COMICS REWIND – ‘Fear Agent: Re-Ignition’

(Welcome to Comics Rewind, a weekly column devoted to discovering – or re-discovering – great comics published some time in the past. Here you will find looks back at comics published in every era, from the Golden Age to the Modern Age, as well as retrospectives on the work of important comics writers, lists of “essential” comics, and evaluations of important works, as well as works worthy of a second look or a wider audience. Enjoy!)

Tell me if this has happened to you: You read or watch a piece of sci-fi that you find ridiculously awesome, and you want to tell your friends about it. You hand it to them to experience for themselves, and a couple of days later they come back to you with something like this: “But dude, the robot on page 233 couldn’t exist because he didn’t have any kind of sustainable power source.” I can hear the groans of familiarity from here, cats and kittens. Don’t get me wrong, it’s part of our job as fanboys/girls to nitpick, but I submit to you that unless it’s in some way truly significant to the plot, a detail like that shouldn’t get in the way of a good story. It’s science fiction. Let NASA worry about how robots work and let the storytellers make up any kind of robot they want. Fear Agent is a comic book series deliberately written to ignore much of the “science” in science-fiction in favor of telling a kickass story. Reading this, you won’t hear any mumbo-jumbo about how the rockets work or who developed the lasers or where the robots’ circuitry came from. And you won’t care, because this is a book that knocks the nit-pickers on their asses.

I found Fear Agent because I first found writer Rick Remender. I have this bad habit of reading everything by writers I know I like and then missing the boat entirely on work by writers I’ve never tried until everyone else has already read their stuff. I’m trying to break that habit, and Remender is an example of that. I found him because I was buying every issue of Warren Ellis’ run on Secret Avengers (issues 16-21, and you should definitely pick them up) because I worship at Warren Ellis’ feet. Then I heard Remender would be the book’s new writer starting with issue 22. I’d read good things about his work on Punisher and Uncanny X-Force, so I decided I would keep buying Secret Avengers. The first two issues of his run were impressive enough that I wanted to see what else he’d been up to, and that led me to Fear Agent.

“Re-Ignition” is the first arc of the series that launched back in 2005, and as part of Remender’s efforts to take his sci-fi comics back to the basics of story and action, all you need to know is this: Heath Huston is the last Fear Agent, a sort of intergalactic exterminator. He works freelance now, flying around the galaxy in his self-aware ship, Annie. He’s an alcoholic, he digs Mark Twain, and he’s not one for taking a lot of crap. He lands a job that goes horribly wrong, and then tries to get out of the big mess he’s in.

For some hardcore techophiles, the lack of detail about so much that’s going on in Fear Agent will be frustrating, but that just means you need to go find another comic, or an episode of Nova or something. Remender and artist Tony Moore (The Walking Dead) are here to kick your teeth in with lasers, killer robots, disgusting green blob aliens and lots of explosions, not to placate your hard-on for detailed worldbuilding. This is a comic book, after all. Those panels are built for action, and few other comics take advantage of the structure quite like Fear Agent. Remender throttles the story forward relentlessly, and Moore packs so much expressive bite into each and every page that it sometimes feels less like reading and more like being assaulted. And in no way is that a bad thing.

This also means that one issue of Fear Agent is simply not enough. You will ache to read the next one, and the next, and the next. I know this because I had trouble stopping to go to bed. It’s a relentless book, and that’s exactly what you want it to be.

None of this is a declaration that we don’t need detailed, tech-based storytelling in science-fiction anymore. But sometimes, kids, we don’t give a shit that there’s no viable power source established for that robot on page 233. He’s cool because he’s a robot. Rick Remender is a writer who gets it, and that means Fear Agent is more than just a reaction to hyper-detailed, bloated storytelling. It’s also just a damn good comic.

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