Agent Orange On Top of Fear
“Let’s do some science fiction with a guy who was going to live in a rocket ship that’s covered in filth and he’s got some strange alien woman sleeping there and he’s drunk”
Rick Remender & Tony Moore
Agent Orange on Top of Fear
Greetings from the heat wave here in Del Mar. I thought I left this garbage at home in the desert. I have to admit Josias Ocampo’s great thread about The Spider-Verse last week had me pumped. It got the juices going due to the passion in which he wrote within the piece.
There are far too many times all of us let the ego, money, or the completist within ourselves mask the true beauty of comics. There is nothing that can be substituted by passion. It’s a great site to behold when we can speak to our favorites within this hobby.
This is not based on money, or status, it’s based on our own personal favorite comics. Today, I am just going to go that, speak to one of my top 3 favs, Rick Remender’s brilliant space opera piece – Fear Agent.
Alright let’s start with this, In 2005 how was a line up of Rick Remender, Tony Moore and Jerome Opena sound has a team of collaborators? Now that’s a stable of talent. The Genesis of this project started from “Science Fiction losing its stones” as Remender stated in an interview.
This was his attempt to fight that trend. The story revolves around Heath Huston, a hard core drinking, Samuel Clemens quoting, pissed of alien exterminator. His adventures take him far across the vast reaches of space looking for in a sense, gaining personal atonement for an event that occurred. As someone eloquently stated “A barfly, arthouse”.
In digging a little deeper, is important to speak to where the influences derived from to put this project together. Remender dug into a lot of the old Frazetta and Al Williamson stuff, more of the EC stuff. Tony was doing work for Rob Zombie that he was emulating that EC style.
Here is a quote from Rick. “We decided that we should do an EC-homage-based science fiction that would then jump into other genres. So there would be an alien invasion story with a war tone, and then there would be a western, and there would be science fiction and a high adventure storyline, and so on.
In terms of writing, Mr. Remender was of that generation that grew up reading Frank Miller comics back in the ‘80s and early ‘90s. The choice to do internal captions was not very popular back then.
So he made that choice to include those in Fear Agent based on his love of Sin City and the Elektra books Miller had done. “The internal dialogue is definitely a by-product of me being a Gen Xer who was raised on those comics.” Rick states.
“The idea was to just be untethered in imagination and to be able to do something that was grounded in a character that you cared about. The adventures that he would go through would be any amazing, cool, science fiction ideas that we had. We wanted to work in time travel and dimension hopping, doppelgangers, and every kind of wonderful sci-fi trove we could. We understood the important thing had to be Heath and his story and who he was.”
Rick is also a big Evil Dead fan as well, thus the lead character definitely has some Bruce Campbell in him no doubt. The main hero Heath goes thru some horrific events, all while keeping somewhat of a comedic tone.
The general tone and aesthetic of the series is probably the best part. It has a base of ’50s style retro-futurism, cigar shaped rocket ships, ray guns, jetpacks, robots with claw hands, and so on. Yet to this is added a used-future/space-western feel.
Heath is a Texan and there are space-truckers, everything’s covered with dust and grime and sadness. It’s violent, but always in a way that makes the violence feel dangerous — if it weren’t for the future technology, every character would probably be broken or dead. Key to the aesthetic and tone is Heath Huston himself.
He has done some bad things in his past, and as much as he’d like to make up for them and redeem himself, he’d rather just drink enough whiskey that he can forget about it and pass out. Finally, he does this is in a rocket with an AI based on his ex-wife, so it’s that much cooler.
Here is a spoiler free brief synopsis – When a hostile alien race called the Dressites mounted a full-scale invasion of Earth, Heath Huston and a thousand or so other Texans formed a battalion called the Fear Agents to fight back.
However, the only way he could find to turn back the invaders was to participate in an act of xenocide, which nearly wiped the Dressites out completely. Even Huston’s fellow Agents condemned him for his heinous war crime, leading to Huston’s self-imposed 10-year exile from Earth and a descent into alcoholism.
The back half of the journey sees Heath time travel to a distant universe filled with western robots. In conclusion we see the cranky Texan come to the realization he can make up for his past issues. Will this shot at redemption help his broken body, and soul?
Rick Remender has given us as comic fans a lot of amazing stories and characters. Interesting that of all his creations, Heath is the nearest and dearest to him. He has stated on occasion that there is a lot of aspects personally that are infused and hidden in the character thus being the one he most identifies with.
It always fascinates me internally where writers and artists draw from in terms of inspiration. I am always curious how they come up with titles for instance if they are not the obvious.
Here is a good bit of info – The title Fear Agent derived from from a pile of CDs on Rick’s desk. He had Agent Orange on top of Fear and he remember looking at those two things together. Tony, Jerome, and him had been discussing having fear in the title and I wanted it tying back into his origin story.
There was a Mark Twain quote on his desktop that said something about that courage isn’t the absence of fear, it is the ability to ignore it and fight through it. Mr. Remender states “I’m bastardizing the quote at this point, but the basic gist of the quote is courage is not the absence of fear but overcoming it, something like that.
That was something that I had put on my desktop to kind of keep myself going when comic books didn’t really seem to want me around. That was something that I thought was apt to the Heath situation, that he would be somebody who fought fear”. That quote kind of fed into the one and to use the word fear.
Then there was the two albums stacked up on his desktop and the name was sort of born from those two things. Amazing how ideas come together. That nitty, gritty of sorts adds to the allure of this chunk of Pulp Science Fiction.
It’s almost poetic justice as life imitates art the way Fear Agent sold in the market. It launched with roughly 13K copies, and then struggled to maintain 8K issues monthly. Without a lot of money Rick, Tony, and Jerome struggled to keep things afloat.
Francesco Francavilla came in to do a fill in issue as the guys worked on other projects. The book had a good following, but more a true labor of love. Then SDCC hit and some at G4 was such a fan of the series, they decked out a car advertising it.
They parked it next to where the group was signing trades and it made a huge impact. Then in a strange move the series shifted from Image to Dark Horse after eleven issues where it remained thru the tenure of the series. This was done to keep the book alive, and the powers to be shared the same passion and vision for the project.
Yes, there were delays in issues as the creative group had to pay bills with other projects and started to get deadlines for other books from publishers like Marvel. In fact it took over three years to get the last eleven issues. It really does mirror the overall story.
Remender states “Again, the point of the series was so much about Heath and his tenacity and his struggle to try and to make normal what had become destroyed” The same can be said for getting the thing done and completed.
The rest is shall we say history. This series became a pillar within the modern sci-fi comic community and is thought of in the highest regards among many fans and critics. In fact this was realized in an amazing two volume set with a ton of extras. These are top notch in quality and content.
Now these bad boys are not something you would want to travel on a plane with due to the weight and size, however I have seen nothing like this in terms of the treatment these books get. If you are a fan, or become one these are a must own! Perhaps CBSI will run a contest for a set of these sometime if you guys show interest – hint, hint.
Here’s a few shots of mine and for ratio aspect of how big they are, I included one of CBSI’s finest shirts:
Well that’s it for this week, I purposely left the overall story arch cryptic vs. a deep dive as I believe the less you know going into it the better. It’s a real treat – trust me and millions of others. Paging Skot Whitman, please pick up a copy, paging Skot Whitman…
There is strong talk with Remender and Co. about continuing the story. I hope Santa can make that a reality if I wish hard enough for it this Christmas.
Please for those of you who have read it, keep the spoilers out as this could potentially ruin things for perspective readers. As always, thanks for reading and any non reveal feedback is welcome!