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“Fear of a Red Planet” #1

By | November 25th, 2022
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“Fear of a Red Planet” #1 welcomes us to Mars in the late 21st century. News Flash: it sucks. One bitter colony sits on the side of the planet like a swollen pimple, and the sorry lot of “colonists” who live there are no more than indentured servants to the corporate bigwigs who’ve brought them there to mine for rare minerals and other raw materials. The Earth still glistens on the horizon, teetering on climate collapse and the rest of society’s ills. In “Fear of a Red Planet” #1, space exploration isn’t sexy, vast, or heroic, it’s just the natural expansion of labor exploitation. It’s a grim setting for a story, but one that’s pretty believable, and makes for a lot of swashbuckling drama. Buckle up, space cowboys.

Cover by Paul Azaceta

Fear of a Red Planet #1
Written by Mark Sable
Illustrated and colored by Andrea Olimpieri
Lettered by Dave Sharpe
Reviewed by Kobi Bordoley

One woman has kept a fragile peace: the U.N.’s first and only interplanetary marshal. A lawwoman escaping a violent past on Earth, she prides herself on never having fired a shot on Mars. But when she’s tasked with solving the murder of the colony’s most hated man, her investigation threatens to tear the red planet apart.

Written by Mark Sable (MISKATONIC, WHERE STARSHIPS GO TO DIE) and illustrated by Andrea Olimpieri (Dishonored, Dark Souls), FEAR OF A RED PLANET is a near-future western with the hard sci-fi of The Expanse and the hard-boiled gunslinging of Justified.

When we talked to Mark Sable over the summer, he summed up “Fear of a Red Planet” #1 as “Deadwood in Space,” among other things. This is an apt comparison, and much of “Fear of a Red Planet” #1 feels like an introduction to a dusty western town, held together by a shoestring and the gritty law enforcers trying to keep the knots from loosening. Our sheriff in this case is Carolina Law, a U.N. Marshall tasked with keeping the peace while balancing the various factions that have imbedded themselves into the Martian social fabric. On one side we have the corporate overlords, on the other the addled workers. Sable throws in some substance use problems and ire towards drones, and all together we have a not so unfamiliar landscape of libertarians, capitalists, and anarchists of varies hues. In this way, Sable succeeds in setting up what a plausible but still intriguing Martian society could look like in the near future. Sable does a good job setting up the powder keg that is the Mars colony, and Carolina Law as the overtaxed ordinance specialist. While the feint of making a sci-fi story without aliens and all about human greed is cute, it’s not that novel. This isn’t a knock against the concept, but one reason why this is important is because Sable has a tendency towards exposition that doesn’t always feel warranted. At its core, “Fear of a Red Planet” #1 is the first issue of a who dunnit murder mystery, and could have done for a lot more furtive glances than beefy dialogue between characters. All that being said, the pacing in “Fear of a Red Planet” #1 feels good, and the heavy exposition doesn’t drag it down too much. This is an improvement from another one of Sable’s recent stories, “Where Starships Go to Die,” which we noted felt restrained by its wide reaching premise and breakneck pace.

In this way, “Fear of a Red Planet” #1 feels like an improvement. The plot feels clear, and there’s a directedness to it that still feels inviting and full of potential mystery. If Sable is able to keep the exposition down and the action and inferences up, we’re in for a rollicking good time. We’re ready for the red planet standoffs, that’s for sure.

If there’s some bumpiness to the prose, Olimpieri’s art really smooths things over. He’s an Italian illustrator who’s worked on a few comics, so while he’s no novice, we get the sense that the wider comics community doesn’t know his work, and they should. Olimpieri excels at realism, drawing landscapes, people, and technology that seems practical yet innovative, shiny and new yet worn down by years of use. As such, the aesthetic vibe in “Fear of a Red Planet” #1 feels like Mos Eisley, Titan AE, and Weyland-Yutani Corporation. This is a dark and hostile world, and that’s made clear from the first few pages. Olimpieri excels not just at the establishing shot, wide angle worldbuilding, but on the minute level as well. The bars, garages, and offices in “Fear of the Red Planet” #1 feel sweaty and inhabited, and the dust storms that ravage the planet are rendered in such a way that we can make out individual particles in the squall. It’s easy to feel enveloped in the art in “Fear of the Red Planet” #1.

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The color palette in “Fear of the Red Planet” #1 also accomplishes so much. We’re served a heaping plateful of reds and oranges, as one would imagine in a Mars story, but not so much so that it has that weird Siccaro-effect where everything is bathed in this quasi-orientalist yellow tint (we will say though, the use of pea-soup greens and yellows in this comic are elite). In “Fear of the Red Planet” #1, shadows drink the light and the light itself is dim and frayed. It’s an unforgiving aura that really aids in the worldbuilding. That being said, the lettering in “Fear of a Red Planet” #1 is fine, but dialogue bubbles are opaque white blobs. There are a few moments of inventive lettering, but the lack of tinting or change-up in the dialogue bubbles does feel like an oversight. This may be nitpicky, but it’s really just a testament to how good the worldbuilding is in “Fear of the Red Planet” #1 that bright whites just take you out of it a little bit.

Overall, “Fear of a Red Planet” #1 is an aesthetically engaging story with a strong story that will hopefully improve in future issues. If Sable can adhere to the golden rule of “less is more,” then we don’t doubt that story will reach wide appeal.

Final Verdict: 7.8. Aesthetic and engaging…welcome to the Martian wild west.

Kobi Bordoley

comic reviews, as a treat.