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 DeZuniga 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, 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 Aragaones 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.
- Bounty Hunter
- 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: 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 mechanisim 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.
- Cutting the Knot: In one issue, 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.
- 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
- Follow That Car: Jon says this to a cab driver in the first issue. The cabbie is so amused by being asked to do this for the first time in his career that he doesn't even charge for the ride.
- Friend on the Force: Captain Josh Winters
- Great White Hunter: Jon before he became a mercenary.
- Hand Cannon: The Magnum pepperbox.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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".
- 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.
- POW 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
- 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.
- Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Sable went on one of these after his family was murdered.
- 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.
- Shooting Gallery: Sable has 'Hogan's Alley' in his basement. Unsurprisingly, he ends up having a running gun battle through it in one issue.
- Soldiers at the Rear: Jon's tour of duty in The Vietnam War was spent as a clerk/typist in an intelligence unit.
- Something Completely Different: #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 Aragaones instead of Mike Grell.
- Swiss Army Gun: the .357 pepperbox.
- 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