Review: Fearscape #1 (Vault Comics)

For his follow up to the psychedelic Void Trip, writer Ryan O’Sullivan’s latest creator-owned series for Vault Comics sees a failed writer wrongfully picked to be the saviour of mankind. Packed full of smart dialogue, stunning artwork and an arch deconstruction of comic book conventions, we see whether Fearscape is anything worth being afraid of.

Publisher: Vault Comics
Writer: Ryan O’Sullivan
Artist: Andrea Mutti, Vladimir Popov (Colours), Andworld (Letters)
Price: TBC

From the opening page which sees a succession of blank panels with the voice of a narrator rambling away over the top of them, you know you are in for something very different from this new book by Turncoat’s Ryan O’Sullivan. Henry Henry is a struggling author who make ends meet by translating for a much more successful writer. So when the opportunity arises to take advantage of his benefactor’s success he does so, but ends up being drawn into the mysterious world of the Fearscape (a place where all your worst fears manifest themselves). He ends up there after an enlightening visit from the angelic Muse, who tells him he has been chosen as Earth’s champion to take on one of the worst fears in the Farscape, as a result of being the world’s greatest story teller. But will Henry get get found out?

O’Sullivan once again revels in having a highly flawed and often unlikeable hero for his story. Henry is the definition of an unreliable narrator, and his duplicitous and sneaky nature borders on cowardliness at times and so when he is thrust into this heroic spotlight you feel both embarrassed and fearful for his long term future – but you also have a sense of schadenfreude at how he has ended up here and what will happen to him. O’Sullivan writes Henry in a really interesting way, packing his dialogue with flowery and verbose language (which is best showcased in that powerful blank opening page) and so makes any page with him in it both fascinating and tiring to read in equal measure. It also brilliantly showcases Henry’s arrogance and pretentious nature and allows O’Sullivan to make the most of his lyrical vocabulary.

Having created a very complex and involved world for his character, the artwork has to work hard to make the most of it’s scope and Andrea Mutti does this with aplomb. His style is a beautiful mix of classic talking heads, (which are anything but mundane, and have an almost vintage movie tone to them in places) and spectacular fantastical moments. Mutti’s art has a beautiful angled shape and fine line to it, that feels effortlessly contemporary and not just trying to be the next big thing, while the colour work from Vladimir Popov is muted and subtle but also eye popping where required.

The pages require careful design and consideration to fit in the sheer amount of words on every panel and Mutti and co manages this without them ever feeling cluttered or overly busy. There are also some very subversive pages with The Muse’s debut being particularly eye catching, featuring lettering intentionally placed over the face in order to subvert the reader’s expectations and toy with our preconceptions of what is happening.

Once you have read the Fearscape it is difficult not to compare it to the work of Neil Gaiman as it has the same kind of complexity, ambition and scope that make books like Sandman modern classics (and impossible to fully step out of the shadow of). However this is more than just a Gaiman wannabe book, rather it takes similar kinds of tropes and concepts which are associated with his work (magical realms, pseudo-religious mythologies, intelligent and enigmatic leads) and uses them as building blocks to create a truly fascinating read. By mixing this high concept world with Ryan’s own voice and his unique approaches to story telling (such as the blank panels and interesting use of language) it makes something highly intelligent and very smart that attempts to push the boundary of what a comic is and how the reader consumes the medium.

After the psychedelic antics of Void Trip and the quirky hitman fun of Turncoat, Sullivan has really stepped up a level with Fearscape and delivered a complex and engaging story that feels much more mature and ambitious read than his previous work. It certainly has the scale and sophistication to be something very special indeed and we can’t wait to see how long Henry can last before he is found out!