Written by Mark Sable and David Roth
Artwork by PJ Holden
Fearless is a new superhero title starting this November from Image. Another superhero title in a crowded market trying to do something a little different with the genre, to stand out. Yep, you say, oh jaded comics veteran, been there, read that, bought the T-shirt; why should I be paying any attention to this? Well for starters it has Mark ‘Grounded’ Sable writing, along with David Roth, another recruit to comics from the worlds of TV and film. And it also has PJ Holden on the art duties; PJ, as many of our readers will know, has been a fixture on our small-scale but big-on-ideas British small press scene, from his own self-published title, Previously, to charity comics Just 1 Page and covers for the very fine FutureQuake and even reached into the American Indy comics publishing scene with some collaborations with Malachy Coney for Fantagraphics. He’s probably best known to mainstream British readers for his work for the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic – PJ has been a busy boy, illustrating a range of 2000AD strips, including working with the brilliant Gordon Rennie on the 86ers, a number of Future Shocks and some of the comic’s biggest hitters in the form of Rogue Trooper and Judge Dredd.
(cover to PJ Holden’s Previously)
Okay, you say, I’m all for supporting our homegrown talent, especially when they get a chance to reach a wider audience through an American publisher, but you’re still thinking you’ve read enough superhero comics and what is there to hook you into a new one? Why should it divert you from Infinite Civil War Planet Crisis (where the universe will never be the same again)? I’m as cynical as any other long-term reader of comics in that respect – in fact I largely ignored Robert Kirkman’s Invincible at first because I had become a bit jaded about new superheroes and it had been running for a while before a friend hit me round the head with some volumes and asked why I wasn’t reading this. And he was right, I should have been – yes, it offered plenty of very generic superhero situations and characters, but then it added neat twists to them, much like the TV series Farscape took generic clichés from science fiction then played with them to great effect. Which is a roundabout way of saying works like Invincible persuaded me not to cynically ignore all new attempts at superheroics and left me a bit more receptive.
And so to Fearless – the opening scenes of a mysterious hero standing atop a tall building may seem rather generic and so it is; except that clichéd image is quickly subverted as we see it next from the hero’s point of view and it looks scary. Very scary. An endless drop down between skyscrapers, far higher than the opening image suggested; as the panels progress we realise that this is because we’re seeing what our hero’s fears distort his view into, not what’s really there (PJ uses this cutting between a subjective view of the scene and Fear’s distorted view quite effectively to convey his mental state in a couple of panels very effectively). He’s scared. He’s bloody terrified. Panels are intercut with flashbacks to his youth and similar scenes of crippling fear striking him, freezing him. He closes his helmet (which suggests both a metal skull and a gas mask combined and for some reason makes me think of Mignola’s Hellboy universe of characters) and triggers his mechanical suit. A green gas fills the helmet. He breathes deeply. He’s not afraid. He roars into action.
(panels from the beginning of Fearless #1 by Mark Sable, David Roth and PJ Holden, published Image)
A superhero normally has some attribute that makes him a superhuman avenger – it can be powers driven by alien physiognomy like Superman, a magical artefact like Kelly’s Eye, years of superb training like Batman or a scientific edge provided by gadgets like Iron Man. At first glance Fear’s rocket-powered, armoured suit would suggest he is in the Iron Man camp, but the scene with the fear-dissipating gas suggests more – just as Daredevil has to overcome his handicap of blindness to fight crime so Fear/ Adam Rygert has to challenge his deep-seated phobias; these aren’t just the sensible fears most people would have standing on the edge of a tall building or facing gun-toting crooks, these are almost crippling phobias he has to overcome. The fact he is doing this with chemical assistance I find intriguing. On one level you can read that as a signifier of how advanced our modern understanding of the workings of the brain have become, that we can create drugs which can alleviate – sometimes even seemingly banish – insidious symptoms of mental-chemical imbalance which afflict many people in the real world as well as the fictional.
Of course, it can also be read another way – how drugs can change a person into something very different. And how that person can become dependent on those drugs. The guys touch on this aspect very neatly in a small, seemingly almost throwaway early scene where Fear battles a criminal gang unloading a drugs shipment. As the warehouse is rocked with explosions some drugs are sent rocketing skywards only to fall in a fiery arc to a dingy alley, where a down and out addict picks them up and commences cooking up a fix for himself. The allusion to Fear’s own chemical use – albeit for a supposedly higher purpose, but look how that worked out for Batman a few years back – is subtle but effective and hopefully hints at developments to come later in the series. Certainly the first issue offers enough – the hero, his fears, his attempts to overcome them, a mentor, a love interest and a threat to him – to make me want to keep reading, although thankfully it doesn’t overload the reader with too much in one go either, it keeps a good balance between sketching in a new character and scenario without an info-deluge of exposition. And I do like the way the play with some well-worn superhero conventions, but without trying to be too clever or postmodern about it.
(a touch of the Lois Lane as Adam’s reporter girlfriend asks just why he does what he does)
The first issue of Fear will come out from Image this November and I’m delighted to say that PJ will be marking the occasion with a special signing session at our Belfast store on Saturday 17th of November. PJ will post more details on this event up on his own blog a bit closer to the time (naturally we’ll update you on here too) and he’s also posted up a page where you can learn a bit more about Fearless here.