Week in, week out, “FreakAngels” appears online (barring the occasional break or delay) with six new pages on Friday. Written by Warren Ellis and drawn by Paul Duffield, it’s the story of 12 young adults with superpowers living in a post-disaster area of London called Whitechapel. After setting up the encampment and the characters in the first three volumes, “FreakAngels” volume 4 collects weeks 73 through 96, showing us exactly what the group did to cause civilization to collapse and leave them feeling responsible for the well-being of any people they come across.
This volume picks up six years ago with the twelve FreakAngels on the run from the authorities because of their powers. Right away, Paul Duffield shows off his skill by making each member of the group look six years younger, often with different hair styles and looks, while still making each identifiable immediately. Ellis focuses here on Mark, the only FreakAngel we haven’t met yet since he was exiled from the group shortly after these events. We’ve heard about him and it’s almost shocking to see him take the lead in their efforts to escape and send a message to their pursuers. The idea is that a show of force big enough will scare them off and leave the group in peace.
Instead, that show of force punched a hole in the world and screwed up everything, setting up the story as we know it where Whitechapel is under assault from outsiders apparently led by Mark. He’s back, he’s angry at an attempt to have him killed, and he wants Whitechapel. At the same time, a troublesome FreakAngel, Luke is loose with a gun, while KK almost fell to her death when her flying bike was shot down. It’s an ‘everything that can go wrong goes wrong’ sort of story and it’s developed well, showing what everyone is doing, cutting between a few key locations often.
Ellis builds the story here well, introducing Mark as a force within the group before revealing his return in a seeming position of power. With another flashback later to when the group’s fourteenth birthday, Ellis presents a compelling and complicated picture of Mark. Once dedicated to using his power in secret to make the world better, to help people, life has beaten him down until he’s just some thug with delusions of grandeur set on revenge against the only family he’s ever known.
Even with a strong focus on Mark, the rest of the cast all get a lot of moments of development as Jack makes a harsh choice in dealing with Luke, and Arkady nearly dies in her effort to save KK, which only makes her stronger. There are also some great moments of humor. Kaitlin, the group’s self-appointed law enforcement, is hilarious in her ideas of fighting crime. She reads like a parody of Batman at his most grim sometimes.
Duffield’s work on the series continues to grow in this volume as he shows the action with a lot of energy and dynamic poses and angles. He makes sure that the characters are always doing something visually interesting or he’s showing them in a visually interesting manner. The flashback to six years ago at the beginning of the collection is chilling in its creepy grays, especially when the ‘Angels use their powers with that eerie purple glow in their eyes. One of the best sequences in one where they’re running through the woods with energy shields protecting them from gunfire from helicopters. With the trees, the number of characters, the energy shields, and the bullets, the sequence could be a real mess, but Duffield keeps everything quite clear and surprisingly spacious. Pages and panels never feel cramped with characters.
Despite this, Duffield’s art is still stiff in places with characters posed somewhat awkwardly. In his efforts to show characters in motion or even standing naturally, they don’t always look natural or in motion. His clean style is great at clarity and getting across what’s happening, but not always in making it look as natural or smooth as possible. This is an area where he’s grown quite a bit, though, as, even in this volume, characters move with greater ease and don’t look as posed.
After four volumes, “FreakAngels” continues to develop the characters well and introduce new and interesting problems for them to face. Here, it’s the return of an old friend that causes lots of old and new issues in the group to surface, leaving some to leave, some dead, and a final page that still leaves me surprised despite reading it online when it first went up. The fourth volume is the best story to date and is as compelling read in one chunk as it was serialized six pages at a time originally.