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Jon Sable Freelance was an American comic book, one of the first series created for the fledging publisher First Comics in 1983. It was written and drawn by Mike Grell and was a fully creator-owned title, as were all of First Comics' titles.
Sable was a bounty hunter and mercenary who previously had been an athlete in the 1972 Munich Olympic Games. After witnessing the terrorist outrages at those games, he married a fellow athlete and they relocated to Rhodesia, where Sable became an organiser of safaris for tourists, and later a game warden. It was during this time his family was murdered by poachers. After avenging his slain family, Sable returned to the USA and became a free-lance mercenary.
He also has a double identity as a successful children's book writer under the name of "B.B. Flemm". Unlike many such characters, his literary agent is aware of his other identity's activities, but is most persuasive in enforcing his writing contract obligations as well.
The character was heavily influenced by Ian Fleming's James Bond novels as well as drawing on pulp fiction crime stories. Also, many of the stories of Sable's hunting exploits in Africa were influenced by Peter Hathaway Capstick's novels. At a convention in the late 1980s, Grell stated that his idea for Sable was "something like a cross between James Bond and Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer."
Jon Sable Freelance lasted 56 issues from 1983 to 1988 before being cancelled. While Grell wrote and did all the covers, he stopped drawing the stories after #44. Late in this run Grell announced in the comic's own text pages that Tony De Zuniga would soon join him as the new artist. Just what happened to these plans is unclear, but soon the series was suspended, and after a few months, Marv Wolfman was writing and Bill Jaaska was drawing a new series called Sable, with Grell having no part. This lasted 27 issues before cancellation. The feature also spawned a short lived ABC 1987 TV series, called Sable.
The TV series was notable only for its changes to the premise, and for introducing Rene Russo to audiences as one of the leads. In the TV series, instead of Sable being the public face and masquerading as a children's book author, "Nicholas Fleming" was the children's book author and Sable the mysterious masked do-gooder. Sable was wanted for murder in Africa, it was explained, and the vaguely effete Fleming persona was the only way he could live safely in Chicago. A new character for the TV series was "Cheesecake" Tyson, a hacker friend who inevitably supplied exposition.
A third First Comics series, Mike Grell's Sable, reprinted the first ten issues of the original Jon Sable Freelance series. There was also a tie-in miniseries featuring one of the semi-recurring characters, a thief called Maggie The Cat, at Image Comics in 1996. Only 2 issues were released and the series was never completed.
After the title's cancellation (and First's ceasing operations), the character made some cameo appearances in some of Grell's other titles over the years. He did not receive his own series again until March 2005, when IDW Publishing released the first of a new six-issue mini-series titled Jon Sable Freelance: Bloodtrail (originally announced as Jon Sable, Freelance: Conspiracy) written and drawn by Grell. IDW have also been reprinting the entire original run in a series of trade paperbacks.
A new series, Jon Sable: Ashes of Eden, is being serialized on-line beginning in December, 2007. It will be published as a graphic novel in 2008.
Grell wrote a prose novel featuring the character, simply titled Sable, which was published in hardcover in 2000 and in paperback in 2001. The book was partly adapted from early issues of the comic series, with some changes in chronology.
The series includes examples of:
- BFG: When Jon felt the need for for some serious firepower, he would haul out an elephant gun.
- Bounty Hunter
- Canon Dis Continuity: Grell's later uses of Jon Sable disregard everything that happened in the 27 issues of Sable written by Marv Wolfman.
- Classy Cat Burglar: Maggie the Cat.
- Crossover: Grell reintroduced the character of Jon Sable after a prolonged absence as a guest character in his Shaman's Tears comic.
- Cut Short: The Maggie the Cat mini-series.
- Emergency Impersonation: Jon Sable, Freelance #49 is an Homage / Whole-Plot Reference to The Prisoner of Zenda with Jon standing in for a kidnapped European monarch.
- Evil Poacher
- Friend on the Force: Captain Josh Winters
- Great White Hunter: Jon before he became a mercenary.
- Hand Cannon: The Magnum pepperbox.
- Little Useless Gun: In one story, a woman threatens Sable with a small .22 caliber pistol. He's more disdainful of the weapon than afraid.
- MacGuffin: Formula '7X', which turns out to be the secret formula for Coca Cola.
- Mask Power: Sable wears a black makeup design on his face because "it scares the hell out of the bad guys".
- Older Sidekick: Sonny Pratt.
- Pocket Protector: One of the poachers who killed Jon's family is saved from Jon's Roaring Rampage of Revenge by the AK-47 he was carrying at chest height. Jon's bullet hits the rifle and the impact is enough to knock the poacher out, leading Jon to assume he is dead.
- Private Military Contractors
- Prisoner of Zenda Exit
- Rare Guns: Sable's favourite weapon is a broomhandle Mauser chambered for.45 ACP. He also carried a large bore, multipurpose stainless steel revolver, that had a resemblance to an antique pepperbox revolver. The weapon could fire underwater, fire rifle shot, arrow/bolt type projectiles and a multitude of other loads, such as tear gas, explosive, and tranquilizer. This was an actual weapon designed for Navy SEALs that never went beyond prototype.
- Rated "M" for Manly
- Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Sable went on one of these after his family was murdered.
- Secret Identity: Inverted, as Jon Sable is publicly known as a mercenary and gun-for-hire. What he keeps secret is his role as children's author 'B.B. Flemm' and he dons an elaborate disguise whenever he has to make a public appearance as Flemm.
- Shooting Gallery
- Swiss Army Gun: the .357 pepperbox.
- The Vietnam War: Flashbacks to Jon's service in Vietnam, and a storyline that involved him returning to Vietnam in search of P.O.W.s.
- We Help the Helpless