by Joe Orchard

Hey, so I just noticed that things have been a bit weird lately. I know, right? Nobody ever mentions it. Flippancy aside, I think it’s safe to say that we could all probably use a bit of escapism at the moment, so what do you say to a book that features a devastating flu epidemic, civil unrest and the breakdown of human civilisation as we know it? Wait, no, come back!

It would be easy to write The Fall off as another post-apocalyptic tale of how, when the chips are down, humans are kind of awful, and I’m not about to tell you that this isn’t that book. You’ve got your crumbling societal structure, civilisations essentially descending into tribal factions, and unfortunate civilians caught in the middle of an increasingly bleak and violent landscape. So, what does The Fall do to set itself apart from the rest in a crowded marketplace?

For starters, there’s the art. Man, do I like the art in this book. The opening sequence bathed in a beautiful, peachy sunset belies the far-from-peachy nature of what is to come (I’m so sorry). Some panels are staggeringly detailed; craggy rock formations that show every fault line, the control layout of a downed helicopter. These combine with some big, blocky colour usage and relatively simple character designs to good effect. It’s like if Tintin finally hit puberty and decided it was time to start smoking and get a tattoo, all edgy like.

If there is a criticism to be made here, it is that the character designs sometimes feel as if they are lacking in expression. The stoicism of these people is remarkable. Reactions to horrific scenes of violence range from ‘Hm?’ to ‘Grrr!’ with not a lot in between. For example, there is a scene early on, where Liam, our protagonist, is out with his young son, looking for Liam’s teenage daughter. Now, things have yet to completely turn to shit by this point, however the police have been shown to be a bit, shall we say, heavy-handed. So, when Liam hears the not-too-distant sound of explosions and gunfire, and is confronted with a crowd fleeing the police, what is his reaction? You or I, in this situation, would almost certainly be wishing we’d worn our brown trousers that day. What about Liam? He’s angry. Determined, and angry. A dad, with his son, who can’t find his daughter in a now clearly hostile environment and there’s not a whiff of fear on him.

Now, I’m not asking for people to get all histrionic about every little bit of casual murder (seriously, if I have to see another piece of media in which someone is forced to do or witness something terrible and their response is to be instantly sick, I am, ironically, going to be instantly sick), but the fact is that too many of the characters here are mostly deadpan. Even references to cannibalism as a survival tactic are passed over with little more than a shrug. While part of me likes the, ‘Well, I guess this is life now,’ attitude, the mundanity of the horror, this pervading air of cool detachment, perhaps unsurprisingly, left me cool and detached.

Aside from the art, I struggle to find a great deal to recommend here. There’s not much that can’t be found elsewhere. Muralt’s efforts at social commentary by introducing a Syrian refugee and an African child soldier are surface-level, given the same ‘That’s just how it is’ treatment as the collapse of society as we know it. I’m all for a bit of subtext, but it’s nice when some of it makes it into the actual text. In the end, The Fall somehow feels less than the sum of some really nice parts. A zombie book without the zombies.

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