The GeeksverseREVIEW | Fear Agent, Library Edition, Vol. 1 HC (Dark Horse Books)

REVIEW | Fear Agent, Library Edition, Vol. 1 HC (Dark Horse Books)
Published on Thursday, December 20, 2012 by
Rick Remender’s Fear Agent is set in a post-apocalyptic near-future filled with sentient spaceships and warring alien civilizations, but its anxieties are as contemporary and grounded as they come in comics.fearagentlibreview_banner 

Key Review Points

Pros:

  • Features wildly inventive pulp science-fiction and space opera that dovetails into a powerful war comic-styled narrative about two-thirds of the way through the main storyline.
  • Fully realized protagonist and supporting characters.
  • Excellent art.
  • A comprehensive collection of extra features, including previously published Fear Agent back-up stories and short stories, a sketch gallery, a cover gallery, and pin-ups.

Cons:

  • None of significant note, although the radical shift in themes and tone about two-thirds of the way into the main storyline might prove too jarring for some readers.

Publication Details

  • Publisher: Dark Horse Books (a division of Dark Horse Comics)
  • Publication Date: December 2012
  • Written by: Rick Remender, with additional writing by Hilary Barta, Steve Niles, Shane White, Mark Ricketts, Ivan Brandon, C.B. Cebulski, and Kieron Dwyer (plot assist)
  • Pencils/line art by: Tony Moore and Jerome Opeña; with additional pencils/line art by Eric Nguyen, Kieron Dwyer, Francesco Francavilla, Steve Mannion, E.J. Su, Shane White, Paul Renaud, Micah Farritor, Rafael Albuquerque, and Tommy Ohtsuka
  • Inks by: Sean Parsons, Mike Manley, Ande Parks, and Rick Remender; with additional inks by Hilary Barta
  • Colors by: Lee Loughridge and Michelle Madson; with additional colors by John Rauch, E.J. Su, Shane White, Paul Renaud, Micah Farritor, Nick Filardi, and James Rochelle
  • Letters by: Rus Wooton, with additional lettering by Shane White, Paul Renaud, and Mark Ricketts
  • Format: 480 pages, full-color, deluxe hardcover. Collects issues #1 through #11 of the comic book series Fear Agent, originally published by Image Comics in 2005 and 2006, issues #12 through #15, originally published by Dark Horse Comics in 2006 and 2007, and the Tales of the Fear Agent: Twelve Steps in One one-shot, originally published by Dark Horse Comics in 2007.
  • List Price: $49.99 (digital review copy provided free-of-charge by the publisher)
  • Availability: On sale on 19 December 2012

Page Previews (Click on images to view in larger size)

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To read a full-length, 27-page Fear Agent story, check out our Fear Agent, Library Edition, Vol. 1 preview.

Full Review

On the surface, Rick Remender’s Fear Agent ostensibly looks and reads like any modern, self-aware, pulpy, sci-fi comic. Protagonist Heath Huston—whiskey-swilling shitkicker, survivor of a repulsed alien invasion that nonetheless decimated the Earth’s population, itinerant alien exterminator, and the “last of a small band of Texas ass-stompers known as the Fear Agents”—initially comes across as Hans Solo with a drinking problem, a selfish opportunist and galaxy-hopping rogue who finds himself playing the part of the reluctant hero, often sacrificing the material gains earned from his mercenary exploits to the benefit of some altruistic end.

