Writer: Rick Remender
Artist: Tony Moore (p), Sean Parsons (i), Lee Loughridge (colors)
Publisher: Image Comics
EDITOR'S NOTE: The first issue of Image Comics' Fear Agent will appear on stands this Wednesday, October 25.
Ariel Carmona Jr.
Comments: The comic opens on an one eyed alien trucker delivering freight to a desolate space station. The character is the prototypical clichéd truck driver making a stop. It would have been more interesting to go against type and have made him a bookworm or something other than the norm, but then again, that may not have worked as well. I have seen enough Star Trek episodes to know that he was in trouble from the get-go because an unmanned station spells disaster. Next, we get our first glimpse of Heath Houston. The Samuel Clemens quoting Houston is the whisky loving hero of the piece, the last remaining alien exterminator in the galaxy tracking down aliens on a weird planet. Clemens once wrote: Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear. Remender’s hero doesn’t exhibit much of it; he is cool and collected doing his job, clearly motivated by the prospect of pay. Some of his self assuredness is no doubt due to the fact he isn’t facing the brightest pack of aliens this side of the galaxy until he gets in trouble with his freezing rifle and is almost hoisted by his own petard. Houston goes on to discover the “brain” who’s controlling the ugly alien monsters and this leads to a race to the finish and the requisite climactic explosions.
Final Word: Inspired by the creator’s love of zombie movies and Wally Wood and Joe Orlando and all the old EC horror/sci-fi stuff of years past, this is a satisfying enough read, even if it appears to be a self contained introductory tale, rather than a long running story arc. All the familiar elements are in place: phaser guns, alien worlds, rocket ships, tough as nails Pulp inspired space adventurer. The book comes alive in vibrant, colorful pages by Moore including a masterful full page depicting the big bad of the book. The cover is a throwback to the great space adventures popular in the 50s. It will appeal to the fans of this genre the most, but will it give general comic book readers enough entertainment for their buck to keep them coming back for more? I’d wager a phaser pistol and a rocket pack that it just might.
This first issue of Fear Agent has a reversed narrative. I don’t mean the events of the issue move from the present to the past (a la Christopher Nolan’s film Memento). I mean the cliff-hanger appears at the beginning of the issue while a first person caption box introduction of the protagonist (who IS featured in 20 pages of this 23 page first issue) occurs on the last page.
A comic book with a reversed narrative deserves a “reversed review.” Here goes:
The Final Word: The colored artwork makes this a fun book to leaf through. The story itself is a lively homage to sci-fi pulp, but the protagonist’s inconsistent voice (sometimes witty, just as often annoying) doesn’t allow me to make an unconditional recommendation. If you’re a fan of sci-fi action narratives, you’re going to appreciate this book. If you’re not a fan of the genre, this book won’t change your opinion.
Commentary: What impressed me most about this first issue of Fear Agent was the dynamic line work, augmented perfectly by gaudy, unnatural coloring that invokes, for me, a 1960s Star Trek aesthetic: purplish interior cockpit lighting, green alien atmospheres, reddish underground illumination, yellow rocket thrusters, blue explosions. I love it!
The issue is action packed (with fisticuffs, freon ray blasts, telepathic mind assaults, radioactive detonations--what’s missing?), and the artwork, while energetic, doesn’t sacrifice clarity. In other words, I always knew what was going on. This might not seem like much of a compliment until you consider there are some highly-paid Marvel and DC artists who present action in a such a confusing manner that readers can’t help but scratch their head, trying to figure out what the hell is going on. That’s not the case here. The panel perspectives and layout always keep the reader clear on all characters’ actions as well as physical positions within the environment.
The narrative is playful in its detached sarcasm, which unfortunately also means this: in spots Huston’s comments are very witty (“Set Phaser to ’Cowardly Monkey’”), but more often, they are damn annoying especially in the manner in which they explain the action that Moore/Parsons are presenting very clearly (“I duck the wrench. Mean Joe Green takes one for the team”). This reveals another aspect of the issue’s narrative: its frequent use of 20th century colloquialisms: “he covers the spread,” “I‘ll be outta here in time for Happy Hour.” These expressions are appropriate for the wise-cracking hero, but not within the futuristic science fiction genre in which the hero has been placed. This made for a somewhat incongruent story, in my opinion. Nothing serious or “damning,” but noticeable.
