Classic Fantastic: Fear Agent

20130319-101845.jpgOut of all of the Classic Fantastic’s that we’ve got in our queue, Fear Agent is a relatively fresh title. It only concluded slightly shy of two years ago. While that might make you think our vetting process is light, you should consider the contrary – this story is powerful.

What’s it about?

Fear Agent is Heath Huston’s story. The scene opens with Heath, reliably drunk. His space ship on course to hunt an alien bounty, Fear Agent doesn’t have a grand beginning. It was so route, I’d wondered what all the hubbub around this comic was about. Guys, I didn’t understand. And you don’t understand, and I forgive you. It’s going to be difficult to summarize the story when so much of it, from the inception, will directly impact its conclusion. I’ll do my best to side step spoilers, and deliver a concise synopsis.

Step back, and imagine a quintessential American. He’s stubborn, impulsive, and holds Mark Twain in higher esteem than any toga-wearing philosopher. Now imagine him at the forefront of a high concept science fiction story. Poor alien life, they were prepared for so much, just not a Texan.

Heath Huston wanders through infinite space. And he takes in no wonders, and in his eyes, nothing is miraculous. He spends his time drinking, drunk, or hung-over. If he’s distracted from any of these activities it’s because he’s smashing alien skulls to earn money to get more alcohol. That, or he’s being berated by his on-ship AI, Annie. And thus passes ten years of Heath Huston’s sorry life.

And that’s about it. That’s all I can tell you. I want to keep talking and get into the space travel, what’s up with the Dressites, or the crazy (and very well-earned) plot twists that seem to come issue after issue. I would love to start talking about some of the sickest depictions of alien life that only a twisted mind like Remender’s can devise, and an amazing armada of artists can deliver on. But we can’t go there, which while it’s not a strength of this review, is a strength of the comic.

Notable notes

Fear Agent is so tightly woven, that if I start covering issue number one in too much depth, you’ll know stuff. And that is some important stuff. But you won’t get that till later. It’s such a satisfying read, it’s not an experience I want to rob you of with an errant detail.

We can thank Rick Remender and Tony Moore for the heart-breaking pleasure that is Fear Agent. They conceived a science fiction tale to rival the best comics have to offer. Remender, while highly talented, had been at the periphery of comic fandom until Fear Agent. Moore was known from his work on The Walking Dead, which had only started a year before Fear Agent. For my part, I am very happy that these men found each other. Remender has such a satisfying style, it’s high-voltage imagination with a grounded intelligence that allows for the best of pay offs. It’s true in his superhero work, but I think it’s done especially well in Fear Agent. We want to follow Heath anywhere because here’s an immensely relatable man. He has straightforward morals, and is made to fight for the most basic rights of man. By endearing us to his characters, Remender let’s the reader travel anywhere. As long as we have faith in the last of the fear agents, we’re willing to check all of our doubts at the door. It’s great storytelling. And it helps that the plot is so tight you can bounce a nickel off of it.

FearAgentv1HCWhat hasn’t been remarked on much, but is integral to the life of Fear Agent is the art. It’s gorgeous. It never mattered who was holding the reigns either, this was a comic with an unbroken run of pretty. You might challenge the idea of there being a gorgeous beheading, or a beauteous face-being-bitten-off scene, but they exist. Fear Agent does them every justice. Perfect anatomy, beautiful lines, such active cartooning, its art that you just want to salivate over. The duties were started by Moore, than handed off to Jerome Opeña, then lastly to Mike Hawthorne. Smattered in between are single issues and short stories with other artists of equal pedigree.

It’s not a stretch to say that science fiction lives or dies by its depiction, and Fear Agent was just so smart in every visual way. Sure there were the hokey laser guns, but they worked because Fear Agent strutted the line of pulp and progressive so well. They showed this off no better than in their alien and world creation. Hands down, Fear Agent hosts some of the most inventive aliens I’ve ever seen. Imaginations were unleashed on these pages. Physiology is messed with; they’re obviously well thought out and constructed. For my part, I found the lava tortoise and flying goldfish particularly cool, but it’s not easy to pick favorites.

Significance

As I mentioned before, not much time has passed since the conclusion of the comic, but it’s legacy is already felt. More and more, independent comics with an individual voice are claiming commercial and critical success in the comic market. Fear Agent is doubtless one of the strongest modern entries in this class. Its success has, and will continue, to pave the way for other independent comics.

More than being a commercial success, Fear Agent really breaks boundaries with it’s story. In addition to its aforementioned narrative strength, it truly is a unique premise. Science fiction is usually a difficult sell, so the story of a drunk gallivanting about space shouldn’t have been successful. But Heath Huston always catches his break.

The greatest legacy that Fear Agent leaves is bolstering the axiom that good writing is good writing. The comic market has fierce competition. When there are characters with decades old legacies and major motion pictures to capture the audience’s eye, the idea that independent comics can catch traction seems quixotic. Which is why when a comic like Fear Agent succeeds, there’s more reason to pay attention to it.

Appeal

FearAgentv2HCWhile science fiction is obviously at the heart of the tale, I wouldn’t say only ardent sci-fi fans are the audience. Any great epic reaches out to more than just fans of the genre. Fear Agent is that epic. I’ve little doubt that if the reader finds an attachment to Heath, that will pull them through all of the elements they’re typically not fond of. Fear Agent shows us a world that could be, and tests what the limits of man’s resolve are. It’s fascinating and beautiful and wrenching. And Mark Twain is quoted a lot, so I don’t know what else you could possibly want.

While I’d like to make Fear Agent recommended reading for everyone, Heath’s story is not for the feint of heart. There’s plenty of guts and violence, but more than that, there is a lot of heartfelt loss throughout the story. When Remender wants to play on your heartstrings, you’ll feel it. And the art, violent or not, will drive that tune home. Of course, there’s also the matter of Heath’s drinking, which is abundant throughout the tale. Not to mention the salty language. That, at least, isn’t only Heath’s problem. Everyone is crass and curses. What we’re getting at, you may want to be careful who you hand this to. The only thing there isn’t is nudity. Well, people are nude, but you never see anything more than butts. With everything else, I’m sure that probably doesn’t help too much, does it?

All of that is more to give you an estimation of the age group you can hand Fear Agent off to (hint: probably not a kid). While serving as benchmarks for what not to give a child, together they definitely serve the story well, especially the language. Even if you have an aversion to curse words, that Remender knows to turn a phrase with some ingenuity.

Why you should own this

Speaking to the collection developers out there, I think the previous is a pretty succinct reasoning for why Fear Agent is good for library shelves. It’s definitely a quick way to diversify your offerings. There’s not a lot of modern comic science fiction to offer your readership, but here’s a fast 32 issue read ready for purchase. You can pick it up in it’s eight trades, or you can snag two omnibi that collect all of Fear Agent.

Fear Agent

By Rick Remender, Tony Moore, Jerome Opeña, and Mike Hawthorne

Paperback edition

  • Vol. 1 ISBN: 9781616551803 (2nd printing)
  • Vol.. 2 ISBN: 9781593077662
  • Vol. 3 ISBN: 9781593079291
  • Vol. 4 ISBN: 9781593079741
  • Vol. 5 ISBN: 9781595822499
  • Vol. 6 ISBN: 9781595828804

Hardcover collector’s edition

  • Vol. 1 ISBN: 9781616550059
  • Vol. 2 ISBN: 9781616551032

Dark Horse, 2007-2013