As an art form, comic books have been home to some of the most diverse stories in any medium, from the success of super-heroes to the film adaptations of work such as "Road to Perdition" and "Ghost World." But often ignored, in this age of spandex, zombies, pirates and monkeys, is the science fiction genre, one that sees integration into superheroics, but very rarely finds itself as the center of a comic book. The creative team behind Image Comics' "Fear Agent" wants to change that and all this week on CBR News, you'll find in depth interviews with all the members of this group trying to bring about a sci-fi renaissance in comics. CBR News spoke first with series writer Rick Remender, who was happy to start at the beginning and provide the impetus for "Fear Agent."
"Let's not mince words-- science fiction has lost its stones," Remender told CBR News. "For me the high water mark of sci-fi was in the 1950's. Back then all of pop culture was obsessed with the genre. The communists had reignited our xenophobia and science fiction exploited and mirrored that fear. Monsters from Mars, mutants, killer robots and giants were locked in a constant struggle with lantern-jawed American spacemen in rickety rocket ships. They were the rough and tumble men who fought World War II, and these aliens were the next threat to be dealt with. They explored unknown worlds kept alive by two vacuum hoses feeding life-giving oxygen into their dome-shaped glass helmets.
"These were the staples and the playground, and no one better helped define this era than comic's legend, Mr. Wallace Wood. Wally was the best. He stood out from the cream of the crop: the EC sci-fi guys were the best and Wood led the way. His designs and innovation in the genre are echoed in nearly every aspect of what we see in sci-fi today. Wood was in love with this stuff and the genre has never been in better hands.
"As the decades passed, sci-fi became so interested in explaining how it could all really happen that it stopped giving us those fun, balls-to-wall, exciting stories. Instead, it became the stomping ground of nerds who would rather know exactly how the warp engines actually work than have high adventure. They focused on trade federations and on the intricacies and politics of alien worlds. However, when done right, this offered us a momentary reflection on our own society, but it wasn't very fun. They took away the tooth and grit and made it sterile. Though in some circles 'Star Wars' and 'Star Trek' are loved by people whose love of the genre allows them to overlook their lowered expectations, sci-fi has long since lost the collective mainstream conscience and it lost me.
"'Fear Agent' is our attempt to return sci-fi to its proper place-- to do it the way we think Mr. Wood would have wanted it. We're here to tell big stories packed full of over-the-top monsters and high adventures where the stakes are as simple and primal as basic survival."
The star of "Fear Agent" is Heath Huston, Alien Exterminator. "After being called in to clean up a space station with an infestation of 'Feeder' aliens, Heath finds himself caught in the middle of an inter-galactic civil war and Earth's fate in his hands," explained Remender. "I don't want to give much away, so I'll just touch on the back story a bit.
"Fifteen years before our story, Earth had the distinct inconvenience of being trapped in the middle of a power struggle between the three most powerful empires in the universe," continued Remender. "During this time all three empires attacked and fought for domination of Earth for its strategic position. Over 80% of the indigenous life on Earth was wiped out in the initial wave of attacks and very few humans survived. Those that did survive were over looked by the warring forces as an inconsequential element in the battle for the planet. Our man, Heath, and a few thousand other Texans, formed the battalion known as The Fear Agents. Compiling an arsenal of advancement from all three alien technologies, the Fear Agents were able to drive out the invaders. The Fear Agents became legend throughout the universe. They stood as an inspiration and hope that anyone could accomplish anything-against any odds. Heath Huston is the last Fear Agent."
"Fear Agent" will be told in five-issue installments and is illustrated first by artist Tony Moore ("The Walking Dead," "The Exterminators") who'll handle the first arch while artist Cory Walker ("SuperPatriot," "Invincible," "Marvel Team-Up") will handle the second five issue installment. The artists will then alternate artistic duties on the title, telling different stories of Heath's life. "If I have to tell you that these are two of the most talented new artists in comics, you haven't been paying attention," said Remender. "The love they pour into every page is evident in this preview edition. The story will jump to different points in Heath's life in order to slowly reveal the bigger picture. With A list inker, Sean Parsons, and color-god, Lee Loughridge, Tony's pencils have never looked better. The amazing Brian Buccellato colors Cory Walker perfectly; these guys were born to work together.
