“Fear of a Red Planet” #1 welcomes us to Mars in the late 21st century. Newsflash: It sucks. A bitter colony sits on the side of the planet like a swollen pimple, and the sad fate of “settlers” who live there are no more than indentured servants of the corporate lords who have brought them there to collect rare minerals and other raw materials. to mine resources. materials. The Earth still shimmers on the horizon, balancing on the collapse of the climate and the rest of society’s problems. In “Fear of a Red Planet” #1, space exploration isn’t sexy, vast, or heroic, it’s just the natural extension of labor exploitation. It’s a grim setting for a story, but one that’s fairly believable and makes for plenty of reckless drama. Buckle up, space cowboys.
Cover by Paul Azaceta
Fear of a red planet #1
Written by Mark Sabel
Illustrated and colored by Andrea Olimpieri
Lettered by Dave Sharpe
Reviewed by Kobi Bordoley
One woman has kept a fragile peace: the UN’s first and only interplanetary marshal. A lawyer escaping a violent past on Earth, she boasts that she has never fired a shot at 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 featuring the hard sci-fi of The Expanse and the hardboiled favorling of Justified.
When we spoke to Mark Sable this summer, he summarized “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 shoelace and the gritty law enforcement officers trying to keep the knots from untying. Our sheriff in this case is Carolina Law, a UN marshal tasked with keeping the peace while balancing the various factions that have embedded themselves in the social fabric of Mars. On the one hand we have the managers, on the other the corrupt workers. Sable brings some resource utilization issues and anger toward drones, and all told, we have a not-so-unfamiliar landscape of libertarians, capitalists, and anarchists of varying hues. In this way, Sable succeeds in depicting what a plausible yet intriguing society on Mars 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 overstretched ordinance specialist. While the feint of making a sci-fi story sans aliens and all about human greed is cute, it’s not that novel. This doesn’t go against the concept, but one of the reasons this is important is that Sable has a propensity for expositions that aren’t always warranted. At its core, “Fear of a Red Planet” #1 is the first issue of a gritty murder mystery, and could have garnered a lot more furtive looks than meaty dialogue between characters. That said, the pacing in “Fear of a Red Planet” #1 feels right, and the heavy exposition doesn’t drag it down too much. This is an improvement on another recent Sable story, “Where Starships Go to Die,” which we noted felt low-key due to its broad premise and lightning-fast pace.
This is how “Fear of a Red Planet” #1 feels like an improvement. The plot feels clear and there’s a focus to it that still feels inviting and full of potential mystery. If Sable manages to keep the exposition low and the action and deductions high, we’re in for a blast of fun. We’re ready to confront the red planet, that’s for sure.
If the prose is a bit bumpy, Olimpieri’s art really smooths things out. He’s an Italian illustrator who’s worked on a few comics, so while he’s not a 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 appear practical yet innovative, shiny and new but worn from 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 it shows from the first few pages. Olimpieri not only excels at making a shot, world-building with a wide-angle lens, but also at the minute level. The bars, garages and offices in “Fear of the Red Planet” #1 feel sweaty and lived-in, and the dust storms plaguing the planet are rendered in such a way that we can distinguish individual particles in the squall. It’s easy to feel surrounded by the art in “Fear of the Red Planet” #1.
The color palette in “Fear of the Red Planet” #1 also achieves that much. We’re served a plate full of red and orange, as you might imagine in a Mars story, but not so much as to have that weird Siccaro effect where everything is bathed in this quasi-Oriental yellow hue (we’ll say, though, using of green and yellow pea soup in this strip is elite). In “Fear of the Red Planet” #1, shadows drink the light and the light itself is dim and frayed. It’s a relentless look that really helps build the world. That said, the letters in “Fear of a Red Planet” #1 are fine, but dialogue bubbles are opaque white blobs. There are a few moments of inventive lettering, but the lack of coloring or change in the dialog bubbles feels like a mistake. This might be nitpicking, but it’s really just a testament to how good the world-building is in “Fear of the Red Planet” #1 that bright white just kind of takes you out.
Overall, “Fear of a Red Planet” #1 is an aesthetically pleasing story with a strong narrative that will hopefully improve in future issues. If Sable can stick to the golden rule of ‘less is more’ then we have no doubt the story will have great appeal.
Final verdict: 7.8. Aesthetic and captivating…welcome to the wild west of Mars.