I’ve got a free hour and a new comic on my hands, so here’s a quick review...
I’m a huge fan of the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, created back in the day by Games Workshop founders Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone. This seminal choose-your-own-adventure series originally totalled almost sixty titles, from The Warlock of Firetop Mountain in 1982 to Curse of the Mummy in 1995. I was primarily a TV/video kid, but these books got me and plenty others reading. It’s perhaps not an overstatement to say they were the Harry Potter of my generation.
Fanboy that I am, I badgered the good folks at Titan Comics for an advance copy of Freeway Fighter, a four-part mini-series inspired by the Ian Livingstone book of the same name, first published in 1985 and the thirteenth in the original series.
Set in 2024, in a familiar post-apocalyptic desert (this one devastated by a virus rather than atomic war), the source-book sent the reader/player into the hazardous wastes to scavenge supplies and save their frontier town. Clearly inspired by the Mad Max movies (the third of which – Beyond Thunderdome – was also released in 1985), the book introduced the post-apocalyptic cars-and-carnage genre to a readership far too young to be watching ‘80s Mel Gibson movies. (The book was also part of a lively sub-genre of tabletop/roleplaying games that included Car Wars, Battlecars and Dark Future.) However, Freeway Fighter the comic – published almost thirty years on and featuring a ruthless, whiskey-slugging heroine happy to beat scumbags to death with a crowbar – perhaps doesn’t feel entirely child-friendly. In a good way.
Described as an ‘origination’ rather than an adaptation, the comic follows former racing driver turned post-apocalyptic wanderer Bella De La Rosa, who runs into trouble in a deserted town while scouting the wasteland in search of supplies.
The first issue is sparse in terms of plot, but otherwise brims with hot car-on-car action. Writer Andi Ewington has got a filmmaker’s eye for the punch and rhythm of high-octane action sequences. The whole book simmers with atmosphere too, thanks to Simon Coleby’s brooding artwork, which gives this desolate landscape an appropriately diesel-splattered feel, complimented by Len O’Grady’s sweltering colours. Kudos too to Jim Campbell’s lettering.
This is the first time the Fighting Fantasy series has come to comics and, as an official spin-off, Freeway Fighter feels both authentic and committed. Original author Ian Livingstone is on board as Executive Producer, while editing is handled by Jonathan Green (himself the author of three Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, as well as You Are The Hero, a highly recommended history of the series). Ewington (a prolific yet underappreciated writer who deserves greater attention) also comes with a fitting pedigree, having previously worked on Hollywood-branded comics for Michael Bay, Rob Cohen and George Pelecanos. Freeway Fighter issue one feels like a genuine event – and the lime-green back cover with the zig-zag header is a stroke of design genius that fans of the series will appreciate.
The book’s creative team could have settled for pastiche and fanservice (as do far too many old-school geek franchises these days). Instead, the team has dug a little deeper into the original (if admittedly well-worn) concept, giving us a glimpse of Bella’s pre-apocalyptic past (the switch from past to present pulled off with a zinger of a page-turn). This not only brings a fresh angle to a character that would otherwise be your archetypal wasteland badass, but also gives us a crucial sense of the civilised world that’s been lost to barbarism.
An intriguing first mile in a post-apocalyptic road-trip and a must for Fighting Fantasy fans, Freeway Fighter is worth a look for the widescreen action and scorching artwork alone. One issue in and this series is already burning rubber.
Artwork by Simon Coleby