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 Munich massacre at those games, he married a fellow athlete and they moved to Rhodesia, where Sable organized safaris for tourists and later became a game warden. It was during this time his family was murdered by poachers. After getting revenge for his murdered family, Sable returned to America and became a freelance mercenary.
He also had another identity as a successful children's book author, using the name "B.B. Flemm". Unlike many such characters, his literary agent is aware of his secret activities, but also managed to keep Sable on track writing books.
The character was heavily influenced by Ian Fleming's James Bond novels, as well as pulp fiction crime stories. 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 within the comic that Tony DeZuniga would soon become the new artist, but that never came to pass. Another artist came on the book, but the book was soon cancelled, and after a few months, another book just called Sable was launched, written by Marv Wolfman, with art by Bill Jaaska, with Grell having no part. This lasted 27 issues before cancellation.
The comic was adapted into a TV show called Sable, notable only for introducing Rene Russo to audiences as one of the leads. As well, there were a few changes to the premise, with children's author "Nicholas Fleming" being the public face 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.
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 Classy Cat-Burglar called Maggie The Cat, at Image Comics in 1996. Only two 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, was serialized on-line beginning in December, 2007. It was published as a five-issue miniseries by IDW in 2009-2010.
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:
- Art Shift: #33 deals largely with the plot of one of Sable's children's books. A framing sequence was drawn by Mike Grell in his usual style, while the majority of the issue is drawn by Sergio Aragones in a much more cartoony style, representing the illustrations in the book.
- Ballet Episode: In "The Wall", Jon is hired to extract a defecting ballerina from East Berlin. Mike Grell uses the opportunity to draw a gorgeous ballet sequence that goes on for several pages without dialogue.
- BFG: When Jon felt the need for for some serious firepower, he would haul out an elephant gun.
- In #17, he picks up a comically oversized trick revolver that's chambered in .375. It can also fire what are basically powder-launched crossbow bolts.
- Booby Trap: As an expert in Jungle Warfare, Sable is highly skilled at rigging booby traps. In #4, he wipes out most of the mercenary band that killed his family by rigging a deadfall at the one safe river crossing on their escape route.
- Bounty Hunter: Jon Sable is a mercenary; he takes on dangerous jobs for money: bodyguard, bounty hunter, security, soldier-for-hire.
- Cameo Prop: The Maltese Falcon (the actual prop used in the 1941 film) is a literal example, and the MacGuffin in one story.
- Canon Discontinuity: Grell's later uses of Jon Sable disregard everything that happened in the 27 issues of Sable written by Marv Wolfman.
- Classy Cat-Burglar: The widowed aristocrat Lady Margaret Graymalkin took up cat burglary in order to retrieve her precious heirloom jewelry, and became known as Maggie the Cat.
- Comic-Book Time: Originally the characters aged in real time. However, after the revival in 2009, the book no longer makes any reference to specific historic events like the Vietnam War, and the 1972 Olympic Games that were seminal events in Jon's history.
- The Commissioner Gordon: Captain Josh Winters fills this role. While he doesn't always approve of Sable's activities, he recognises that the fact that Sable isn't hampered by the same rules as the NYPD is sometimes useful, and generally smooths things over between Sable and the force.
- Cool Guns: Sable uses a customized C96 Mauser: specifically, the Chinese Shanxi Type 17 (firing .45 ACP rounds) as a base, with the box-magazine loading mechanism of the 'Schnellfeuer' model instead of the stripper clip-loaded internal magazine. This is his primary firearm for much of the comic.
- Crossover: Grell reintroduced the character of Jon Sable after a prolonged absence as a guest character in his Shaman's Tears comic.
- Crusading Widower: Jon's transformation to soldier-of-fortune happens when his wife and children are murdered by Evil Poachers. His first act is go on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge against the poachers, although he does not catch up to their real boss until years later.
- Cut Short: The Maggie the Cat mini-series ended after only 2 issues.
- Cutting the Knot: In #15, Sable and an archaeologist are looking for treasure in a Central American pyramid. It's one of those designed so that a beam of sunlight shining through a hole in the wall will reveal the lock - but it only works on one day of the year that's months away. Sable points out that the ancient builders hadn't anticipated modern electricity and duplicates the effect with his flashlight.
- Death of a Thousand Cuts: In #4, Jon leaves one of the mercenaries who killed his family nailed to tree with a knife through his hands above a colony of army ants. As the ants start swarming up the man, Sable leaves him and tells him, if he tries hard enough, he can die, before the ants get to him.
