“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.”

So begins FreakAngels, a serial webcomic written by author, web culture guru, and general curmudgeon, Warren Ellis, and drawn by Paul Duffield, a relative newcomer to the comics scene. The final episode of FA was posted just this week, wrapping up over 800 pages of story spread out over almost 150 six-page episodes.

The story follows a group of psychic young adults in post-apocalyptic England as they attempt to survive, pick up the pieces, and understand who they are. While the story features a fair share of action, suspense, horror, steam punk, and supernatural intrigue, the focus of the story is the psychological development of the main characters. FreakAngels is something of a bildungsroman, and at the heart of the story is an intimate portrayal of what it means to recognize the mistakes you’ve made and correct them as best you can. There’s also some lovely mushy stuff about the power of the human spirit, and about friendship, family, and love in the face of oppression and bigotry. I’m reminded suddenly of the first time I read Ellis’ Transmetropolitan several years ago. Once you dig past the prickly surface of anger, violence, paranoia, etc., you find that there’s a very compassionate heart beating in the center of the story. FreakAngels is very similar in that regard.

The artwork in FA is polished to the point that it shines. Paul Duffield does great things with very fine line work, and every panel pops with detail. The colors are vibrant and crisp, and characters are expressive and beautifully rendered. In fact, you wouldn’t be completely off your rocker if you began to think that the ruins of post-apocalyptic Whitechapel is a very pretty place. That’s not to say that the artwork is always intentionally pretty – there’s also some pretty gruesome and unhappy things that you’ll see in FreakAngels, but it’s all drawn with care and a great amount of skill.

It should be noted that the pedigree of FA sets it apart from most other webcomics. Warren Ellis is an established name in the industry, and at this point in his career, he can do pretty much whatever the fuck he wants, including publishing a free webcomic. Ellis obviously is a skilled author and he also has a strong network and lots of resources to throw at this project, so this is a far cry from the majority of self-published, indie webcomics you’ll find out in the wilds of the interwebs. I don’t say that to disparage FreakAngels or Ellis or to say that other webcomics aren’t as good for lack of resources – far from it; however, it’s hard for me to critique FreakAngels using the same standards I would for other webcomics.

Considering the team behind FreakAngels and the resources that have gone into the comic, it wouldn’t be fair to expect anything less than excellence. That being said, if aside from the fact that FreakAngels is a comic and it’s published on the web, I don’t know if I consider it a “webcomic” – it’s really a fairly standard industrial comic series that Ellis has chosen to distribute online as well as in book form. If you don’t understand the distinction, that’s OK, but suffice it to say that I strongly recommend you give FreakAngels a read.