Review - Fearscape #1 (@thevaultcomics)

"You and I, a team in the telling. Thou art a living reader, and I merely a dead author."

Being an author brings with it an air of hubris; after all, authors are figuratively gods in their ability to create entirely new worlds out of what is seemingly thin air. There's also plenty of abject failure that comes with being an author, as there are many times where readers aren't quite as keen on a story as the author is. In Fearscape #1 from Vault Comics, the concept of author and reader is turned upon its head. The issue is written by Ryan O'Sullivan, illustrated by Andrea Mutti, colored by Vladimir Popov and lettered by Andworld Design.

The Fearscape is a world beyond our own, populated by manifestations of our worst fears. Once per generation, The Muse travels to Earth, discovers our greatest Storyteller, and takes them with her to the Fearscape to battles these fear-creatures on our behalf. All has been well for eons, until The Muse encounters Henry Henry, a plagiarist with delusions of literary grandeur. Mistaking him for our greatest Storyteller, she ushers him into the Fearscape. Doom follows.

O'Sullivan opens the first issue with a nod to comics in general and the somewhat tiredness of crafting a new tale from scratch. It's very much a fourth-wall breaking approach in that O'Sullivan pleads with the reader to accept the seeming mediocrity of tedium for the sake of the story and that story is anything but mediocre. O'Sullivan excels at crafting a narrative about Henry Henry as a struggling writer being deemed humanity's greatest storyteller strictly by accident, much in the way that many people fall into extremely successful positions and situations. The script flows rather effortlessly throughout the issue as O'Sullivan embraces the grandiose hubris that just about every author feels at one point or another, using that sense of accomplishment as a catalyst for things to come. And the fact that a character named the Muse can't seem to adequately spot a fraud is telling in and of itself.

The ethereal approach of Mutti's artwork is a brilliant match to the tone and overall atmosphere of the tale. Mutti illustrates the characters with very simple yet defined lines, enforcing the weight of the characters as they interact with one another and with their surroundings. The panel layouts are a seemingly purposeful affront to "safe" page layouts and Mutti imbibes the comic gospel of simple, angled panels that are arranged slightly erratically from page to page. Mutti's artwork also doubles-down on the grandiose approach in that her characters are illustrated in a way that makes them seem as if they truly believe they're larger than life. Popov's colors are the perfect accent to the otherworldly artistic approach, lending a lighter, watercolor-look to the overall artwork.

Fearscape #1 is an aptly named title because it requires its main character to fool others into thinking that he's not his biggest fear--a failure. Henry quickly gets in over his head and it remains to be see whether he responds with evenness or greediness. O'Sullivan's script is a methodic approach that builds up slowly and fully embraces the reader as an active participant in the proceedings. Mutti's artwork is almost as pretentious as the main character (in a good way). Fearscape #1 is a rare first issue that's a subtle jab at the same medium its using to convey its message.

Fearscape #1 is available September 26.