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Fallen Angel

One of the signs of a great writer is that he or she will inevitably try to screw with your mind. This is especially true for comic book writers. Moore, Ellis, Morrison, Bendis, all of these literary bastards try to engage the reader in a game of “Ha! Wasn’t expecting that were you, fanboy?!” when they write. Ellis’ Global Frequency was basically a new game of “gotcha” every issue. Bendis on Powers constantly finds ways to reinvent his characters and the shift the tone of the book (do I need to say anything other than “sweaty monkey love”?). Morrison is deranged in a nicely readable way as evidenced by Doom Patrol, and Moore needs no explanation because that limey that slightly resembles Jesus gave the world Watchmen and Promethea.

It’s not just about surprising the reader with an interesting concept, but more about writing something that the reader is not only not expecting, but leaving a reader asking “What the hell just happened?” so that going back and re-reading the comic he just finished seems invariably necessary. Being pleasantly confused after reading a comic is a state that few writers can coerce the reader into achieving, but one such writer is Peter David.

David, maybe best known for his work on The Incredible Hulk, has created a character (as I wouldn’t go so far as to call her a “heroine”) that somehow manages to be highly rich in personality and wit, and at the same time be a complete mystery to the reader. That character is Lee from DC’s Fallen Angel.

Lee, a woman of fiery colored hair and temperament, has set herself up in the city of Bete Noir as a court of last resort for those willing to meet her demands. In a city devoid of police and run in a semi-illegal state by the Magistrate of Bete Noir, Doctor Juris, she helps those in need. And “help” by her definition can mean anything from salvation to damnation.

The way that David plays with this character is quite interesting. Lee never changes in emotional tone throughout the entire book, except in slight instances of anger. We never see her enjoy something and never see her “soften” expressively, helped by the fact that artist David Lopez and inker Fernando Blanco often craft visuals where all, half, or some of Lee’s face is hidden from the reader. The reader is never treated to a scene of emotional break-down or overreaction from Lee. It’s almost as if she operates in a permanent state of shock, able to function and yet unfeeling in the execution.

Normally, this would be a sign of bad writing or lax character building, but the fact that Lee clearly has some type of “mission” or purpose in doing the things she does, being an avenging or revenging angel as it were, makes me assume that the character is motivated in some fashion. David does not allow us the slightest glimpse into what drives Lee, but gives the impression that something most definitely does.

Another way that David clouds the reader’s perception of Lee comes through her interactions with the ensemble cast of Bete Noirians. Her barely existent friendship with Dolf the bartender, her odd choice in romantic collusion, her antagonistic hatred and violent information pumping of the Magistrate’s chief examiner Slade (who looks like the Moroccan version of Steve Buscemi): these relationships all highlight her otherness in respect to the story, which is already spot-lit by the fact that she has better than average strength, some type of enhanced durability, and what one character calls “freaky mind powers.” David never defines, at least in this first volume, what powers Lee possesses, which is yet another thing we do not know about the character.

All of these little questions about the character should scream “incomplete character development” to any comic reader, but for some reason Lee never appears incomplete, just hidden from the reader. The enticement of reading Fallen Angel is that we slowly uncover small pieces of its main character.

The artwork by Lopez and Blanco is good: Blanco’s deft touch with the inks provides the film noir feel the book and the fictional city it’s set in require, complimenting Lopez’s pencil work rather well. Lopez’s style looks like a cross between the grotesqueness of Steve Dillon’s work from Preacher and Darwyn Cooke’s nostalgic pop-art style from DC: The New Frontier, and works rather well for the story. Nathan Eyring further adds to the piece with some excellent coloring, making night scenes as colorful as daylight though muted slightly, much in the style of Jeremy Cox. Lopez’s character design for Lee, as well as the rest of the cast, show a willingness to avoid superheroics and derivations thereof, presenting a much more modern and metropolitan look than you might see on a regular-universe DC book, but might find in a Wildstorm title like 21 Down or Sleeper.

It’s an interesting read, and an even more interesting re-read. The $12.95 it costs will get you the first six issues of the monthly, an introduction by SciFi legend Harlan Ellison, and a cover gallery of covers by Brian Stelfreeze, which are an absolute pleasure to look at (they’re so well illustrated, I’m shocked I haven’t heard his name before). Go out and buy this, at least to see if the Fallen Angel has any wings or not.

And bad puns mean it’s time to go. Later, Fanpeople.

Fallen Angel

Robert Sparling

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