Fearscape #5: Sic Transit Henry Henry
It’s the end of the line for Henry Henry in “Fearscape” #5.
Or is it? Warning: as spoiler-free as can be.
Story: Ryan O’Sullivan
Art: Andrea Mutti
Colors: Vladimir Popov
Letters: AndWorld Design
Publisher: Vault Comics
Well, it’s over.
If that sounds a little flat, it’s because there’s nowhere to go but down at this point in the story. Down into the depths of HH’s mind, crimes, cowardice and despair. It’s not a fun narrative place to be, but it’s where we are at the end of all of his machinations and exhausting pontification. Dragging him kicking and screaming toward any kind of conclusion is a mean feat. O’Sullivan, Mutti, Popov and Bennett set a fine challenge for themselves, and they mostly deliver on it.
O’Sullivan and Mutti employ a lot of nice little visual touches, from the Tygers montage done despite HH’s protestations that we’re sophisticated readers to the Hero’s petty slouching and dialogue that hints at his deeper limitations as a story concept. HH’s realizations are on point, and as a reader I’m very pleased O’Sullivan and the team leaned into what they’d hinted at before. However, the revelatory layouts aren’t entirely effective because there’s not enough work done to knit them together in a way that makes it clear that the moment is more relevant to HH than the “Casual Reader.” There’s not enough narrative tension on the page for the readers who have pored over these panels in previous issues and taken in their increasing clarity. Visually, there’s neither enough uniformity or regimentation to measure out the bleak horror nor enough visual chaos to deliver an adrenaline rush. Either could work if done well, but the moment feels lacking without a bit of extra flair, and if the moment’s meant to feel lacking it’s not entirely clear. Otherwise, the team’s visual and narrative storytelling is up to its usual standard, and HH’s transformation is appropriately terrifying and slightly goofy. As is everything to do with our ramshackle narrator.
What’s most effective in the heat of it all is Popov’s color work and the simple, unadorned portrait of HH as it all comes crashing in. The pop lands really well as we move into the final pieces of the issue, and who knew the most lovely shades of watercolor lavender could be so upsetting? Popov’s work is exceptional and lends the “Fearscape” finale a good does of the mood it needs for the book to wrap itself satisfactorily. Bennett’s lettering is up to its usual high standard, with enough balloon styling on each character to give us visual variation and a font that doesn’t clash with the refined art and color work. One moment of note is HH’s small balloon in the portrait mentioned above. The size differential makes all the difference in the line delivery, and is an example of how subtle changes in lettering mean a lot to the reading experience.
Despite all HH’s bullshit (and it’s earned, but let’s call it what it is,) there’s hope at the end. The lies have been cleared away, and those who endure beyond the intricate trappings of all the stories that’ve been told to avoid the stark, honest truth have quite a bit in store for them because … surprise! It’s not over.
What’s especially satisfying about this series is that this is an arc, not an end. With such a rich and weird place like the Fearscape to explore, there are plenty of other stories that can be told, and more that can be said about Jill, the Muse and the “Fearscape” host. Perhaps some Champions gone by? Whatever O’Sullivan and the creative team choose, there’s a deep world to be mined for content and the craft on display to deliver it well.
As for HH? Well. We’ll have to see if he can wrest the narrative reins back from O’Sullivan and the crew, else he’s toast. And, quite possibly, deservedly so. To say any more than that would be to spoil the meat of the story and the nice denouement we’re treated to after the dust settles. What I like best about “Fearscape” is that O’Sullivan never lets anything lie. Trauma is not taken at face value. Heroes are not saviors. Everything is questioned, every tied-up end held up to the light and tugged on to test its strength. It’s not a storytelling style that works for everyone but it’s interesting, suited to the medium and quite difficult to pull off. “Fearscape” pulls it off.
Pick up issue #5 this Wednesday wherever fine comics are sold, and stay tuned for the trade in June. This series is well worth a re-read.