The penultimate issue of The Fearless walks a steady line between good and average. It is filled with bombastic imagery as a slew of heroes battle The Final Sleeper and it also finishes on a surprising cliffhanger. But there is something lacking . As the narrative drops in a handy last minute plot device to help the heroes, the book loses any sense of danger.
Continuing on from last issue, the writing team forgoes the flashback prologue and heads straight in for the fight. It’s a wise move as the pace of the book necessitates constant action rather than past exploits. This pace gives the whole fight higher stakes and coupled with the immense power of Sin’s new body, it really feels like this is the final battle. Unlike a few of the previous big brawl-orientated issues of the serious the writing team litters the pages with some great little moments of quipping; notably Namor. Cullen Bunn’s script brings the arrogant king to life (“Your most powerful attacks, perhaps!”) and he pretty much steals every panel he is in. Namor’s bravado works well with Valkyrie and together they make an interesting pairing, as their interactions are easily the best dialogue of the book. Valkyrie continues to be a more compelling character than Sin, but that isn’t hard, as Sin doesn’t really exist anymore. But saying that it isn’t as if the book is filled with expressive character moments for Val. This is all about the fight and everything else is secondary, which does damage the narrative slightly. But hats off to the writing team on creating a surprising ending, surprising in the fact that it happened so fast and in this issue.
There is still a sense of tension in the book, even if there is a lot of quipping. This mainly comes from the sheer power of The Final Sleeper. Sin’s body dismisses the heroes’ attacks as if they are mere insect bites. Not only that but the writing team show off what the Sleeper can do: impressive strength, angry pink fire breath and some sort of fear scream abound. But for all its power it lacks one fundamental thing: character. Sin has truly become nothing more than a spiritual presence. She has had such a limited amount of exposure in the series that this doesn’t come as a surprise. It’s a shame. Due to the lack of Sin, the plan comes off as nothing more than a story deserving of a two-parter not twelve issues. Crossbones however gets a lot of exposure here and his scene is the key to the whole finale. But as he drops in on Dr. Strange and delivers those handy plans, the narrative becomes completely devoid of danger. Unless this is a red herring those plans will lead to not only Sin’s defeat, but also probably a way to help Valkyrie out of her current predicament.
But even though the narrative takes something away from the issue, the art certainly entertains. Paul Pelletier and Mark Bagley seem to be in sync this time and the results are solid. Both artists seem interchangeable with neither out shining the other. This really helps with the continuity of the fight and doesn’t have the effect of taking the reader out of the story as previous issues have. The art isn’t wondrous as it has been though, but for what it is it serves the issue well. Pelletier is the first to have a crack at the book and his double page spread of The Sleeper and Avengers in combat is a perfectly composed, but ultimately familiar image. Pelletier conveys a sense of destruction and kinetic action in his layouts, as pink fire rips through the avengers. Bagley comes in with a great ‘heroic charge’ moment as Valkyrie discovers how useful her sword is. This is followed by some nicely depicted Avengers teamwork, his frenetic style really adds to the pace of the fight. Between them the artist try to fling in as many explosive moments in the book as they can; The Sleeper landing in Charleston and the final moments of the book come to mind.
As for character depiction, they both do the best they can but the action does overshadow everything. But when they need to be the characters are shocked, angry and cocky. But both artists have shown a greater level of character detail in previous fights in the series. When the action slows they nail those iconic faces, but they do become lost in the melee. The only real eyesore is The Sleeper itself; an old fashion design influence by the Destroyer is not a bad thing. But it seems to be a bit too chunky and lets face it the multi hammer weapon’s handle looks like a giant, floppy… well, you’ll just have to see for yourself. Add to the design all the pinky colors and The Final Sleeper starts to look a bit camp.
Sleeper design aside the art does work well this issue even if the character depictions suffer a little. It is the narrative, which pulls the book down into mediocrity, and even though there are nice moments in the narrative the book never rises above good. This isn’t a bad thing but at this stage of the game the readers have been waiting for this pay off for a log time and with a villain who has turned into an armored obstacle and a last minute change of heart from Crossbones, it all feels slightly flat. An impressive battle doesn’t hide the shallow narrative the series has descended into. But the issue isn’t a right off and at least continues to entertain even if the charm of the series has worn off.