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Thursday, 17 February 2011

The Fallen Angel Omnibus volume 0

written by Peter David
pencils by David Lopez
inks Fernando Blanco
colours by Nathan Eyring
Publisher: IDW

What's It About?
In the dark and terrible city of Bete Noire, in a booth at the back of Dolf's bar sits a woman dressed all in red, a woman people call the Fallen Angel. People come to the bar to talk to her, to tell her their problems. Sometimes she helps them, sometimes she tells them to go to hell and sometimes they wish she hadn't agreed to help them. Surrounded by a city of criminals and moral corruption the Fallen Angel is still finding her place in the world.

Fallen Angel was a series launched by DC Comics as part of an initiative to create new comics with female leads. The series was praised as inventive, creative and unpredictable... by the critics. Sadly the readers at the time weren't as willing to try something new as DC hoped and after twenty issues the series was cancelled. Years later Peter David was invited to continue the series with a new company, IDW, who have now published the full DC run for the first time ever in a handsome omnibus edition.

What's Good About It?
Value for money is the chief selling point of the omnibus format. This books contains twenty issues of material that breaks down into three full-length graphic novels and six single-issue stories.

The city the stories are set in is called Bete Noire so there are no prizes for guessing the tone of the stories. Most of the characters are morally dubious even if they aren't outright criminals. Amongst the principal cast are a brothel madam, a heroin trafficker, a hired killer and a bartender who may or may not have been a high-ranking Nazi. Moreover this is not a story of the one shining and honourable soul in a hopelessly corrupt city, the Fallen Angel herself has more than enough shades of grey in her character to fit in with the locals. This is immensely beneficial to the character because as she's no paragon there's always a question of which way the Fallen Angel will jump in any given circumstance. The character and the series as a whole are therefore refreshingly unpredictable. There are absolutely no certainties: characters die, switch sides, alliances shift, its a wild ride of a series.

One of the other interesting aspects of Fallen Angel is how it plays with its fictional setting. Fictional cities are nothing new in comics, think of Superman's Metropolis or Batman's Gotham, but Fallen Angel takes it one step further. Bete Noire is portrayed as a fully functioning city with its own set of rules and I don't just mean in a legal sense but also a metaphysical one. The exact nature of Bete Noire is revealed over time, a layered mystery which owes a lot to the literary horror tradition, principally Stephen King and HP Lovecraft. The city is, in many ways, a character in its own right.

As you might expect from the title there's a strong subtext of Judeo-Christian religious imagery throughout the book. As a writer Peter David is fanatical about details, both fictional and factual as has been demonstrated in many of his novels and he approaches his religious imagery with the same zeal. For instance, he includes scriptural details not generally known by the general public, such as the fact the snake in the Garden of Eden was not, according to the actual text of the Book Of Genesis, the Devil.

I would also like to assure you that in spite of the series' cancellation this book does not represent an incomplete story. The first eighteen issues describe a complete story arc, completely resolved within themselves. The final two issues form a coda that sets up a new status quo but works equally well as an epilogue to the DC series as it does a prologue to its IDW reincarnation. You won't be left hanging when you reach the end.

What's Bad About It?
The main drawback of this book is its price. At £22.50 its an expensive book, well worth the money in my estimation but it didn't have to sell itself to me entirely on its own merit. For one thing it had two or three years of relentless recommendation from my friends going for it. Of course, this review is just one voice in the wilderness so I can't provide you with that sort of badgering. However, the other thing that motivated me to buy the omnibus was my personal regard for the author. Click on Peter David's name in the tags list or visit Amazon for some of his other work. I personally recommend Young Justice (already reviewed here) and his series of Star Trek novels New Frontier. If you end up reading some of his other work you might want to keep this review in mind.

My only criticism of the series as written is the character of heroin trafficker Asia Minor whose dialogue is written in English that isn't just broken its positively fractured. The implication in some scenes that its all an act doesn't detract from the fact that it really got on my tits after a while.

What's the Art Like?
Despite reprinting a complete twenty-issue run the book has only one art team: Lopez, Blanco and Eyring illustrate each and every page giving the whole series a unified, cohesive feel and means I don't have to make extra scans to represent guest artists so it works out well for everyone. Coincidentally as this is a rather thick book please excuse the curling edges of the pages.

Lopez is a precise draftsman, scrupulous about anatomy and proportion. He's especially good with facial expressions even in this example with the Fallen Angel's face mainly wrapped in the shadows of the cloak. Because so many of the cast spend quite a bit of their time lying being able to read their expressions is particularly important.

Lopez doesn't often make use of flashy digital effects but this example does show some things that are typical of his style. The first is the distinctive architecture of Bete Noire, a mixture of Gothic splendour and close-packed squalor. There's also a certain symbolism at work here in that the only two distinctive buildings in this drawing are a cathedral and a strip club. The spectral demons shimmering around the forms of the city's people also demonstrate the Lovecraftian horror aspects of the series.

The series is, at its core, a horror one and so it seems only fair to give you a representative example of the horror content. Here we have a scene that is pretty extreme by the standards of Fallen Angel as a young girl detonates messily. You can see that there's no flinching from what's going on: blood, bodily organs, a severed head and Fallen's “out foul spot” moment in the bottom left-hand corner but neither is it the 100% photo-realistic sort of gore that might put you in serious danger of parting company with your most recent meal.

Other Information
Fallen Angel Omnibus volume 0 (ISBN 978-1600106743) typically retails for £22.50 and is available from Amazon [here].

Whilst the original series was still a going concern at DC they published two collections, Fallen Angel and Fallen Angel: Down To Earth, covering the first two arcs now collected in the omnibus, now usually available cheaply second hand. Those unwilling to part with the cost of the omnibus might find these might provide a cheaper taste for you to determine whether you want to splash out on the whole story.

If you enjoy Peter David's writing you can try his Young Justice book (for younger readers) or his Supergirl book.

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