"Sci-fi is back and there isn't a trade federation anywhere in site."
The first issue focuses squarely on Heath Huston and while he may be the series protagonist right now, he isn't the only character who will be developed, as Remender explained. "Mara Esperanza is Heath's unwitting accomplice in the first story arc. Mara is a scientist who is working on a space fueling station where she studies the effects of truckers warp drives on the space time continuum. She ends up being dragged along with Heath as he blasts his way out of this particular space station during a battle. She's none to pleased either and blames Heath's irresponsible behavior for he involvement in the mess she's pull into.
"Mara's a no nonsense kinda gal who quite literally hates Heath from the moment she meets him. This is no 'Romancing the Stone,' these two are forced to team up for necessity to survive but neither cares much for the other.
"In Cory's tale there are numerous other important characters. We'll meet the Fear Agents and see how they were formed. The original band of Fear Agents is as eclectic a group as the Howling Commandos or the band of soldiers in 'Saving Private Ryan.' Again I don't want to go into this too much."
The long term plans for the series are kept close to the vest by the "Fear Agent" team, but Remender offered this tease, saying, "Right now I have 18 issues plotted out. The first year and a half is good to go."
The second story arc of the series, beginning with issue #6, will jump through time a bit and it isn't a gimmick-- Remender intends to use these time jumps to offer great insight into the facets of his "Fear Agent" world. "The time skipping will happen as story dictates. During the first year and a half of the series we jump around quit a bit. I think it's just a more interesting way to tell the story. Drop the reader in the middle of a shit storm and then slowly reveal what it all means.
"After the third arc, I'm planning on keeping things rooted in the present day story for a bit. Though Heath's downward spiral into the somewhat tragic character we see in the first and third arc is a long story. There is a ten year gap between the first arc and the second so we have a lot of untold story in there."
In today's age of "decompression," wherein most stories are plotted in four or six issue story arcs, Remender's choice to do a five issue story is a bit unusual. "Five issues feels like a good amount to tell a big story without being rushed at any point," said the writer of his reasons for the story length. "This way the trades will come it at a nice full 110 story pages. It means I don't have to skimp or rush anything much in the tale, but I still need to be conservative if I want to move the story forward to the predetermined point. There will defiantly be stand alone issues and smaller arcs down the line. Issue #1 is a stand alone issue that sets the tone for the series. In the way the beginning of 'Indiana Jones' throws you into an adventure with Indy before moving forward to actually meet the character and go on the larger journey."
While some authors derive inspiration for stories from current events or homages to childhood favorites, Remender simply looked at science fiction, saw a gap in logic and found a way to tell the story he always wanted to read. "The entire thing grew from the origin story," explained Remender. "It seems stupid to me that in most films when an alien race comes to Earth they are here focused on killing us to take what we have yadda-yadda. It seems cooler to me to have the Earth merely be a casualty in a greater struggle between a number of warring galactic empires. That's exactly what happens in 'Fear Agent.' Heath is one of the humans who helps form the Fear Agents who attempt to drive these forces away. So eventually when he's cast off of Earth he has only one thing to fall back on; his hatred for alien life forms. Alien exterminator is a nice way to let him kick the be-Jesus out of the creatures he blames his fate on."
The stories that influenced "Fear Agent" are classic, but may not be from the medium that comic fans might expect. "I've been watching 'Blade Runner,' 'Indiana Jones,' 'Road Warrior' and 'Aliens' to prep for this. It's got to have huge balls, this story has got to break your jaw off your face or I've failed. So I'm watching films with a well executed grit with engaging characters.
