By Zack Quaintance — Fearscape #1 absolutely blew me away when it hit last fall. Armed with a singularly pompous meta-narrative voice, the book was a graphic sequential deconstruction of literary culture. It’s main character was a struggling and dysfunctional writer, who was big on ambitions and seemingly short on work ethic and talent. The plot of the series’ debut seemed to put him a trajectory to collide with the very nature of storytelling in a mythical realm of abstract writerly elements. I just loved all of it.
In the three issues that followed—Fearscape #2 - #4—that narrative voice bore on, though the adventure constructed in the debut proved to be a bit of a feint. Instead of following a troubled protagonist as he dug down deep and proved that he was made of more than posturing and failure, we were pulled by that same hero into vast depths of dysfunction. At every turn, the main character of this story made choices that ranged from cowardly to vengeful to downright evil.
And I liked all of it a great deal. I will note, however, that by the penultimate chapter of this comic, I’d begun to wonder a bit just what this was all about. Ryan O’Sullivan’s narrative voice (one of the best in recent comics memory) and Andrea Mutti/Vladimir Popov’s irrepressible artwork were more than enough to continue leading me forward. I’d just started to badly want answers. Well, in Fearscape #5 we get those answers, and they make all that came before them more meaningful.
I don’t want to spoil the earned reveal in this story, but I will say that if you felt something deep and frightening bubbling under the surface of this comic—something that went beyond simple artistic frustration—you were absolutely right. This is also the best kind of reveal, the one that is so well-seeded you wonder how you could have possibly missed it. At the same time, it’s so subtle that I’d be surprised if many of the books readership figured it out. Simply put, this is an ambitiously dark comic with a much to say about the vulnerability that is inherent to admiration and the long trail of pain abuse of power can leave in its wake. I know! I didn’t see it coming either, but holy wow am I affected by the sentiment.
All the more impressive is the narrative highwire act that this creative team pulled off in getting from that excellent debut issue to this crowning finale. The middle three issues of this book had to do a good many unpleasant things without repelling the audience. They had to move forward ever so slightly without tipping the final reveal too soon, and they had to maintain the feeling of momentum and innovation established by part one. O’Sullivan, Mutti, and Popov did the damn thing though, elevating this comic to a rarefied status. This is the type of book you can give to your more literary friends who are yet to see the vast storytelling potential of comics, sitting back and reveling in how thoroughly it bends and realigns their perceptions. Kudos to all involved.
Overall: This is perhaps the best finale of any comicbook I’ve read all year, one that makes good on the vast promise of the first issue while packing a shocking yet earned surprise. Fearscape #5 lands in a place that makes all that came before it more meaningful. Kudos. 9.8/10
Writer: Ryan O’Sullivan
Artist: Andrea Mutti
Colorist: Vladimir Popov
Letterer: Andworld Design
Publisher: Vault Comics
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Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.