- Decoy Convoy: In #7, police are moving a star witness in a mob trial to a new location when the car is hit by an an assassin with a rocket launcher. The car turns out to have been a decoy, but the attack spooks the witness so much that she runs.
- "Die Hard" on an X: In #46-47, Jon is hired to prevent a murder that is going to occur during a Christmas party in a high-rise office complex. The situation is complicated because terrorists have taken over the building, and police have the area locked down. Jon has to find a way into the building, defeat the terrorists and stop the murder.note
- Emergency Cargo Dump: In #5, Sable and some fellow mercenaries are hired to rescue some stranded civilians caught up in the middle of the civil war in Rhodesia. They escape from the guerillas on a hot air balloon cut loose from its basket. The balloon has enough lift to carry the 6 people; however, the winds blow it over towards the guerillas. Sable orders everyone to dump everything, guns, cameras, boots...any weight they can.
- 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.
- Empty Quiver: In #8-9, Sable—while investigating something else—stumbles upon a conspiracy involving five nuclear bombs stolen from a U.S. Air Force base. A Middle Eastern terrorist group is planning to have one of the bombs smuggled into the U.N. Building to prove they can get a bomb anywhere, and then use the other four bombs to make demands. However, the right-wing militia group they have allied with for their plan intends to doublecross them: planning to detonate the bomb at the U.N. as a False Flag Operation to cuse the U.S. to go to war with the Soviet Union. It falls to a Sable and an undercover agent of the AFOSI (Air Force Office of Special Investigations) to thwart both schemes.
- Evil Poacher: Jon's family was murdered by ivory poachers who disliked his effectiveness as a game warden.
- False Flag Operation: In #9, a right-wing militia group headed by a former USAF colonel—who now styles himself a 'general'—plans to detonate a stolen nuclear bomb in New York, Moles inside NORAD will make it appear as if the strike came from the Soviet Union, causing the US to retaliate. The general believes that the Soviets, not expecting an attack, will be caught flatfooted and decimated by America's first strike: making the US the world's sole superpower.
- Follow That Car: Jon says this to a cab driver in the first issue. The cabbie is so amused at being asked to do this for the first time in his career that he doesn't even charge for the ride.
- Formula-Breaking Episode: #33 is about the children's books that Jon writes and tells the story of a group of leprechauns living in Central Park. Aside from a framing sequence, the art is by Sergio Aragones instead of Mike Grell.
- Friend on the Force: Captain Josh Winters. While he doesn't always approve of Sable's activities, he recognises that the fact that Sable isn't hampered by the same rules as the NYPD is sometimes useful, and generally smooths things over between Sable and the force.
- Gay Best Friend: Jon's girlfriend Myke shares her apartment with a gay choreographer named Grey who is her best friend. To his surprise, Jon also becomes friends with him.
- Great White Hunter: Jon was a safari guide, and then a game warden in Kenya before he became a mercenary. After his family was murdered, he used his skills as a hunter and tracker to become a hunter of men.
- Guns Firing Underwater: Jon's .357 Magnum pepperbox—a Swiss Army Weapon—can fire underwater; usually firing steel spikes like a miniature spear gun. Justified as this a gun specifically designed to fire underwater, being based on a prototype weapon designed for the Navy SEALs.
- Hand Cannon: The .357 Magnum pepperbox, which fires rifle rounds.
- Hero Stole My Bike: In #9, Sable steals a passing motorbike to chase after a truck carrying a stolen nuke. Given what happens after this, it is unlikely the original owner ever gets his bike back.
- High-Dive Escape: Sable does it in Jon Sable, Freelance #49, in a story that was an homage to The Prisoner of Zenda. Jon claims the opportunity to make this kind of exit is irresistible, and chooses to leap from a tower window into the moat rather than stick around and explain to the authorities what was going on.
- High-Speed Hijack: In #9, Sable jumps from his stolen motorcycle on to the back of the truck carrying the stolen nuke.
- "How Did You Know?" "I Didn't.": In #5, Sable and a courier named Cynthia are fighting at the ends of ropes dangling from a hot air balloon, and the two ropes have gotten twisted around each other. The balloon is losing altitude and they need to lose weight so Sable's ally Milo cuts one of the ropes, sending Cynthia plunging to her death. After they have landed, Jon asks Milo how he knew which rope to cut and Milo walks away, without answering.