Plot Summary: Heath Huston is the sole surviving member of a band of alien exterminators dubbed “Fear Agents.” On the planet Frazterga, Huston has been hired to eliminate some Zlasfons, Cro-Magnon-like savages who have been leaving their caves to attack the populace and steal some terraforming technology…, which doesn’t make sense to Huston. And sure enough, Huston discovers the situation is far more complicated and dangerous than a bunch of belligerent cave men.
Meanwhile, back at the beginning of the issue, a malevolent creature has seemingly devoured everyone aboard a space station. It’s a monster that Huston, of course, will have to deal with in future issues.
One thing this book does particularly well is putting across the character and setting; we get a good feel for the Fear Agent and his work, mainly through a well-written internal monologue that effectively conveys his personality. The other big strength of the comic is the art, which has a nice grubby down-to-earth feel to it, reminiscent of the work of Henry Flint and the legendary Carlos Ezquerra from 2000AD; this sci-fi future isn’t a clean and shiny one but one that feels lived-in, and thus comes across as just a tad more realistic.
Remender takes all the time and space he needs to round out his lead character, and that’s unfortunately also the source of the comic’s main problems. The focus is a bit too tight, and as such we don’t really get a good look at the character’s relationships with his supporting cast; we know there is a supporting cast because the main character talks about them, but they’re left unseen and almost completely undefined in this first issue. Furthermore, the lead is certainly a very well realised character, but there’s also a sort of generic tough guy feel to him that might lessen with interaction with other characters. The tight focus also means that not a great deal actually happens in this issue; the plot, such as it is, is short and simple, almost serving as a backdrop to the main business of the issue.
However, these problems are not particularly damaging at this point; by examining the lead so closely in this first issue, Remender gives himself a firm foundation for future issues. As long as those future issues round out the Fear Agent world with some additional cast members and some interesting plots for them to get involved in, I can accept a first issue that puts the emphasis elsewhere.
Rick Reminder’s Fear Agent takes the character of Ash from Army of Darkness, gives him adventures in the vein of Indiana Jones, and sets it in the world of old-school Star Wars. How well does this work? Despite fan-favorite influences, on the surface it appears that there is not much new to be found in this comic. However, the immediate recognition gives readers an easily-accessible frame of reference for the story, which allows Remender to quickly delve into and explore his own take on the genre. And this is the most intriguing thing about Fear Agent: in a “global” universe, who decides what’s “right” and “wrong”?
On a world inhabited by primitive humans, Heath Huston has got himself into a lot of trouble. He can fend off a thousand ape-men (even if they have, miraculously, acquired nuclear weaponry), he can survive his own equipment turning against him. But when the last Fear Agent kills a being far more advanced than man, will he be able to escape intergalactic justice?
While admittedly taking a back seat to the jumping and bashing and shooting, Remender’s hit on a rather clever concept of an intergalactic governing body with constantly shifting rules of what sentient species are legal to kill and which aren’t. The guidelines seem to rely on level of intelligence, which is rather a dubious code—but one that is already practiced on Earth. Setting aside certain political controversies, it is legal—on our planet, in real life, right now—to kill most animals. Of course, domesticated animals are protected by a different set of rules, and endangered critters by still another. None of these distinctions are based on intelligence, except in that they’re all considered to be “lesser” than man. This is something we must accept, unless we all want to be vegans, but the realm of science fiction allows a rather interesting view of what happens when we look up the evolutionary scale a bit.
Tony Moore’s art brings back memories of Lobo, which makes him an appropriate choice to illustrate this alien bounty hunter’s adventures. It’s always nice to see an artist willing to discard romanticized ideas of extraterrestrial beings and let filthy alien just look filthy. When Heath Huston fights Anthro and company, the reader can almost smell the brutes crowding around.
Where will all this go? For all of this review’s pseudo-intellectual posturing, it’s unclear whether the universal food chain will play a large role in this series. As of the first issue, all that’s really clear is that this is an space adventure comic, and since that sort of thing seems to be experiencing a revival of sorts, that may be enough. But if the creators let the true gem shine, there are some really great possibilities for Fear Agent. Stay tuned.
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