Ever one to try his hand at things online, it was only a matter of time before Warren Ellis did an online comic. For the last twenty weeks he and Paul Duffield have been giving us Freak Angels, the story of a group of telepathic young people in a post-apocalyptic London.
The initial premise immediately reminded me of John Wyndham, whose Chrysalids has been a favourite since I was a kid. The end-of-the-world scenario that sets up this story is a great flood which buries much of England. The youths, twenty-somethings, can communicate telepathically with one another and they can mentally control others, though this second skill is something the group takes very seriously. They expelled a member who abused it. The first member of the group we meet is KK, who flies about in a streampunk helicopter. The second is Connor, who is introduced while being held at gun point by a Manchester woman named Alice. She has come to London to revenge the deaths of her brothers by a former Freak Angel named Mark. Connor quickly understands that Mark has taken control of her mind, and sent her as a "human missile" against his former friends. Mark, of course, was the member expelled. The group, with a dozen members altogether, has been making itself useful to their Whitechapel community, protecting it from scavengers from other communities and working to provide such things as fresh water. But their power isn't their only secret. Somehow they are responsible for the disaster that ended the world as we know it.
Paul Duffield is a newcomer to comics. His faces seem to have a bit of an manga influence, which is pretty common for webcomics, but there's really nothing manga-esque about his art. Rather, its marked by a litheness that makes its way into both the characters and their surroundings. The story may have opened with a mind-controlled Mancunian with a shot gun, but Ellis has spent most of it developing the characters and fleshing out their relationships and the world around them. Not that the story isn't without its dangers. There is their Great Secret, of course, which hasn't been revealed to readers (yet), another member of the group who seems ready to go rogue, and there is the constant threat of invaders. In the latest episode a member of the Freak Angels, Jack, is attacked while scavenging the ruins of London. The group who did it are referred to as 'Mudlarks' and I assume they represent another area of the city. I don't want to give much away, plot-wise, as each week's installment is only six pages. That's a common problem with webcomics. They have an immediacy, but that very immediacy means you only get a few pages at a time. Its not that anyone has been slacking off. Six pages a week is a lot for even the most experienced comic creators, and Ellis and Duffield have been putting out Freak Angels like clock-work for about five months now, its just that six pages at a time isn't a lot to get into. At least at the beginning. I waited a few weeks before starting and then read everything that had been published in a sitting. Now I am happy to read each week's offering as it comes out. Brand new readers have twenty chapters, at six page each, four pages of preview art and a five page text interlude by Ellis. That's a hundred and twenty nine pages. So no excuses.
In today's Bad Signal Ellis mentions running into someone in Chicago who wasn't reading it online. He wanted to wait for the trade. Now I like trades myself, but I like Free Comic Book Day too, and every Friday is Free Comic Book Day at Freak Angels. For the cost a couple of minutes of your time, once you've caught up, you get a cutting edge example of UK post-apocalyptic, steampunk adventure by one of the medium's leading writers and an up and coming artist. So click on the link above and enjoy!