"My favorite Sci-Fi writer is Douglas Adams. I love being pulled along by a writer with very clever ideas about space, aliens and the meaning of life. 'The Hitchhikers Guide' books are well constructed and charming while also being action adventure. There will be a sardonic wit to Heath and I hope to capture a wee bit of the insanity Adams produces in his characters while keeping the edge.
"The art style, however, is a very modernized approach to the classic Wally Wood stuff. Tony and Cory have worked closely to come up with a style that is kitsch and at the same time innovative. They have done a great job."
As mentioned earlier, science fiction comics have been almost non-existent in the comic book market for the past few years and with the exception of the Humanoids work imported from Europe-- and was unsuccessfully sold in stores by DC Comics-- there really hasn't been pure sci-fi in the medium for some time. "There is this huge hole in the American comics market. Everyone loves Sci-Fi when it's done right. Even when it's done half assed the box office returns are huge most of the time. Comic fans are missing good Sci-Fi, but they don't know it because they haven't had many options out there. Sci-Fi is the next horror and we are going to be the guys that remind the industry why. Wow, that was cocky as hell. I guess I'm officially the huge douche bag I used to promise I'd never become. Oh, well."
Artist Tony Moore is a good friend of Remender and his involvement in the project was due not only to their friendship, but his immense talent as well. "Tony and I have known each other for five or six years now I guess. We became buddies after a San Diego show where we were both stuck in the porno area for some reason. The first time I saw Tony's work was in an issue of Kieron Dwyer's book 'LCD' that we both worked on. I remember looking at the pages and wondering how this guy had slipped past without being noticed by the industry. Then I found out he was like twelve years old or some shit and I slit my wrists. Too much big time American party talent in that kid.
"Tony Moore and I had recently pitched DC a Lobo mini and he'd emailed me a sci-fi/monster cover he'd done for one of Rob Zombie's new books that was so amazing. I knew he'd be into a hardcore EC style monster/sci-fi book. So I wrote myself a note to call Tony with this new idea and I proceeded to forget about it as Tony was knee deep in zombie pages for 'The Walking Dead.' So when he called me two weeks later and asked if I had any ideas for a new book... I did.
"From there I wrote out the first issue and a treatment for the rest of the series and Tony designed the main character, Heath. We sent it off to Erik Larsen at Image and I think he okayed the book the next day. Erik was very helpful in further developing the book with us-- he's a very hands on publisher and it's great to have someone who cares about the project in charge. Erik and Robert Kirkman both played a big role in getting the project up and running (and helping us settle on the final name)."
Trading art chores with Moore is emerging star penciller Cory Walker, who helped launch Image's "Invincible," one of the most successful superhero launches in some time. "Tony and Cory are with out question two of the most talented artists
in comics today," explained Moore. "I don't know of any two (American) guys who are more suited to do this book. Cory had done some alien stuff in 'Invincible' and one night Tony and I were chatting about how great his creatures were. We were suddenly both stuck in the brain with lightning and called him up. Why not make this book a triple threat? Cory and Tony have been chums since the old Funk-o-Tron days and Cory and I have been trying to find something to do with each other (besides drink) for a couple of years. It all came together that night."
CBR News spoke with Remender back in 2004, when "Fear Agent" was scheduled for a 2005 release and with some asking about the reasons for the delay, the scribe took a moment to clear the air. "We had all been slammed with work so we pushed the book back seven months. It was better for us all to not stress over it. We've all had a busy year and didn't want any distractions basically.
"So take 'Fear Agent' for a test drive. The series launches in October 2005 and will be monthly and ongoing from Image Comics."
Look for more tomorrow here at CBR as we interview artist Tony Moore and bring you more preview art from the series. If you'd like to learn more about "Fear Agent," check out their Myspace Group.
Check out all of CBR's "Fear Agent" coverage by looking at the Index
CBR Executive Producer Jonah Weiland Contributed To This Story.