Announced Friday afternoon at WonderCon, the long-awaited final arc of “Fear Agent” begins in July with #28 with the five-part storyline titled “Out of Step.” Written by Rick Remender with art by Tony Moore, Mike Hawthorne, and John Lucas, the Dark Horse series follows the adventures of alien hunter Heath Huston – the last Fear Agent – on journeys through space, time, and other dimensions following the fall of Earth to multiple extraterrestrial invasions.
“Fear Agent” began in 2005 under the Image Comics banner before moving to Dark Horse with the third story arc, and represents one of the now-ubiquitous Remender’s earliest successes. CBR News caught up with Remender to discuss the series as a whole and bringing “Fear Agent” to a close.
CBR News: It’s been a while since the previous “Fear Agent” arc, “I Against I,” wrapped up in July of last year. By way of a “Previously On…,” what can you tell us about where things left off?
Rick Remender: Heath has been involved in a number of conflicts,Â most importantly with the Dressites. Where we find Heath at the end of the last arc, he’s discovered that during his conflict and the things that have been going on”Out of Step” with regard to humanity’s conflict with the Dressites – and their response to him basically committing xenocide on the race after they had abandoned and beat the shit out of him during the first invasion – the Tetaldians, the robots with exposed brains, have been free to move forward with their agenda while Heath and the Dressites have been keeping each other busy. They realize they’ve been pawns in their conflicts have been agitated and manipulated by the Tetaldians. The Tetaldians are the robot folks who annihilated Heath’s family in the first story arc “Re-Ignition,” leading Heath to travel back in time to make it so the Tetaldians never exist. By the end of the arc, humanity and the Dressites have become pals, they’re all high-fiving each other, but something changes terribly all of a sudden. Every human on Earth is transformed into some kind of human/Tetaldian hybrid monster. Heath turns around and his brief moment with Charlotte is ended as his daughter shoots him in the stomach. That’s where we left off.
How does Heath’s rapidly-aging body, as seen on the new cover, set up what’s coming next?
Without giving away how it happens or why – at the end of “I Against I” Heath was in rough shape. The necessary steps taken to keep him among the livingÂ are a big part of the series, and I don’t want to give it away because it’s a nice reveal. But we delve back into the time travel and the alternative dimensions stuff a little bit, which is always fun in small doses. It’s something that we seeded in the “I Against I” storyline for this purpose.
When I was completing the screenplay for “Last Days of American Crime,” I also flashed back to this, and the screenplay Quentin Tarantino had originally written for “True Romance” did a lot of time-jumping, which I love. If done correctly, it gives you some really impressive reveals. When I wrote the initial outline for “Fear Agent,” which is going to encapsulate these 32 issues, I had written it that way – as we’ve seen, after the first two paperbacks worth of material we go back to the first invasion, then there’s a bit of this in “I Against I.” What happens in “Out of Step,” the final arc, is we do a little time-jumping, as well. It keeps people guessing – we can see the future, but we don’t necessarily know how we got to that future.
You mentioned in our last interview that this would be a very non-linear story, and it definitely sounds like you’re going forward with that. You’ve also said it will effectively wrap up “Fear Agent,” and is a great place to stop, but that you’re also considering returning to the series around the time the movie hits. I’d be curious to know whether, because of all the time jumping, this might be leading towards a reboot (similar to J.J. Abrams’s “Star Trek” film) or if it’s essentially a stand-alone story that can also be picked up on.
I don’t think people who haven’t read the series could pick up “Out of Step” and enjoy it. I think you can either enter into this universe from the first trade paperback or the third, and other than that it’s like “The Wire” – there’s all of these long-term story arcs and things just hanging off. I definitely don’t think you can jump on with this issue. At the end of “I Against I,” the Tetaldians had basically fused themselves with humanity and Heath’s got a giant hole through his stomach. So when we pick up, that’s where we pick up. The way things go from there, and the fabric of the universe is being played with.
There’s a lot of really fun stuff and what I think are really fun themes to explore in terms of the effects of history changing. I grew up reading Ray Bradbury and I could never get my head off of what would happen if you stepped on a butterfly. I’m sort of fixated on that. Basically, that’s a lot of what the Tetaldians have been up to, there’s a reveal with the Jellybrains, there’s this whole undercurrent taking place that, once revealed, will show what the series has really been about from early on, which I’m really excited to finally be able to tell. This is definitely not a reboot, it is the last chapter of the story that we’ve been telling.
