyptic” future sound in any way like a place or time anyone would want to live (unless you’re already a mutant biker.  Way to be ahead of your time!)  With FreakAngels, Warern Ellis and Paul Duffield set out to turn the sterotypical vision of a post-apocalyptic future on its head, in terms of both setting and narrative.   The result is a relaxed, enjoyable trip into the most beautiful post-apocalyptic world I’ve ever seen, and the only one I’d ever want to live in.  Their synopsis says everything you need to know regarding backstory, and hints at the very unique nature of this story:

“23 years ago, twelve strange children were born at exactly the same moment.  Six years ago, the world ended. This is the story of what happened next.”

If you want a more straightforward story synopsis, here goes:  23 years ago, twelve children were born to different parents throughout the world.  Each one was born with uncharacteristically pale (though not quite albino) skin, as well as with the gift of limited telepathy and telekinesis. Six years ago, these twelve children were faced with an extraordinary ultimatum.  The exact details of the event have yet to be revealed, but the end result is that they were given a choice: Let the world continue as it is and give up humanity’s right to free will, or preserve people’s right to determine their own lives and endure a nearly extinction-level cataclysm.  They chose the latter, and now work to provide a safe and stable community for the few remaining survivors. (Incidentally, if you want a quick bio for each character, start here.)  Sure, some of you may exclaim, “Hey! He’s ripping off The Umbrella Academy!”  I wouldn’t go as far as to say that, but some similarities are certainly present (specifically, simultaneous birth of extraordinary-yet-weird children and an apocalyptic event.)

FreakAngels has its fair share of action, drama and suspense, but this is not your typical comic by any stretch of the imagination.  It feels like a glimpse into a real, (somewhat) fully-functional and fleshed-out parallel world.  Perhaps it’s because the story is designed to be read on the internet at FreakAngels.com, where Ellis and Duffield post a new six-page episode every Friday and don’t have to structure the story around comic or book publishing constraints.  It really feels as though they are taking their time with FreakAngels, and that they have enough material and story ideas to last more than a decade.  With thirteen main characters to develop and six years’ worth of backstory to reveal, Warren Ellis is able to concentrate on immersing the reader into the FreakAngels world at an organic pace, neither rushing past important details nor lingering in “filler Hell.” It’s first example of the famous “decompression” Brian Michael Bendis loves so dearly that I actually feel works properly for its medium.  It can get tedious when a monthly comic spends three issues on dialogue and character development with little to no plot advancement or action beats, but with FreakAngels you’ll never feel like you’ve gotten less than your money’s worth (largely because the web version is free.)

While its role as a webcomic is all well and good, there is much to be said for the print version of FreakAngels. Paul Duffield’s art is gorgeous enough to warrant not just a print version, but a high-quality hardcover.  The art looks heavily influenced by more intricately-drawn anime and manga, though I don’t know that medium well enough to determine which particular properties it resembles most.  Thank goodness for blogs’ ability to include pictures!  Something about Duffield’s illustration (and Alana Yuen’s colors) can make brutal war scenes seem beautiful.  In my mind, Sirkka’s gigantic machine gun makes no more than a light rustling sound as its darts rush their her targets.

Many of Ellis’s standard character traits are present in FreakAngels.  KK in particular feels like the latest in a long line of tough-as-nails subtle-as-chainsaws female characters (Jenny Sparks, Elsa Bloodstone, Channon Yarrow and Jakita Wagner all spring to mind.)  Amazingly, though, he injects an almost Runaways-esque innocence and charm into the character of Arkady, a young woman who suffered terrible drug-induced trauma and now is a few cards short of a deck.  Fans of Joss Whedon’s Firefly might see parallels between Arkady and River Tam, but the execution is different enough to convince me that she wasn’t a complete rip-off.  The dialogue is clever and snappy, but decidedly more realistic than in works like Transmetropolitan or Nextwave. It’s a testament to Ellis’s writing ability (and my constant suspension of disbelief) that FreakAngels makes a fantastic concept so darn believable.

FreakAngels is a rare treat in the world of action-packed summer blockbuster comics, and the first time I’ve read a Post-Apocalyptic story and thought, “Y’know, if this is what the end of the world is like, maybe it won’t be so bad after all.”  I don’t want to beg, but I strongly encourage you to go visit FreakAngels on the web and see it for yourself.  It’s free, after all.   I’ll leave you with one of my favorite pages, since I just can’t get enough of those aerial shots:

She flies through the air with the greatest of ease...

She flies through the air with the greatest of ease...

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5 Responses

  1. […] COMICS: John Reviews “FreakAngels Vol. 1″ by Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield « WIT … – While its role as a webcomic is all well and good, there is much to be said for the print version of FreakAngels. Paul Duffield’s art is gorgeous enough to warrant not just a print version, but a high-quality hardcover. The art looks heavily influenced by more intricately-drawn anime and manga, though I don’t know that medium well enough to determine which particular properties it resembles most. Thank goodness for blogs’ ability to include pictures! Something about Duffield’s illustration (and Alana Yuen’s colors) can make brutal war scenes seem beautiful. […]

  2. I generally liked your review of Freakangels, except that I had to force myself to read past the first paragraph since you’d used ‘gay’ as a clearly negative adjective. Please think before you do that in future, as it offends readers unnecessarily, and doesn’t even make sense unless you really think gay has some sort of association with excessive, inappropriate discussion.

  3. It’s interesting that you point out the use of the word “gay” there. I had thought about censoring it, but hoped that people would catch the double-reference of the line. “Enough of this gay banter” is a favorite throw-away line of mine from both a Monty Python’s Flying Circus sketch as well as (if i remember correctly) one of the volumes of “Scott Pilgrim.” I happen to be a straight supporter of LBGTIQQ rights, and think that there should be more positively portrayed characters of that sort in comics today (Apollo and Midnighter shouldn’t be the only strong, stable gay married couple!)

  4. (continued from first reply)
    and as far as the reference is concerned, I’m fairly sure John Cleese meant the original line to imply that the banter was enjoyable, but ultimately frivolous. But perhaps I’m just digging myself into an increasingly bigger hole, and should just avoid repeating the initial behavior at all costs.

  5. I’ve just finished reading FreakAngels from the beginning and I must say I agree with you. This is an intriguing world that I’m itching to know more about (Oh, and by “gay” I just assumed you meant happy)

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