Writer Ian Brill is best known to comic fans his BOOM! Studios work on Disney’s “Darkwing Duck,” but this October he’s taking on a very different kind of action hero with “Freelancers,” a new BOOM! Studios series featuring art by newcomer Joshua Covey. Make that two action heroes: “Freelancers” stars Val and Cassie, two sexy bounty hunters based in Los Angeles, taking on some of the city’s most dangerous criminals. “Val and Cassie are characters for anyone struggling to be heard, achieve their dream or just be what they want to be in this life,” Brill told CBR News. “Their journey as kung fu bounty hunters in L.A. is a big and fun way to look at what it means to be hard-working twenty-somethings with ambition, and the challenges that you face in that situation.”
The two main characters may both be gun-toting knockouts, but they each have their own unique way of looking at the world. “Val and Cassie are two very different types of people, with different points of view, but work as a team brilliantly,” Brill said. “I know people who are resigned to the how the world works and the various expectations and presumptions that are placed on a woman, but they see an opportunity to play that game against their own interests and gain serious fulfillment. That’s Val’s outlook on things. Cassie is more of an idealist. She’ll rail against the system and the reductive ways it can look at a female who wants to be a writer, actor, entrepreneur or, in this case, bounty hunter. She finds vitality in defying expectations.”
Brill stressed the importance of making Val and Cassie into well-rounded characters, and not just sex symbols. “I vowed to myself that while writing ‘Freelancers,’ the use of sexuality by the characters would be an expression of agency and pathos, not a substitute or denial of those concepts,” he explained. “It leads to better drama and storytelling if I give the readers personal insight into these characters who live a life where sexuality is both something expected of them, but also a tool for them to use. That’s not where the examination of these characters end, that’s where the long journey into these two distinct personalities begins.”
As two sides of the same coin, the series’ leads complement each other, both personally and professionally. “The two of them argue about this stuff, but when they are working together, there’s a bond that goes beyond the intellectual,” Brill said. “As a duo, they kick ass so well, it’s in their best interests to work together, even if they don’t see eye to eye on many different things.”
One thing Val and Cassie do share in common is their upbringing in a kung fu orphanage. A what, now? “It’s somewhat based on a real thing,” Brill told CBR. BOOM!’s editor-in-chief Matt Gagnon (who originated the “Freelancers” concept with writer-artist Felipe Smith) read in Jackie Chan’s autobiography about Chan’s experience in a performance troupe as part of the Peking Opera School, where Chan met fellow future martial-arts star Sammo Hung. He told Brill about the school, and, “I played around with the idea and worked it around Los Angeles’ history of Chinese immigration.
“Val and Cassie’s education was strict and unrelenting, which fostered in them both a sense of discipline and a sense of rebellion,” Brill continued. “A lot of the decisions in their lives are to compensate for what they didn’t get to do while growing up. At the same time, they also have enough respect and belief in themselves to make waves in the world with confidence and skills.”
The world of “Freelancers” is filtered through a number of influences, with Gagnon and Smith originating the concept before passing it on to Brill to put his own stamp on it. “When the BOOM! Studios think tank and I were talking about this series, Quentin Tarantino’s films were brought up, as they present this almost mythic feel to Los Angeles crime pulp and kung fu movies,” Brill said. “In both ‘Reservoir Dogs’ and ‘Pulp Fiction,’ there’s a confidence in going after the outrageous in a street-level setting that I’m interested in exploring in my own way. I also studied up on the classic martial-arts films like ‘Five Deadly Venoms,’ ‘Master of the Flying Guillotine’ and ‘Sex and Fury.'”
During the development of “Freelancers,” Brill looked for inspiration in comics like Brian Wood’s “The Couriers” and “Local,” Joe Casey and Charlie Adlard’s “Codeflesh,” Ed Brubaker’s “Catwoman” and Bryan Q. Miller’s “Batgirl,” as well as the work of “Freelancers” co-creator Smith. “I loved reading ‘MBQ’ when it was coming out, and now ‘Peepo Choo,'” Brill said. “Talk about having the outrageous meeting the street-level, that’s what Smith can do in a brilliantly unique way. The way he explored Los Angeles in ‘MBQ’ to tell stories that are fierce, hilarious and personal all at once is still breathtaking.”
Los Angeles itself is another big influence on the style and approach of “Freelancers.” “Matt and Felipe created this idea a few years ago, back when Matt was the buyer at Meltdown Comics [in Los Angeles], and Felipe was a regular customer,” Brill explained. “One of the reasons I was entrusted with this project is that I have lived most of my life in the Los Angeles area, starting at 4 years old when my dad worked in city hall during the [Mayor Tom] Bradley administration. There’s a great variety that the city offers amongst its sprawl, and people take advantage of that by adopting various guises and attitudes. But dealing with the demands of the city, the population and commutes as well as the overall economics, can bring out the real people underneath the mask, and sometimes that means swallowing up a person. The city as antagonist is a story element I enjoy playing with, as Val and Cassie try to keep their heads above water.”
Brill took all of those influences and added a healthy dose of humor, as one might expect from a series that involves a kung fu orphanage written by the man once responsible for scripting the adventures of the terror that flaps in the night. “Humor goes a long way in helping the audience warm up to the characters,” Brill said. “Characters and situations are going to be larger than life. Presenting that with a bit of a wink makes it easier to buy — at least that’s been my experience as a reader.”
From there he handed things off to artist Covey, who previously drew Rich Johnston’s “The Avengefuls” for BOOM! “Joshua’s art portrays the characters and settings with an immense amount of fluidity and style,” Brill said. “His work and the fantastic covers we have inspire me to delve deeper into the characters while coming up with big crazy things that I know Joshua will illustrate with aplomb.”
Ultimately, that total package is what Brill hopes will draw readers in. “This is a new series anyone can get in on the ground floor of, where we have big moments of action with two women who never say die,” Brill said. “But we don’t want to just wow you with endless slam-bam set pieces. The stories delve into Val and Cass as multifaceted, complicated and overall lovable women so, like John McClane in the first ‘Die Hard,’ when things get hairy you care about what’s going on on a deeper level.”
“Freelancers” #1 debutes from BOOM! in October.