Comic book reviews: Fearless Dawn by Steve Mannion

Yipes! It’s been almost two weeks since I’ve posted an update to this blog.  I’ve been crazy busy with stuff, and with catching up on sleep, and with getting woken up at four in the morning by my cats.  In any case, today I will be looking at a couple of recent projects from someone who I regard as one of the most talented creators currently working in the comic book biz: Steve Mannion.

Fearless Dawn in Outer Space cover

It was in the pages of Captain America: Sentinel of Liberty #10, a very bizarre, funny, offbeat issue published in 1999, that I first discovered Steve’s amazing art.  Subsequently, he has worked on Batman, the revival of Tales from the Crypt published by Papercutz, and a number of creator-owned projects.  Over the past 14 years, I’ve watched Steve grow in leaps & bounds as an artist.  He has such an amazingly funny, sexy style to his work.  It’s reminiscent of the classic art from the EC Comics titles of the 1950s.

One of Steve’s signature characters is Fearless Dawn, his sexy yet sweet, ass-kicking, pistol-packing, goofball heroine.  Two of Steve’s most recent books featuring the character are Fearless Dawn in Outer Space, published by Asylum Press, and Fearless Dawn: Hard Times, which he self-published through a Kickstarter fundraiser.

Over the last several years, Steve has been experimenting with pencil-only pieces.  He tried out this style on some beautiful commission pieces which can be viewed on Comic Art Fans.  This has culminated in his amazing work on Fearless Dawn in Outer Space.  The entire book is shot from his pencils, and it looks absolutely stunning.

Fearless Dawn in Outer Space pg 6

Dawn’s long time nemesis, the nutty Nazi femme fatale known as Helga Von Krause, has relocated to the Moon with her army of fascist zombies.  This, of course, sets Dawn off, and she is jumping at the chance to rocket into space and kick some kraut caboose.  Dawn’s boss, the Chief, isn’t exactly thrilled at the idea of his most impulsive agent going off half-cocked on a personal vendetta, and tries to ground her.  Meanwhile, Helga and her forces discover that living on the Moon isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  After a series of shenanigans, Helga & Co return to Earth, where they encounter Doctor Wigglestein, a super-scientist with more than a few loose screws who is breeding dinosaurs on a tropical island.

(At this point the story is continued in Fearless Dawn: Jurassic Jungle Boogie Nights, but I don’t have a copy of that one.  Hopefully at some point in the future Steve will collect it and the other recent Fearless Dawn specials into a trade paperback.)

Skipping forward, we come to the just-published Fearless Dawn: Hard Times.  The art on this one was even more amazing.  It’s great to see Steve continue to experiment with and evolve his style.  His work here is somewhat akin to Wally Wood meets Geof Darrow.  The change in the atmosphere of the art definitely suits the story.  Dawn’s beloved pet pug has been dog-napped by Helga and her forces.  Dawn, who has a tendency to overreact to everything, shifts into a fatalistic grim & gritty mode, and is ready to go out in a gun-slinging blaze of glory in order to take down Helga once and for all.

Fearless Dawn Hard Times cover

Story-wise, Steve goes in an interesting direction with Hard Times.  In previous Fearless Dawn stories, his plots and continuity were, I will admit, somewhat sketchy, serving mainly to help link together a series of hysterical gags and good girl artwork.  That never really bothered me, because it was obvious that Steve’s main goal was to have fun drawing some cool, funny stories that the reader enjoyed, and he was very successful at that.  With Hard Times, though, there is more of an emphasis on establishing links back to previous stories and the developing of ongoing subplots.  Steve even takes Helga, who previously was pretty much a send-up of the “Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS” type bad girl of pulp fiction and grindhouse flicks, and he begins to develop a back-story for her.  I’m really interested in seeing where all of this goes.

And I guess that ties in with another aspect of Steve’s artwork that I really like.  He draws very beautiful women, but his artwork never comes across as sexist or demeaning.  Steve often renders his women with curvy physiques, so that they look rather more like burlesque performers than, say, porn stars.  I would not be at all surprised to learn that Steve was a fan of Bettie Page.  Even a character like Helga Von Krause, who has very fetishistic overtones, is both played her for laughs and written with a real take-no-prisoners attitude.

Fearless Dawn Hard Times pg 12

Speaking of Helga, a couple of years ago I commented to Steve that I thought his character, if she existed in real life, would be exactly the kind of gal that Sandra Bullock’s sleazy ex-husband Jesse James would go for.  Steve laughed, and responded that Helga would break him in half.  Hmmm, yeah, I could see that happening!

If you are not familiar with Steve Mannion, I highly recommend checking out his work.  You can see what he’s currently up to on his blog, and back issues of his comic books are available at the Indy Planet website.

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