How Fear Agent Brought Sci-Fi Back To Comics – The Bleeding Cool Interview With Rick Remender and Tony Moore
Fear Agent launched from Image Comics at a time when the long-standing tradition of the carnivalesque and multi-genre energy of science-fiction comics was on the wane, but Rick Remender, Tony Moore, and Jerome Opena brough it back with a vengeance. After 11 issues of the creator-owned comic appeared from Image, the series was picked up and collected by Dark Horse, who proceeded to publish mini-series and one-shots while maintaining trades for fans. In the meantime, the influence of Fear Agent is more pervasive than readers may realize, as the creator-owned movement from Dark Horse, Image, and others allows greater freedom in genre comics, particularly, and thankfully, what began as a reinvention of sci-fi's expansive qualities in comics is now much more widely expressed. The series, which incorporated many stellar contributing artists during its run, also established a deeply flawed hero in the Texan last "Fear Agent" protecting earth from alien incursion, Heath Huston, something which makes it feel even more of a fore-runner in terms of science fiction comics being produced right now.
In honor of Fear Agent's impact and enduring qualities, Dark Horse are putting out a specially priced trade edition of the first few issues in Fear Agent Volume 1: Re-ignition($9.99), coming April 2nd. Writer Rick Remender and artist Tony Moore talked to Bleeding Cool about their goals on the series, how they see it now, and what its future might be.
Hannah Means-Shannon: What are some standout highlights for you in your work on Fear Agent?
Tony Moore: For me, the series' finest quality is that it was among the first in a long time to celebrate balls-out science fantasy, without getting mired in Intergalactic Trade Protocol, or any of the bureaucratic procedure that seems to pervade so much sci-fi. That, coupled with being creator-owned, which allowed us to be as free-wheeling as we wanted to be, and scratch any creative itch that arose along the way.
My favorite part of the series was basically all of issue 22 (part 1 of "I Against I"). I had considerable lead-time on this issue, which I used all of. It was the first issue I inked myself, and really poured everything I had into it. It had everything I wanted in it, Wally Wood space stuff, ghosts, monsters, kooky desert landscapes, cowboy action. I took advantage of the time, and not a single page left my table before I felt it was done. I'd never done that before, and haven't done that since, but I'd put this single issue as possibly the best work of my comics career.
Rick Remender : The first thing that comes to mind is the end of the "Last Goodbye" story when we finally see why Heath's so broken up–Spoilers–In order to save Earth from the alien invasion he had to kill off an entire alien species. That's heavy stuff. And he didn't exactly have to do it either. There were other solutions but he was enraged and it was the one available to him. It was one of those decisions that completely define the character and was very hard to sit on and wait to get to it till the 3rd story arc. However, I sort of think it's more interesting to show the damage the character is suffering and then show the reasons for it. And I think that it has more emotional payout once you realize why he is as broken as he is.
The ending of the series is also one I am particularly proud of. I feel like after years of thinking about it we landed on something that is both bitter and sweet, both a great failure and a great success, and I couldn't be prouder of the final result.
Those would be my top highlights.
HMS: Fear Agent is a series that just keeps kicking. What do you think the enduring appeal is of the character and the series?
RR: I think we launched Fear Agent at a point in time when there was very little science fiction in comic books. And while Wally Wood is widely regarded as one of the top 2 guys of all time, his legacy wasn't being carried through in the same way the Jack Kirby's was. And that's something we wanted to rectify. Wally had a lot of texture to not just his artwork but his personality. We wanted to carry through what we thought was Wally's legacy in this series doing something that was hugely imaginative and largely inspired by those classic EC comic books of the 50's. I think that beyond just how iconic the Wally Wood spaceman is, there was also a giant hole in the industry waiting for this type of material. Of course the fact that the book was drawn by Tony Moore, Jerome Opeña, Mike Hawthorne, and Kieron Dwyer certainly does not hurt its long-term appeal. There isn't a bad page in the book; it is a visual work of art.
TM: The heart of any good series is a hero you care about. With Heath, we tried to give him the best intentions, but be deeply flawed. Showing his vulnerability allows you into him, and with that relatability comes likeability. Then we just put that poor bastard through the wringer as hard as we could. Out of the frying pan, into the fire, though the meat grinder, and spat out into the toilet. But because he's a guy you like, you hang on and go through it with him. And because it's creator-owed we can make these actions and reactions have real and dire consequences. A lot of mainstream stuff loses its teeth because at the end of the day you know the mess will get cleaned up and all the toys will fit back into the box the same as they were when you started. Not Heath. Not Fear Agent.
HMS: What is it about the science fiction genre that keeps you coming back?
TM: It's wide open. You can lean hard sci-fi and explore potential long-term ramifications of real-world scientific and technological scenarios, or you can go to a jungle planet of 4-armed barbarians that ride flying fish and lava turtles. In Fear Agent, we have high-octane action, war, space opera, western, and all kinds of genres swirling in and out of the lens. It's the single most fertile ground a creator could hope for, because it's open to so much play. We tried to rip though as many types as we could muster with little regard for anything but fun.
RR: Yeah, I agree with Tony. So much of it has to do with the unlimited potential for exciting adventures and unlimited imagination. While at the heart of any story is the character and their struggles and longings, that genre of science fiction is a wonderful backdrop because of how colorful it can be and how interesting it can be. Plus, I grew up as a kid watching Star Trek on television and Star Wars in the theaters. I was the exact age for that stuff to be my sweet spot. Born in 1973, Star Trek was in reruns in the toys were still prevalent. When Star Wars was released I was the exact right age to be walloped in the side of the head by it. So what most kids in my generation that stuff really helps ignite a lot of my imagination.
HMS: Is there any possibility that Fear Agent might ever return with new issues?
TM: I don't like to speak in definitives, but I can say it's a strong possibility that Fear Agent's story will remain told as-is. We're all immensely proud of the way it all turned out, and would never want to undercut what we did with Heath and his journey. That said, none of that stops us from having long late-night conversations about all the stuff we COULD do.
RR: Tony, Jerome and I have had so many conversations over the past couple of years about bringing Fear Agent back. It was very close to happening at one point last year, in fact. But something kept stopping us. And I think that something is the fact we reached the intended conclusion of the story. Now, that's not to say we don't have an idea for another story. But to get into it would be another commitment of 30 to 40 issues in order to do it justice. So, while we do have the story for the sequel in mind, at this point in time something is telling us that perhaps it's better left completed as is. That's not to say that won't change again the next time we talk up some exciting ideas. I know all three of us miss working on Heath terribly.
Hannah Means-Shannonis EIC at Bleeding Cool and @hannahmenzies on Twitter