If you crossed a David Fincher movie with Film Noir, you’d get Fear Case #1. Writer Matt Kindt pulls no punches in the opening salvo of this dark yet enthralling series. Everything from the tone of artist Tyler Jenkins’ art to the disturbing mystery behind a mythical case captures the essence of the fantasy/crime genre’s best, but there are some shortcomings. Readers with delicate sensibilities might turn away from the series, and despite the art falling in line with the dark atmosphere, there are inconsistencies. Despite some foibles, the narrative is strong enough to warrant a read of Fear Case #1.
Secret Service agent Mitchum and his millennial partner, Agent Winters, have been partners for nearly a year. In that time, they got handed a case equivalent to a hazing ritual for new agents, the aptly titled “Fear Case.” The mysterious case has become something of a legend, rumored to appear throughout history amid disastrous events. Anyone that comes to possess the case must pass it on to a new holder – the person you hate the most— within three days, or deadly events will come to pass. Refuse to pass it along and it and it will fall into the hands of the person you love the most.
With nearly a year on the case, Mitchum and Winters are near a breaking point. Every agent to work on the case beyond a year was consumed by it. They become obsessed with the enigmatic case for the entirety of their lives. The story flows naturally, and a montage of flashbacks, although short, firmly establishes the case’s seriousness. From WWII to the tragic assassinations of the ’60s, the case has influenced history. Within eight pages, readers are thrust headfirst into the series. If this montage weren’t enough, by the final page of the issue, we get a front-row view of how disturbing the repercussions of acquiring the case can be.
As the reader’s entryway into this world, Mitchum and Winters are the narrative’s focal point. Thankfully, they prove to be three-dimensional characters who are easy to root for. During the case, we accompany them as they narrate their discoveries thus far, and in the squad car as they exchange quips. Mitchum approaches the case as more of an old wives’ tale. He is old school and pragmatic, and his banter with Winters is nothing if not endearing. Winters is a believer, a new-age agent with a penchant for overpriced coffee and fantasy sci-fi reading. The dichotomy between these two is reminiscent of old buddy cop films of yesteryear. As dark as the story gets, I can’t help but worry about how this case will affect their relationship, or worse, end in tragedy. Suffice to say, readers will be invested in this duo.
As compelling as the story is, the art is hit or miss throughout the issue. Tyler Jenkins’ art is steeped in pastels. I love his work for the most part, but he seems to miss the mark throughout Fear Case. From the first page, you’re hit in the face with gloomy tones, heavy shadows, and a somber atmosphere that serves the story well, but the disproportioned characters are inconsistent from one panel to the next. Worst of all, individual images are challenging to interpret, as if I looked at the picture alone, it wouldn’t make sense; instead, you piece together what is going on based on the context of the page and the surrounding panels. While some may argue “artistic license” or interpretation, if the art distracts from the story being told rather than work with it, the mission failed.
I can’t help but think about what this book/should have been. I’m in love with the narrative, but the mercurial art style corrupts the experience. The narrative would work well in plenty of other mediums: film, TV, or a novel, but as far as a comic series go, the two art forms that define it – art and writing – don’t seem cohesive in Fear Case #1.
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