Stew’s Reviews Volume 2, Issue #2 – Fear Agent
Real talk: After a successful first week here at the S.R., I wanted to review another book starring Jubilee—and I could; I certainly have others!—but I reluctantly fought off the urge. You have to space things out when you are discussing one of the greatest X-Men thats ever lived; otherwise there is just nowhere to go but down. You do two articles on Jubilee in a row, and then everyone thinks “Well why bother reading about anyone else?” and it all goes to pot. There’s no more sunshine on the horizon. That’s no good for me and it’s no good for you. No good for anyone.
Having just within the last few years read Rick Remender’s runs on Uncanny X-Force and Captain America—both runs I more-or-less enjoyed—I switched gears over to Image Comics for a good ol’ fun sci-fi romp! Space cowboy shootin’ alien varmints! This should be a breeze!
TITLE: Fear Agent
Writer and Artist: Rick Remender; Tony Moore and Jerome Opena
Protagonists: Heath Huston, the titular Fear Agent. Also, his sentient space-ship, Annie!
Antagonists: A bunch of alien races! The bastards!
in the balls.
Fear Agent is a series that never stops hammering you while you’re down. The protagonist, Heath Huston, is put through a devil of a ringer by Remender, that’s for sure. Every time it seems like he may finally score a victory and come up aces, something rotten manages to rear its head (including one particularly deflating moment in the latter issues of the series) to drag him back down to earth. And every time you think he’s faced the worst odds or the worst defeats a man can endure… the bottom falls out and everything gets bleaker. If there’s one certainty about this series, it’s that it keeps punching you in the gut, over and over. It happens in such a way—sometimes out of absolute nowhere—that you don’t ever even go numb to it.
It doesn’t start out that way at all. The first issue in particular presents a story that seems like it’s going to be, essentially, the whacky space adventures of pseudo-Han Solo. Heath is full of spark and moxie, and he seems a jovial and engaging character as he stumbles across an alien monstrosity and dispatches of it. But sure enough, this is all stripped from him, little-by-little. By the end of the series, there’s no joy left to him at all. As a reader, you really get to the point where you just want it all to end, one way or the other. And by the time it does, you’ve become conditioned to accept there’s no successful way out for Heath. Tempering that, as much as it can, is the fact that Heath is not a good person. He’s a selfish alcoholic who only has brief interludes throughout the series of thinking of anyone besides himself. And there is one moment revealed in a flashback so big—so impossible of which to fathom the depth—that makes it genuinely hard to cheer for him. You’d really be excused for feeling that he deserves everything he gets.
The series checks a lot of the classic science-fiction devices boxes. Crazy aliens? Yep. Futuristic weapons? Got ‘em. Battles in space? Check. Cloning? Oh, it’s there. Time-travel? Definitely. Chances are, if you like science-fiction as a genre, you will find something here to tickle you. This series is, if nothing else, a love letter to the genre.
A small problem with the series actually comes in the form in those various alien races that make up the allies and obstacles in Heath’s world. There are just so many, they start to run together after a while, to the point where it gets a bit tedious juggling them all in your head to remember which is the biggest current threat. Dressites, Tetaldians, “Jellybrains”, and Feeders are the most prominent races of the series, and it’s an intergalactic war between the Tetaldians and the Dressites that is the impetus for the story, as their battle finds its way to earth in devastating fashion, resulting in the deaths of Heath’s son and father. Heath, his wife Charlotte, and other scattered survivors do their best live through the war before deciding to put the fear into the hearts of the aliens that attacked their world. Thus, the titular Fear Agents are born.
The series is relatively brief at just 32 issues long, and that’s for the best because Remender never gets to the point where you feel like he’s flying on the seat of his pants. Everything that happens means something, and several events in the second half of he series will have you scrambling back to the earlier issues to see how everything came together the only way it could. It’s a very well-thought out series designed to tell the story of one man’s constant failings and his search for redemption. And it accomplishes that without meandering or stretching things out too much just to sell more issues.
While on the subject of the writing, Remender also seamlessly sprinkles in quotes from Samuel Clemens with great frequency to reflect the tone and plot of at hand. Clemens certainly had some dark thoughts, and they could not fit the mood better if Clemens wrote them explicitly for this work. Remender’s ear for detail to pull these brilliant quotes from a brilliant man is laudable.
I’d be remiss to not mention that almost every issue features a backup story to fill in the void between the end of the aforementioned flashback (when Heath leaves Earth) and the first issue where the plot starts. They are what they are: brief tales of sci-fi action. Some show more of Heath’s darkness; some are a bit more light. As far as filler goes… they are okay. There’s not really much here that is amazing, but they serve their purpose. They do tend to feel like an interruption to the main tale, so I think I’d have preferred their being collected into a separate edition than tacked to the end of each issue.
Talking Point: All this talk about aliens and time travel and spaceships can only lead one place: What are your favorite science-fiction-influenced comic books of all time? Maybe it’s a Star Wars book or a Star Trek title or something more obscure, but… what is it? Let me know in the comments.
The series is well-written and has a solid direction and focus. The art is also a treat, with Tony Moore and Jerome Opena lending good life to Remender’s characters. It can be a damned bit of a downer, though, that’s for sure, and the backup stories aren’t fascinating; I’d have done with more of the core tale in their place. If you can get past that, and if sci-fi is your jam, there is a lot to enjoy here.