Fear Agent 4: Hatchet Job delivers a lot of thrills and spills, but it’s a little light on the chills. It’s a book that predicates itself on badass space action, which it does deliver, but then Remender veers into a lot of not-quite-formed territory about the characters themselves. In this volume, Heath and Keith split off from most of the gang to go try and find food to feed the crew while they search for a habitable replacement for Earth. Things go awry, and for a couple issues, Fear Agent truly feels like a proto-Black Science book. There’re flying worms with saddles, giant lava turtles, and forced gladiatorial combat. It’s all there. This part of the book, I would easily give full marks to, and feel great about it.
Then, unfortunately, we veer into Mara’s backstory. Mara’s been around for a long time at this point—her introduction was some twenty issues ago, and while we’ve heard some rumblings about her past, we’ve never sat down and heard about it. Now, we’re flashing back to those final days of civilization and the early days of enslavement before she was freed by the Dressites. This flashback is arguably there to make her betrayal in earlier issues (which characters are just now finding out about) make sense. They also put her on a blind quest for revenge for a space pirate named Levi Diablo (credit where credit’s due: that name rules). If this is the arc Remender wants for Mara, revenge is a sweet story; my issue is that there has been little to no inkling previous to this that that’s what Mara wanted. Up to this point she’s been just this side of a cipher, existing to be sassy, sometimes pilot the ship, and sometimes have sex with Heath. It’s just enough, but it is too late.
At the risk of going on too long about it, Mara becomes the person that everyone wants to see bite it in a horror movie. If horror is to work in the sense of cheap thrills, the dumb guy or girl has to run into the house where the killer obviously lives, and then they have to back themselves into a corner so they can get killed. If we the audience are constantly thinking, “That’s a horrible idea and a surefire way to get killed,” it lets us think we’re better and we would survive. Ultimately, this theoretical dumb guy or girl makes dumb decisions based on stakes that she creates for herself. Mara’s stakes in this book are high; she hates the aliens that killed her family, and she is willing to sacrifice basically the rest of humanity to avenge them. But none of this is presented in a way that we’re supposed to follow it. We don’t even really even know about Levi Diablo until she’s about ten feet from his front door. I mean, try to picture Point Blank if Lee Marvin isn’t hunting John Vernon from the get-go. Revenge requires a target.
The art in this volume is on point, though. Jerome Opeña continues to do stellar work (pun semi-intended), and even when they bring in Kieron Dwyer to help out in chapters 4 and 5, the transitions are smooth, and there’s no jarring sense of “Oh god, I’ve just stepped into a different universe where everyone looks completely strange.” I’d also single out the final few pages of the last chapter as some of the finest time-travel/space drama in any medium. It’s concise, but it still gets what it’s after and hits you hard. It’s well done on Remender’s part, and Opeña and Dwyer bring a lot of character to the sequence.
Is this comic bad? No, not objectively. It’s a compelling story, but it sometimes feels like half of it is being put together at a different rate from everything else. The Tetaldian takeover of the universe gets dealt with a little bit in each arc (almost every issue), and it’s pretty easy to track, all issues of time travel aside. The character beats feel oddly placed, but they end up being relatively satisfying, with a few notable exceptions (see above rant). This volume isn’t a good starting place, but it is a pretty solid read, and worth the hour and a half.
Writer: Rick Remender Artist: Kieron Dwyer, Jerome Opena Publisher: Dark Horse Comics Price: $16.99 Release Date: 7/2/14 Format: Trade Paperback