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Friday, 22 March 2019

Friday Fiction: Freeway Fighter vol. 1

Friday Fiction is a series of reviews which focus upon fiction which will be of interest to roleplayers and gamers in general. These can be novels as much as they can graphic novels, which is the case with Freeway Fighter. Older gamers will recognise this as the title of the thirteenth entry of Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone’s Fighting Fantasy series—the history of which is detailed in You Are the Hero—and this graphic novel not only shares the same title, but also the same world. As the title suggests, this world is a post-apocalyptic future in the vein of the Mad Max films—three of which, Mad Max, Mad Max 2, and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, had been released by the time of Freeway Fighter’s publication in 1985.

Freeway Fighter is set in a post-apocalyptic United States, after some eighty-five percent of the world’s population have been wiped out by a plague. As civilisation collapsed, the survivors divided into two groups. Most have fortified themselves in isolated towns and settlements, huddled together for protection and husbanding and trading for what few resources they could, whilst the second, roam from settlement to settlement, stealing and raiding, and killing who refused to submit to their demands. The gangs drive heavily modified vehicles, souped up, fitted with spikes, their crews armed with a variety of arms and armour. After all, there is no-one to stop them from taking it now.

In the Fighting Fantasy book, the player takes the role of a citizen of the town of New Hope. The settlement is in desperate need of a fresh supply of petrol and so send out the protagonist in a Dodge Interceptor motor car across the wastes in order to procure a tanker filled with the needed fuel. Published in 2017, the graphic novel, which collects the four-issue comic series written by Andi Ewington, drawn and inked by Simon Coleby, and coloured by Len O’Grady, is a prequel, set some twenty-four months after the spread of the virus which killed most of humanity. As the story opens, Former I-400 Driver Bella De La Rosa is driving and surviving, remensising of the days when she was a hotshot rookie racing driver and set to make a big name for herself. She is skilled enough to outdrive most nomads, but when she runs into the marauders known as the Doom Dogs, she and her recently joined passenger face a much more dangerous challenge as they attempt to reach New Hope, for her car itself becomes the subject of the Doom Dogs’ leader’s desire. This is no surprise, since the car plays a major role in the storyline and will go on to literally drive the storyline in the Freeway Fighter solo adventure book.

Freeway Fighter—both the Fighting Fantasy solo adventure and the graphic novel—wear their influences on its sleeve. Lonely stretches of highway, abandoned cars, empty towns with just about enough to picked over and scavenged from, protagonists hardened to the disaster which has fallen humanity and prepared to do almost anything to survive, and villains who believe that might means right and who will do anything to survive. The story it tells is also fairly straightforward, perhaps verging on the familiar, essentially setting everything for the reader to go and play Freeway Fighter as the sequel. Andi Ewington’s script is sparse, leaving room for art, inks, and colours of Simon Coleby and Len O’Grady to shine through and atmospherically depict the ruin that the world has fallen to and capture the action of car-on-car combat. Indeed, the look of Freeway Fighter feels not dissimilar to the Mad Max computer game of 2015.

Beyond the story itself, the Freeway Fighter collection includes a history of Fighting Fantasy and the Freeway Fighter solo adventure book in particular as well as a tribute to Kevin Bulmer, the artist on the Freeway Fighter solo adventure book. Both serve as a nice adjunct to You Are the Hero, as author of both that and the history here is Jonathan Green. Casual readers who have picked up Freeway Fighter because it looked interesting will find these extra pieces infomrative enough, but really they are aimed at the Fighting Fantasy fan who will appreciate the extra background and detail.

Published by Titan Comics, Freeway Fighter is an enjoyable, if slight post-apocalyptic tale of survival and car combat. The art is excellent and the action nicely captured, and the story, if somewhat light, sets the reader up for his playthrough of the Freeway Fighter solo adventure book. Fighting Fantasy fans will enjoy this in particular and will want to have it alongside You are the Hero on their shelves.

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