The first of the three story arcs collected in the debut volume of Dark Horse Books’ Fear Agent library editions, “Re-Ignition,” is infused with a playful, wildly inventive, mad ideas abandon: Huston, after disposing of a “jellybrain” and its army of mind-controlled alien simians, stumbles upon a renewed extraterrestrial plot to invade the Earth, only to find himself flung back in time thousands of years into the past where he has the rare opportunity to change the course of interstellar history and prevent the initial alien incursion that ultimately led to his becoming a space-faring wanderer from a devastated planet. Of course, as any reader familiar with time-travel stories knows, monkeying with the past, even with the best of intentions, can have all sorts of untoward and unexpected effects and about halfway through the second story arc (“My War”), a deus ex machina is introduced that obviates much of Huston’s attempts to alter the course of pivotal events from millenia gone by in order to change Earth’s fate. It’s a curious reset that feels somewhat gratuitous at first given how little of the original setting and context is revealed to the reader at this point but it becomes clear soon enough that the move is intended to be a platform from which to launch “The Last Goodbye,” the third story arc in the series meant to fill in Huston’s personal history and the alternative history of the world of Fear Agent.

The themes and tone of the book progressively grow darker as the series goes on. “My War” has Huston, already an unrepentant alcoholic, falling into the depths of an addiction to space heroin while in prison for crimes committed against the space-time continuum in “Re-Ignition” and the continuity reset of the second arc serves to reinforce the notion that Huston is ultimately powerless to effect real change in his life and the world. The snatches of melancholy and the brief flashbacks seen in the first two story-arcs that hint at the calamities visited upon the Earth by alien invaders during the early 21st-century bloom into a memoir of the three-front war between humans and two competing alien civilizations in “The Last Goodbye.”

Fear Agent undergoes a radical shift from relatively light-hearted space opera to full-blown war comics fiction two-thirds of the way into the book. The transition isn’t all that smooth and seamless, however. Readers conditioned by reading experience to acquiesce to the relaxed standards for the willing suspension of disbelief in the pulp-styled science-fiction of the book’s first two arcs might find that it isn’t as easy to afford the author the same leniency when he decides to take the book in a more solemn and sober direction.

Remender remarks in the book’s foreword that the later portions of the content collected in Fear Agent, Library Edition, Vol. 1 were written during a period in his life where he was under the influence of a “crippling depression,” but even without that candid admission, it would be hard to miss the overwhelming sense of gloom and despair in the book’s third stanza, where the surviving remnants of the human race are pushed to the very edge of extinction by rival factions of warring extraterrestrials, and the Earth’s only hope for survival may lie in humans committing an atrocity of unspeakable horror and unthinkable proportions. Remender began writing Fear Agent in 2004 and subtle references to the US military’s then-involvement in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East are littered here and there early in the book for those interested in actively seeking them out. “The Last Goodbye” dispenses with that subtlety altogether, laying bare the metaphor of the alien occupation of the Earth and showing in graphic detail the toll armed conflict extracts from a local civilian population caught between two forces bent on achieving victory at any cost. What makes this tonal and thematic change not just palatable, but downright engaging, is Remender’s skill at fleshing out the characters of Huston and the supporting cast and making the reader care for them: The whys and wherefores of the alien conflict, already nebulous to the reader to begin with, take a backseat to the who’s who of the growing list of human casualties.

Tony Moore and Jerome Opeña’s art fits the book perfectly, their complementary clear-line styles evoking a combination of the 2000AD and Heavy Metal magazine sci-fi aesthetics. The storytelling is also quite accomplished: The action never becomes confusing, characters are distinct and identifiable, facial expressions and gestures are easy to interpret, and both artists employ a variety of angles and distances as suits the narrative.

The book has a wealth of bonus features, including almost 140 pages of additional material drawn from numerous back-up stories and short stories originally presented in both the Fear Agent comics series and other titles (the Tales of the Fear Agent: Twelve Steps in One one-shot, featuring line art by Eric Nguyen, is reproduced in its entirety), as well as separate sketch, cover, and pin-up galleries.

Fear Agent, Library Edition, Vol. 1 offers neophytes to the property a complete introductory package to Remender’s rambling, personal, and surprisingly affecting science-fiction epic. It’s priced at a premium, but considering the sheer amount of material included in the volume, the deluxe hardcover format, and the overall quality of the work, it can hardly be considered a point against it. Highly recommended.

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