Rick Remender is arguably one of the best known comic creators of our current era. Remender has enjoyed success with work at Marvel (Uncanny X-Force, Uncanny Avengers, and Venom just to name a few) and Image Comics (Deadly Class, Black Science and Tokyo Ghost). It may surprise you to hear this wasn’t always the case: circa 2005 Remender was still a relatively new name in the world of comics, and this period was arguably his breakout time.
Remender, along with Tony Moore of The Walking Dead fame, launched Fear Agent from Image Comics. Artist Jerome Opena (Avengers, Uncanny X-Force) would alternate arcs with Moore. Fear Agent would have an odd release schedule, moving from Image to Dark Horse Comics after 11 issues. The series eventually concluded in 2010, gaining a strong following along the way beside accolades for the core creators.
As a fan of Remender for the past few years, I figured it prudent to check out some of his earlier work, both expecting I’d enjoy it and to better understand his progression as creator. Luckily, Dark Horse published some gorgeous hardcovers collecting the entire series, and I recently got my hands on Volume 1, which collects the first three story arcs of Fear Agent: “Re-Ignition,” “My War,” and “The Last Goodbye.”
Fear Agent follows Heath Huston, a former Texas native and last member of the titular Fear Agents. Huston now works as an alien exterminator in order to make money to sate his alcohol addiction. Huston carries a deep weight for past mistakes, and attempts to find respite at the bottom of a bottle. Helping the Fear Agent on his missions is Annie, the AI running Huston’s ship who acts as both conscience and caregiver.
Through the volume we encounter other key characters in Heath’s life, including Mara, a scientist Heath rescues early on with secrets of her own, and Charlene, Heath’s ex-wife.
What starts as a story of one-off missions involving battles with wild space monsters quickly turns into a story that cranks the sci-fi angle up to eleven. Cloning, time travel, space battles and more are all fair game, and Remender makes sure to include anything and everything to sate science fiction fans while still ensuring the story remains fresh.
It’s clear Remender put his all into this story, and came out with a compelling story, though as one of his earlier works there are a couple rough patches. For example, there are a number of times Heath makes vague references to different aspects of universal law or alien races; while some of these instances are addressed later and the goal was clearly to flesh out the universe of the comic, at other times it just feels like needless exposition. The aspect of Huston’s tortured soul is a central tenant of the story and, while it is addressed and leads to some deep character moments, I wish Remender would have gone a little deeper in Heath’s psyche, though perhaps this is addressed in the final few arcs.
On the art front, Fear Agent’s first and third arc are handled by Tony Moore. Moore does superb work on the series, executing a style that combines both high sci-fi as seen in the likes of Flash Gordon with the grit of the best Hollywood Westerns. The fight scenes are especially well blocked and make use of creative angles to add to their freneticism. Moore’s art evolves as well, becoming even stronger in the third arc where we get to see him take on full-scale battles between alien races. Inkers Sean Parsons and Mike Manley strengthen Moore’s lines; it’s hard to differentiate one’s work from the other, but that’s a good sign as their work flows seamlessly together. Lee Loughridge, one of the industry’s most respected colorists, provides exceptional work with a palette that respects the atmosphere of both whacky science fiction and grounded character work.
Jerome Opena comes onboard for the second arc, “My War.” Opena’s name on the book excited me, as his work on Uncanny X-Force was some of my favorite depictions of Marvel’s merry (or not-so-merry in that comic) mutants. However, I was disappointed to see Opena’s pencils in Fear Agent were a clear stepdown from his later work. Admittedly, Uncanny X-Force came out a full four years later, ample time for Opena to improve his style, but the two comics offer vastly different quality. I’m not sure if Opena was working under time constraints or simply brought his art quality up significantly in recent years, but I was definitely let down by the issues he covered.
Now, that’s not to say Opena did a poor job on Fear Agent; far from it. In fact, Opena’s issues are a lot of fun, particularly when giant monsters are involved. Opena des solid work on the human characters as well, though several faces, particularly Mara’s, appear odd. Colorist Michelle Madsen adds a strong touch to Opena’s work, flowing well from the prior and following work done by Loughridge. Bringing the entire series together is letterer Rus Wooton who, save for a few awkward speech balloon placements, does superb work.
At its core, Fear Agent is the story of a man trying to soldier on when he loses everything and commits terrible acts. Heath Huston is a perfect tragic hero: he often thinks he’s making the right choice, when in reality his actions cause unimaginably horrible consequences. It’s no surprise that Heath takes refuge in whiskey and Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) quotes. The character work is superb and, while I wished the look at Heath’s inner psyche had gone deeper in a few places, it’s still rather powerful and gets stronger as the story progresses.
Without a doubt I’m looking forward to reading the second half of Fear Agent and expect to review it. That is, once it gets reprinted or I find a reasonably priced current copy.
-Strong character work
-Superb artwork, particularly in the sections handled by Tony Moore
-An over-the-top sci-fi story that does the genre proud
-Sections by Jerome Opena have weaker art compared to the Moore sections, particularly character faces
-Exploration of Heath Huston’s psyche is intriguing, but could go deeper in some sections
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