- Inconveniently Vanishing Exonerating Evidence: In #20, Jon gets caught up in a liquor store robbery. He pulls his back-up derringer and chases the robber. A rookie cop sees Jon with a gun and fires (without first identifying himself as a police officer). He unloads his weapon and Jon goes down, with chest wounds. His partner turns up with the store clerk, who yells that he shot the man who was chasing the robber. The partner tells him to call an ambulance and goes to work on Jon. The rookie returns and says its coming and that Sable had a gun. The partner yells "Where is it?" We see a bystander pocket the derringer.
- Jet Pack: In #14, Jon pulls a large object out from under the vehicle and dons a flight helmet and buckles into a harness. We see the scrambled helicopter move in, towards the paraglider. We then see Jon's feet lift off the ground. Weapons fire from inside the helo, then Jon returns fire from his winged jetpack.
- Light and Mirrors Puzzle: In #15, Sable and an archaeologist are looking for treasure in a Central American pyramid. It's one of those designed so that a beam of sunlight shining through a hole in the wall will reveal the lock - but it only works on one day of the year that's months away. Sable points out that the ancient builders hadn't anticipated modern electricity and duplicates the effect with his flashlight.
- Lipstick-and-Load Montage: In #14, Sable is hired to get ballerina Anastasia Yurkovich out of East Berlin. A sequence contrasts Anastasia preparing for the ballet, putting on her costume and makeup, with Sable gearing up for the extraction.
- 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.
- Lock-and-Load Montage: Jon gearing up for a mission was a standard scene.
- Locked Room Mystery: In #44-45, Jon is present on board a yacht when a movie star seemingly commits suicide inside his locked cabin. Of course, it is Never Suicide, and Jon turns detective to work out what really happened. The victim had been given poisoned Dramamine by his murderer which he took inside his cabin and died. A second person, looking to protect the killer, had used a bang stick to fire a bullet into the victim's head through the portal, hoping the police would not check for poison when there was an obvious gunshot wound to the head.
- MacGuffin: Formula '7X', which turns out to be the secret formula for Coca Cola.
- In Ashes of Eden the trope is Lampshaded most obviously with the MacGuffin Diamond.
- Mask Power: Sable wears a black makeup design on his face because "it scares the hell out of the bad guys".
- Never Suicide: In #44-45, Jon is present on board a yacht when a movie star seemingly commits suicide inside his locked cabin by shooting himself in the head. Of course, it is Never Suicide, and Jon turns detective to work out what really happened.
- Not with the Safety on, You Won't: In #8, a woman sneaks into Sable's house and points his own Mauser at him. Sable, who had just got out of the shower, makes a few jokes at gunpoint and the woman says she just wants a few minutes of his time. He asks to put on his pants, then tells her the gun isn't loaded. The woman glances down at it, with the barrel pointed upwards and pulls the trigger. It goes off and Sable grabs her wrist and then backhands her across the face.
- Older Sidekick: Sonny Pratt is Sable's old fencing coach and used to movie stuntman in the 40s and 50s. Despite being at least in his 60s, he appoints himself Sable's sidekick and tries to help out on Sable's missions.
- Outfit Decoy: In #9, Sable is being pursued by Right Wing Militia Fanatics with tracker dogs. He throws them off his trail by wrapping his jacket around a rock and rolling it down the hill: giving them both sound and a scent to follow.
- Paranoia Gambit: In #21, Jon vows to make sure a woman named Carla who attempted to murder her husband (an old friend of Jon's) and left him him a coma spends the rest of her life in jail. Jon turns up wherever Carla goes, always making a point of being seen by her. At shops, restaurants, the ballet and even parking garages. Carla has grown anxious. Jon catches up with her again at Paul's stables and says hello to Widowmaker, the horse Paul rode in the Olympics. Jon says he is surprised that she is still there and she is confident and cocky that her lawyers can press the technicality of evidence obtained illegally and have the case thrown out. She takes Widowmaker for a ride, but keeps looking back. Eventually, she comes to a parked car, but finds the key gone and Jon sitting nearby, with it dangling from his hand.
- Pineapple Surprise: In #9, Sable pulls a High-Speed Hijack by leaping from a motorbike on to a truck carrying a stolen nuclear bomb. One of the militia members in the truck sees him and climbs out to fight him. Sable manages to pull the pin one one of the grenades on his bandolier and then bails off: leaving the mook to blow up and cause the truck to crask off the road and into a lake.
- Pinned to the Wall: In #4, Jon leaves one of the mercenaries who killed his family nailed to tree with a knife through his hands above a colony of army ants, and leaves him to suffer a Death of a Thousand Cuts as the ants start to swarm up his body.
