“23 Years ago twelve strange children were born in England at exactly the same moment. 6 Years Ago the world ended. This is the Story of what happened next”.
So begins Warren Ellis’ and Paul Duffield’s ongoing webcomic Freakangels. Since its launch in February 2008, Ellis and Duffield have been posting six pages a week, delivering a regular dose of rich, post-apocalyptic steampunk. For those of you who haven’t stumbled across Freakangels yet, it takes the basic premise of John Wyndham’s novel ‘The Midwich Cuckoos’ and uses it as a launch pad. It should come as no surprise then, that Freakangels plays out like some alternate dimension sequel to Wyndham’s novel, had things turned out a little differently. If Wyndham’s Midwich Cuckoos had survived, this might just have been their story.
Set amidst the ruins of post-apocalyptic London, a group of disaffected young adults inhabit a drowned world, building a self sufficient hermetic community in the crumbling remains of Whitechapel. Of course Ellis’ band of ‘Freakangels’ are no ordinary young adults, as they all possess telepathic abilities and superhuman powers.
Ellis plays his cards close to his chest, giving only small snippets of information about the wider world outside of Whitechapel. The extended cast are introduced one by one and instead of rushing headlong into plot points and drama, Ellis opts for a tantalisingly slow burning pace that gives up just enough new information to keep you coming back for more every single week.
Unfolding with a near real time feel to events, the comic ambles along at a leisurely pace giving both the characters and environments ample room to breathe. This is Ellis at his most decompressed and to my mind, it works very well indeed. What results is a detailed and well realised world that’s genuinely absorbing and believable. Ellis has thought long and hard about the consequences of the catastrophic floods that have engulfed the world, and London’s flooded geography is rendered with the same care and detail as the characters that inhabit its sodden landscapes.
Ellis’ creates an engaging ensemble cast, all skilfully rendered by Paul Duffield and given life via Ellis’ trademark snappy dialogue and acerbic sense humour. All your favourite Ellis-isms are in full effect and as with much of his work, he doesn’t forget to give us a little of the science behind his fiction, with numerous steam based contraptions making an appearance. The limited technology on display fits the world perfectly and there's a palpable sense of the sheer scarcity of resources and the basic necessities of life.
Paul Duffield’s art matches the quality of the writing and does much to bring the cast of Freakangels to life on the page. Despite working to what must be very tight deadlines, his art is always a wonder to behold, jumping with ease from muted ominous hues and violence to vibrant colours and widescreen depictions of Whitechapel. His fluid line and detailed animation studio style panels are the perfect foil for Ellis' often cinematic storytelling.
All in all, this is excellent work and stands as a shining example of the kind of quality webcomics can deliver. If you’re not already reading Freakangels, then what the hell are you waiting for? There's over a year’s worth of accumulated webcomic goodness just waiting to be devoured. If you do enjoy the comic be sure to check out the hard copy volumes published by Avatar. The second TPB is due to be released this week, so give it a look. This stuff looks even better when printed on dead trees.
You can read Freakangels here.
Review by Matthew Dick.