Wednesday saw the release of Freeway Fighter #2, a very nice comic in its own right with the added bonus of an explosive, high-octane wheel spinning trip down memory lane for people of a certain age. This may bring up a few questions, like “what happened to #1?”, “what age are those people?” and “what are you talking about?” Alright, allow me to explain…
If you don’t want to read the full review, the short version is that it’s very good and you should buy it if you like apocalyptic car worlds, fighty protagonists or read the original Fighting Fantasy book, Freeway Fighter released in 1985. Please enjoy these excellently illustrated preview pages by Simon Coleby & Len O’Grady from #2. It’s probably how most of the original readers pictured the world. Writer Andi Ewington has done a great job of capturing the feel of quiet tension followed by big battles (minus two dice and a pencil).
And now for the full story…
It’s tempting to explain that Fighting Fantasy books came out in the days before consoles and computers but that’s not true, which makes it even more impressive that a series of books, where you chose what to do next and fought battles by rolling a pair of dice, became so popular.
The original Fighting Fantasy books appeared in 1982 from Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone, and were full of swords, muscled warriors and magic. They also managed to be strangely immersive, leaving small children devastated when their character died at the hands of some savage beast. It was important to make detailed maps as it was very hard to complete one on the first attempt unless you cheated. *Spoiler alert* you kept your fingers in the last few pages you’d been to in case things started to go badly.
At the start of each Fighting Fantasy book you’d typically create a character by rolling dice to set their Skill, Stamina and Luck. Luck and Skill were a maximum of 12 – roll one die and add six to it. Stamina was out of 24 – roll both dice and add 12. That so ingrained in me I didn’t even have to look it up. Of course, everyone was honest and didn’t keep rolling until they happened to create the most powerful character ever. You started at section one, read a few scene setting pages that were perhaps the most amazing words your young brain could comprehend, and then make a choice. Typically that would be something like turning to section 76 to go north along the rocky cliff path, or turning to 125 to go east through the forest. How did you know which way to go? You could fall to your death from the cliff path, but what if there’s a troll in the forest? That was one of the criticisms of the series. You could die because you should have gone in a different direction and there wasn’t any real way of working that out. Now you see why people kept their fingers in the pages. There was also the option of doing nothing, which involved staring blankly at a page for hours, but frankly that wasn’t as much fun.
As time went on, Fighting Fantasy branched into other areas such as space and pirates with an array of titles that would be perfect for any heavy metal band – Talisman of Death, House of Hell, Temple of Terror, The Rings of Kether. If you preferred a more melodic rock you could have Starship Traveller, Space Assassin or Rebel Planet. Among these was release number 13, Freeway Fighter by Ian Livingstone, which was set in a post-apocalyptic America where a plague wiped out much of the world. You were a citizen of New Hope and had to drive across the country in an armoured Dodge Interceptor to gather a container of fresh supplies with a secondary quest to rescue some New Hope leaders who have been kidnapped by bandits. In a small change from most Fighting Fantasy books, both the player and the car had combat stats.
You might be thinking it sounds like Mad Max, but that’s completely different as Mad Max is set in Australia.
Skip forward a few decades and we have Ian Livingstone’s Freeway Fighter, the comic. It’s the backstory of the Dodge Interceptor car from the book. At first that might seem a strange take on it, but writer Andi Newington explains that he always “found it strange such a car would be found at New Hope without a bigger tale to tell. The comic fills those gaps and brings a depth to an already existing story”. It helps that readers of the original book loved the car, probably because a heavily armoured fast car is pretty cool. I like the idea, because the original character was me and everyone else who read the book, and I think we’d all like to keep it that way. I think we can all accept that somebody owned the car before us, and that person is Bella De La Rosa, a tough and very worthy driver of our car.
This does raise the question of what happened to #1. It’s out there and available, but the review took a little longer than expected.
IAN LIVINGSTONE’S FREEWAY FIGHTER #2
Writers: Ian Livingstone, Andi Ewington
Artists: Simon Coleby, Len O’Grady
Publisher: Titan Comics
FC – 32pp – $3.99 – On sale: June 14
The year is 2024: eighteen months after an unknown virus wiped-out over eighty-five percent of the world’s population. Former I-400 Driver, Bella De La Rosa, is one of the remaining fifteen percent – living every day on the highway as if it were her last. In this dog eat dog, kill or be killed world of post-apocalyptic America, it’s hard to know who to trust, especially when certain doom waits just beyond the horizon and death stalks you at every turn.
BASED ON THE FIGHTING FANTASY BOOK FREEWAY FIGHTER BY IAN LIVINGSTONE!
Cover A: Ben Oliver
Cover B: Simon Coleby & Len O’Grady
Cover C: Simon Myers