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July 28th 2010

Freakangels

Print & online comic review by Denis-Jose Francois

"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." That's the set up for Freakangels, a free, weekly, ongoing comic written by Warren Ellis and illustrated by Paul Duffield.

Freakangels is a very British character drama set against the backdrop of a post-apocalyptic, dystopian London, whose denizens are trying to keep their heads above water, by any means necessary. I mean that literally, as this is London after a massive flood, which has not receded. It's not really clear - at least not at first - what or who caused the end of the world, or even in what manner it came about, but for the most part that's not important, as the story is really about people. People struggling to survive, people trying to form new communities from broken ones, people trying to make sense of a messed up, crazy world. However, that doesn't mean there isn't any action. There's plenty of it, and as the story progresses, things get crazy pretty quickly.

The main plot follows the lives of the 'Freakangels': A group of 12 twenty-some-things who have been thrown together in life through shared psychic abilities, which they refer too as 'the package'. They were all born at the same time (presumably from different parents) and are able to communicate telepathically with each other, as well performing other psychic feats such as psychokinesis, weather control and teleportation. They can also combine their abilities to perform special, powerful stunts. As the story progresses it becomes clear that the Freakangels are only scraping the surface of their abilities, with some of the group pushing the boundaries of 'the package' in interesting and possibly dangerous ways.

'What happens next' takes place over a period of a few days. In fact most, if not all, of the first two volumes happens on the same day. At first this sounds like the story would be very slow paced, but far from it. With 12 main characters, and a side-cast of several more, there is so much going on that its a wonder it doesn't take longer to tell the tale. And what a tale it is. This isn't a 'day in the life of' story. This particular day, which starts out fairly normally, is the culmination of events that have happened in the past and becomes a turning point in the lives of the characters. Lines are crossed. Difficult decisions have to be made. Shadows and ghosts from the past resurface with a vengeance.

Warren Ellis is a masterful storyteller, and with Freakangels he shows of some of his best writing skills (other notable works include Global Frequency, Transmetropolitan, Planetary & The Authority). Despite the large and complex principal cast, he gives each character a distinctive personality & voice, whilst keeping the dialogue believable and entertaining. The story moves along briskly and remains interesting, even while it follows some of the characters doing rather mundane community tasks. It has all the best elements of emotional drama, lo-fi tech, action and suspense. Warren Ellis says that its the kind of story that he always wanted to have in a British sci-fi weekly, such as 2000AD, but couldn't due to his desire to retain creator-owned rights (and one would assume some of the adult nature of its content).

It also looks great. Paul Duffield's artwork is very clean, fresh and has an amazing attention to detail. The story is laid out in a very consistent 2x2 grid, making it particularly easy to read the lengthy dialogue and still enjoy the images - even in its online form.

Currently in its third volume, Freakangels is released free, every Friday (at noon) in six page instalments. Every 72 pages amounts to a volume of story arc which is then released in print by Avatar press. This is somewhat of a novelty in publishing - to give something away for free first, and then sell it... but it may well portent to the future of comics. Having already read Freakangels online, I was curious as to how much I would enjoy the print version. As it turns out, I actually enjoyed it more! I found that reading it on good old fashioned paper allowed me to soak up the visuals more than when I read it on-screen. For some reason, staring at a computer monitor prompts me to flick through the story much faster, and I was surprised to find that I had missed a lot of the visual details that are important to enjoyment of the story.

Either way, whether you read it online or in print, Freakangels is definitely worthy of your time.

To read Freakangels online, visit Freakangels.com, with a new installment released every Friday at noon (UK time). To learn more about  Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield follow the links to their websites!

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