Monday, September 24, 2007

Review: FEARLESS #1&2.

I promised P.J. Holden I'd review his new comic from Image, seeing as he was kind enough to furnish me with previews of the first couple of issues. It was the least I could do, seeing as he didn't even flinch when I made an atrocious pun at the expense of the books co-writer, Dave Roth, basically accusing him of being one of the most irritating frontmen in hair-metal history. Then things went silent. Not only am I the latest in a long line of awful procrastinators, I actually *shock* horror* got busy at work, and found real life impinging on my online time. Bollocks to all that - I've got comics to read!

At first look, it's a very traditional superhero story, but with one very clever inversion. The genre is full of masked millionaires fighting crime, "men without fear" and "those who strike fear into the hearts of criminals". The protagonist of this series, Adam Rygert, is instead utterly consumed by fear himself. He suffers from vertigo and asthma. He suffers from high anxiety, to the point of hallucinations. He's got every phobia going, and so uses a gas made of "a normal anti-depressant, (and) a bunch of chemicals with names nobody can pronounce" in order to change himself into a reckless daredevil. As I said, it's very traditional: it's an updating of several tropes we've seen before in comics, going right back to Batman. His costume is like a really rather funky redesign of the original, Wesley Dodds, Sandman. His dependency on a drug to give him short-term powers reminds me mightily of the Golden Age hero Hourman. The gangsters he fights are straight out of the Big Bendis Book Of In-Fighting Mobsters. There's something about the way the story rolls out that reminds me of Sam Raimi's DARK MAN, too.

I was rather surprised by the conservatism of the book's set-up: my only exposure to the co-writer, Mark Sable, before this was from his series GROUNDED, which was a more freewheeling treatment of standard superhero tropes. It reminded me of nothing less than Pete Milligan's work on X-STATIX. Roth, however, I know nothing about, other than he shares a name with a certain high kicking rock'n'roller. I'm led to believe he's a screen writer/script doctor, so I'll take it that he is the steadying hand reining in Sable's more playful tendencies on this project.

So far, so negative, right? Hardly - though straightforward, the plot moves with the clockwork precision of a Hollywood film (I could see this getting optioned, easily). The dialogue won't set the world alight, but neither does it sound stilted, or drop any clangers (unlike some good looking Image titles - no names, no pack drill - alright, you twisted my arm - *cough* BOMB QUEEN*cough*GIRLS*cough* PIRATES OF CONEY ISLAND*cough*). The fact is, the Anglophone market wants straightforward, conventional superheroics. As such, this title could easily be the sort of crossover hit Image have had with other, similarly traditional, superhero titles (INVINCIBLE, DYNAMO 5). Quirk will only get you so far these days (see: again, X-STATIX, NEXTWAVE). And this book has two things really going for it. P.J.'s art and Nick Filardi's colours. Holden's work has seldom been slicker, and working over a larger format than the usual 2000AD-length episode means he is developing the one thing that eluded his work previously - consistency. His previous strengths are here in spades: a likeable style comparable to D'Israeli or the under-rated Anthony Williams; great character design (the Fear suit especially); a mastery of facial expressions up there with the likes of Steve Dillon; and deft storytelling. Nick Filardi does a great job here, too. He's a colourist whose work I first noticed on GODLAND, doing a mind-bending, eye-popping, job. In fact, I'd love to see him take that approach and colour some real Kirby for either of the big two, rather than Casey & Scioli's ersatz (but loveable) turn. That said, Filardi is more than a one trick pony: here he does a great job providing Holden's work with a subtle, muted palette that reminds me of Big Dave Stewart's work on HELLBOY - no higher praise in that field, I think you'll find.

So, if you want some straight-up, good looking superheroics, give FEARLESS a go.
Plus, if you're a comics buyer in Norn Iron - it's yer duty, dammit.