Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Fear Agent #1

I talked yesterday a bit about some of last week's books that disappointed me. Today, I'm talking about a book that came out of nowhere to surprise me: Fear Agent. I had seen the previews, heard the buzz, but it hadn't really clicked for me. I decided at the last minute to get it, and couldn't be more pleased with my impulse buy.

What I feared in Agent was pastiche. What I feared was a book that would either obsessively recreate pulp Sci-Fi, or would snark it to death with cynicism. It's a tough road when a creator takes obvious inspiration from the past. Even the excellent Godland sometimes tips off the beam and sways a bit before regaining it's balance between the extremes of either recreation or reaction. What Rick Remender does in Fear Agent is to get beyond the trappings of 50's pulp, and down to the skeleton. He then dresses it again in modern clothes, without worrying too much about what came before. This is Millennial Pulp that feels completely fresh, yet retains it's good "bones". Remender talks in his afterword about E.C. comics and Wally Wood being the inspiration, and while I've never read those books I have read a lot of prose pulp Sci-Fi. Remender has the keys here that unlock the story: resourceful, vulnerable hero who is more clever than strong gets involved in strange situation, uncovers big "twist", and escapes. What Remender doesn't do is tailfins on rocketships, lantern jaws and straight teeth, or giant ants. He simply tells the story as if it didn't have a half-century of reference behind it. Rememder's partner in this revision is Tony Moore, and it's clear they are on the same page. His designs are obviously influenced by the 50's, but aren't imitations of Alex Raymond or Gernsback covers. They feel modern, springing from 2005 ... not 1955. The lead, Heath Huston, is more cynical and rough-edged than the classic heroes of Theodore Sturgeon, Alfred Bester, or Robert Heinlein. That's only natural in our rougher, more cynical world. It's not a reaction to the shining heroes of yesteryear, but is a modern interpretation of them.

I wouldn't be surprised if Fear Agent becomes a big hit, spawning a slew of imitators. It's got the recipe right, and shows that this material can be dusted off and made completely relevant and fresh. The Western is getting it's revival, and now a Sci-Fi renaissance is in extremely capable hands. What's next? Romance?

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4 comments:

Shane Bailey said...

I should be getting the first issue either this or next week. I'm looking forward to it now that I've read your review. Thanks.

joncormier said...

Dang. I just looked at it in the shop and thought, no I'm already spending too much this week.

I'll remedy that on my way home. Ooh, unintentional Braveheart quotation.

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez said...

Agreed. Fear Agent was an unexpected pleasure.

Mark Fossen said...

It's not a shattering work of art by any means. But it is really effective pulp sci-fi that stands on it's own. And as these genres get dug up, I think it's a good roadmap on how to revive them right.