Fear Agent’s fifth volume, I Against I, is the most classically sci-fi story arc of the whole series, even including the fact that it takes place in what’s basically the Old West. This story basically boils down to an episode of Star Trek that was ballsy enough to have swearing and sex, an episode of The Prisoner that’s not so self-satisfied, and the entire series of Rawhide. When last we left our intrepid hero, Heath Huston was barreling into a black hole with his Russian compatriot, pursued by ghosts. They crash land on an alien planet, and in the process of getting patched up again, Heath ends up slightly re-addicted to cleroin (aka SPACE HEROIN DO YOU GET IT) and wakes up in a town that’s pacifist—even worse, it’s dry. He runs into Charlotte, and tells her he intends to get sober (and means it). Unfortunately, that Heath is one of the Tetaldian clones that’s decaying, and the true Heath, Heath Prime if you will, is actually a murdering, time-jumping psychopath who copped to the Tetaldians like a coward at least two volumes ago.
This collection does a lot really well. For as much as I recall hating it the first time I read it, basically because all of Heath’s below-the-surface cowboy lusting and whatnot got pulled up to be top-level drama. All his friends are back from the dead, everything is awesome, everyone is cowboys, and somewhere, somewhen, six-year-old Heath has an erection at the mere thought of it all. What struck me this time was how cognizant the series is of what this looks like; the slightest misstep, and it’s the worst trip to the holodeck anyone ever took (it takes a lot of gumption to make a person-sized fly in a sombrero and a poncho work, and by god, Tony Moore did it). Played right, however, it reveals a lot about our characters, and what makes them who they are.
Perfect example: the sci-fi trope of the evil side of the personality versus the good side. This one has a lot of tonal similarities to the episode of Buffy where Xander got split into two entities, but it turned out the copy of Xander was doing things like signing a lease for Xander Prime and getting him a raise; total bro moves all around. For Heath Huston, it turns out the original Heath is a super bastard, killing people, and literally wearing the black hat. Meanwhile, new Heath is dying but still trying to turn his life around. He promises to quit drinking, and for the first time in possibly the whole series, Heath Huston fights a clean and sober fight. The fact that he doesn’t win is outside his control and is fairly emblematic of the series’ worldview. The right thing to do is always worth doing, it just probably won’t get you anywhere fast.
Remender and Moore also do a great job in this collection of making the reader feel Heath and Char’s relationship. In the past, we’ve seen them on the outs, or trying to patch things up, or getting ready to die; not great ways to build a rapport. In this collection, when Heath confesses his true desire to get sober to Char, and in a pure moment, asks her “Can we be in love again?” That’s great writing. It’s great art. It’s a complete package in a panel that hits you on an emotional level, and it deserves to be congratulated.
My beef with this collection is the same as most of the rest of my beefs for the series; it’s tough to get everything Remender’s seeding early on to pay off. Some of the payoff beats at the end of this volume were planted volumes ago. In comic book time, 20 issues is two years if a book is publishing regularly (which I don’t think Fear Agent was anyway), and even reading it in trades over the course of a couple months like I have, there’s a lot of set-up that’s so distant from the pay-off that it’s tough to make it count. The fact that Remender enjoys playing the long game so much is good, because there need to be more modern masters of it along the lines of Hickman, but at the time of Fear Agent, he still needed practice.
Again, as far as new readers go: this one’s not for you. But for those of you who have stuck around with everyone’s favorite time-travelin’ Texan, this is a volume that may surprise you, especially on a second read through with excellent character work.
Writer: Rick Remender Artists: Mike Hawthorne, Tony Moore, John Lucas Colorist: Lee Loughridge Publisher: Dark Horse Comics Price: $16.99 Release Date: 7/30/14 Format: TPB