Fearscape #3 Review: A Mightier Pen
Henry Henry’s journey into the land of humanity’s greatest fears is behind him. He’s conquered the big bad, published a successful book and finally become the author of note he’s always dreamed of being.
Sounds great, right?
Story: Ryan O’Sullivan
Art: Andrea Mutti
Colors: Vladimir Popov
Letters: AndWorld Design
Publisher: Vault Comics
Not really. See, Arthur’s awake. And there was a slight case of mistaken identity. And things went a little south from there … in a way that’ll possibly doom us all.
I will be frank: I didn’t give this book quite enough credit from the jump, because what O’Sullivan’s set out to do and achieved so far is deeply impressive. There are wells in this story that entirely justify the conceit, which is itself well-paced and executed. Issue #3 is where this story clicked for me, and it clicked hard.
O’Sullivan’s exploring very deep things in Fearscape. The book’s shrouded in veils of clever literary metaphors, down to the scumbag narrator bent on editing our experience as we go. The device makes the book worth reading, because deconstructionism so very rarely becomes more than the sum of its parts. Unlikeable narrator with a compelling voice? Check. Vibrant and strange dream world? Check. Excellent craft? Check. Everything’s artfully balanced between the voice of an objective fool and the unreality of the Fearscape itself.
The book is a multi-layered gem both in conception as well as execution. Mutti’s art is beautiful, impressionistic and impeccably rendered. Popov’s colors are a dreamy watercolor landscape, muted only by the dullness HH carries around him like a force field. AndWorld’s lettering is superb, with hand-drawn balloons and boxes and a subtly unsteady typeface that finish the whole product to perfection.
Go in a little further, and what makes this comic positively sing is the deep wound at the heart of HH, the void of a man. How did he get here? Why does he lie? The book’s asked these questions in a couple ways, and what’s beginning to come to light is something far more sinister than fantasy foes and dreamscapes. It’s far more upsetting than the dry well of creation (itself a trauma) because Fearscape is asking how he became this. Was he born as such, or was he made?
I have my theories, backed up as they are by what are (to me) a few explicit moments, but whatever the reason, the portrait of a man driven by the crawling fear of nothing underneath the elaborately constructed lies he lives on is utterly compelling. Henry Henry’s us, he’s what we all fear, he’s a terrible person, and there’s a reason why he is the way he is now. And then, O’Sullivan goes further than could be a successful tale of tortured emptiness by positing that despite the events of Henry Henry’s past, what he’s done in issue #3 is an unjustifiable crime. And it’s a hell of a pop, to boot.
Deconstructionism in comics is a word we should all know, because the style’s haunted us since the decade of debunked costumed crusaders and shredded tights. The grit, gore and gleeful adherence to the most dismal and base natures of all of our imagined heroes (gods and monsters alike) reigns supreme, and it’s not a trend I like. Like critique for critique’s sake, what began as an arguably necessary de-throning of some seriously overpowered and overblown superheroes has become an irritatingly shallow lens through which we approach this medium. Perhaps more sinister, it’s become the default way to approach comics intellectually. I think it’s a load of crap, frankly, born out of our peculiar collective fear of imagination held that manifests in petty cruelties and adherence to “realism”.
What is there to deconstruct without a product that’s first been dreamed into existence, however poorly it’s executed? Going for the jugular in a send-up of a work lends it grace, oddly enough. Saying something’s not up to snuff and taking the time to show us why lends the original product credence by the expenditure of effort, even if all you’re left with is a broken heap of stones. Something in the sinew of that creation’s flawed heart compelled you to reach for it and to turn it out for the world to see because deep down, you wanted it to be better. You wanted the dream to be real. And, maybe, you wanted your dream to exist, too.
Watching this creative team so successfully undermine the undermining of the medium should inspire you in two ways: one, you should read more comics.Two, you don’t have to rend the flesh of your dreams for the sake of it.
Do better. Eventually, we have to stop tilling the earth and let it grow again. There’s a reason why we keep coming back to stories: we need them to stave off the darkness. It’s all we’ve got, and HH hasn’t got it, trapped as he is in a story spinning so far out of his control.
Will we learn why HH has become the half-man, and is there redemption for his crimes? Maybe, or maybe not. Either way, this is a fine comic, and it’s very rare to come across a work in any medium that can muscle its way above its peers while existing on the edge of multiple possibilities. O’Sullivan’s on fire with this one, and you need to pick up this book now so you can follow along before the finish.
Fearscape #3 is available 12/12. Order a copy through your LCS, online, or wherever fine comics are sold.