- Plank Gag: In #10, Sable goes looking for trouble and finds three thugs standing by a Trashcan Bonfire with baseball bats. Jon challenges the biggest one to a fight and picks up one of the bats. He then says "Okay, let's get the rules straight". when another of the thugs responds "There ain't no rules!", Sable invokes the Plank Gag by turning quickly with bat over his shoulder and whacking the big guy in the head. He then follows it up by using the bat to launch a Groin Attack on the second thug.
- 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.
- In #20, Jon gets shot by a rookie cop. The doctor tells Capt. Winters he is lucky, but stable. He shows Winters the jacket Jon wore and says one round hit him in the hip and 5 in the torso, though 3 rounds were stopped by the folded manuscript that Jon had inside his jacket. The doctor asks if they are shooting marshmallows and Winters says .38 cal, the next best thing.
- P.O.W. Camp: In "M.I.A", Jon goes back to Vietnam in search of missing P.O.W.s and breaks into a camp still holding American servicemen.
- Private Military Contractors: Right there in the title. 'Freelance' is an archaic word for a mercenary.
- 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: Creator Mike Grell described Jon Sable as a cross between Ian Fleming's James Bond and Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer, with a healthy dose of Peter Hathaway Capstick's African hunting novels tossed in.
- Real Men Wear Pink: Sable has a secret second career as the author of a best-selling series of children's books about a clan of leprechauns living in Central Park.
- Right-Wing Militia Fanatic: In #8-9, Sable battles an especially efficent and well-funded militia group organized by a former USAF colonel. The group plans to detonate stolen nuke in New York as False Flag Operation intended to cause the US to launch a nuclear strike against the USSR. The group reasons that as the Soviets will not be expecting it, they will be wiped out in the first strike and the US will be returned to its rightful place as the world's sole superpower.
- Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Sable went on one of these after his family was murdered: hunting down the mercenaries and natives responsible and savagely massacring them. However, he does not catch to the man who actually gave the orders until years later.
- Role Called: 'Freelance' is an archaic term for a mercenary.
- 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.
- Sexy Shirt Switch: In #16, Maggie the Cat wakes up after spending the night with Sable, wearing nothing but her favorite choker. She puts on Jon's shirt and pokes around the house.
- Shooting Gallery: Sable has 'Hogan's Alley' in his basement. Unsurprisingly, he ends up having a running gun battle through it in one issue.
- Shoot the Fuel Tank: In #18, Ana decks Jon with a kick and runs off, holding a transmitter. She gets into a car and Jon fires his Hand Cannon out the window and hits the car, igniting the fuel tank. Ana presses her detonator and the rocket launcher fires its rocket, which turns out to be a heat seeker and swerves to hit her burning wreck, utterly destroying it and her.
- Soldiers at the Rear: Jon's tour of duty in The Vietnam War was spent as a clerk/typist in an intelligence unit.
- Swiss Army Gun: Sable's .357 Magnum pepperbox. 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 a Real Life weapon designed for Navy SEALs that never went beyond prototype.
- Sword and Fist: While teaching Grey the basics of fencing to allow him to choreograph a swordfight/dance scene, Jon explains that a real swordfight would have been nothing like you see in the movies, but involve all sorts of tactics such as grappling your opponent or kicking him in the groin. Any time Jon gets in an actual life and death swordfight in the series, he is shown employing these sorts of tactics.
- There Are No Rules: In #10, Sable goes looking for trouble and finds three thugs standing by a Trashcan Bonfire with baseball bats. Jon challenges the biggest one to a fight and picks up one of the bats. He then says "Okay, let's get the rules straight". when another of the thugs responds "There ain't no rules!", Sable invokes the Plank Gag by turning quickly with bat over his shoulder and whacking the big guy in the head. He then follows it up by using the bat to launch a Groin Attack on the second thug.
- They Have the Scent!: In #9, Sable escapes from a Right-Wing Militia Fanatic group who come after him using tracker dogs.
- This Bear Was Framed: In "Widowmaker" in #21, Jon pursues a wooman known as "the White Widow" who tried to murder her husband (an old friend of Jon's) and claim he was kicked in the head by a horse; but, the police found a bloody horseshoe under the seat of her car. She was convicted, but is out on a $3.5 million dollar bond, while her case is under appeal.
- This Means Warpaint: Jon applying his face paint was a standard part of his Lock-and-Load Montage, and showed that he meant business. The first time he ever did this was just before he went on his Roaring Rampage of Revenge against the poachers who murdered his family, using the ashes from his burnt home as the paint.
- We Help the Helpless: Although he was a mercenary, Sable's career as an author was successful enough that he would sometimes take on missions where the client could not afford him because their cause appealed to his sense of justice.