As to whether we’ll come back to it, it’s one of those things where I go back and forth. I love it, I just got this cover back from Tony Moore and he’s only got three more covers before the series wraps…it’s heartbreaking. I love the book so much. John and Tony and I, and Mike Hawthorne, and in the past, Jerome Opena and all these great guys who have helped, it’s always been a labor of love and we’ve let the book be late in the hope that it’s amazing. To have something that’s so personal and so cared-for ending, to think of it in terms of definitively ending, that’s really kind of hard. So I think I keep coming back to the idea that we’re going to reboot so that I don’t have to feel bad. But I don’t want to be like so many quality things that get drawn out because they’re successful. I don’t want to mention any series in particular, but there are a lot of books that have gone to issue 60, 70, 80 when they should have ended at 30 or 40. The story has come to a natural conclusion, the writer has clearly been stretching out chapters that he had added on…they don’t really feel like they belong.
For me, it’s nice to think that in terms of this, it got to the end that was originally intended. Before we knew that we could do any of this stuff, it was just a book I wanted to produce with some friends. And at that point in my career, in 2004 when Tony and I first started coming up with this stuff, I had no idea if I’d even be able to get the first trade paperback together. Now it’s coming to the natural ending of the story that I wrote. If there is another story, it will only be because the idea that came up was so good that I couldn’t not do it. Because I really like the way the story ends, and I think there’s an integrity to ending it the way it was originally intended.
You mention Tony Moore and Mike Hawthorne, who have been with the series for a while and are bringing it to a close. You’ve called on them to do a lot of genres and genre mixing, and the last time we spoke you had described the arc as “psychadelic, Forbidden Planet meets Barbarella meets 2001.” How were your your artists able to bring this to life on the page?
The fun is perception-based: is the world changing, is time changing, or has the perception been skewered? Is the world changing around Heath? That’s the fun of the original “Matrix,” suddenly he wakes up and it’s this whole new world that has a whole new level, a whole new chapter. In terms of that, I think that what it comes down to is whether what you’re seeing is real. That’s what will be at play in the final arc.
Mike has come in since last July to help Tony out, and this is the first time Mike’s done a more polished type approach, doing rough-to-tight pencils on the pages and really giving it a lot of love. And then Tony More and John Lucas are doing the finishes. I wanted that approach because the last arc is so important. What they’ve done is, they’ve had an opportunity to really spend as much time as they need without worrying about deadline crunch, so between those three guys sort of tag-teaming the pages and passing them around, every page is graced with love – nobody’s tired of looking at a page.
As for inspiring the guys – I’ve never met an artist who didn’t enjoy drawing crazy science fiction stuff. I’ll send Mike or Tony some Frank Frazetta or Wally Wood reference, and it’s stuff they’ve seen or have for themselves, but it’s fun to get them excited. That stuff is just, it’s as much as you can have. That and barbarian fantasy stuff. I don’t think there was any artist who didn’t go through a period in junior high when he drew Conan and dragons and science fiction dudes and chicks.
On the subject of the “Fear Agent” movie, where do things stand at this point? Are there any updates?
I understand that things are “moving forward.” The news is like with anything, they want to wait until they’ve got it perfect to announce it. Just the fact that it was at Universal and the screenplay was green lit and that it’s moving forward at all, that stuff was all leaked. And at that point, it’s true, so we didn’t deny it, but it’s unfortunate that it came out when it did. There is stuff in the works, hopefully we’ll have news soon.
I know you’ve been pretty entrenched in the Marvel Universe for a while now – is getting to write Frank Castle and Heath Huston the best of both worlds?
Yeah. I end up writing these really gritty characters, in “Last Days of American Crime” at Radical and Frank Castle in “The Punisher.” I myself am not necessarily a very gritty person. I find that that may be the appeal in writing this stuff. I really love falling into these characters. And while Frank is very terse, a force of nature, he’s got one objective and he’s got one guiding point of view for any question you pose to him, which makes writing him way more fun than I ever would have believed it could be before I’d done it. The crazy amount of fun that Tony [Moore] and I have been having with Punisher, and the number of things Marvel has been excited about letting us do and the crossovers we have coming up – that process has just been a dream.
But it’s different from Heath. Heath is just a good ol’ boy. I think there’s a misperception of him as a super-tough guy. I don’t think he is a super-tough guy. I think he’s an able-bodied badass, he’s atypical in what he’s able to put himself through based on the kinds of things he experienced during Earth’s invasions. But before that, he was just a truck driver, you know? He was a truck driver with cute kid, a wife, and a dog and a regular life. He might have been in a couple of barroom brawls, but I think for the most part he’s just a walking bruise. What he’s been through and what he’s seen, he doesn’t come at it like Frank Castle does; his family was killed, and he decides to single-mindedly kill any criminal that he sees. Anybody who’s a killer, I will kill. Frank goes after them for that. Heath kind of crawls into a corner and after the genocide of the Dressites, he basically retreated into space. Without his wife, he just really didn’t want to live anymore, and that decision really separates him from Frank Castle, who turns into a bloodthirsty monster. And naturally, Heath is an alien exterminator, so we still do see in his decision, it may be that killing aliens is simply a way of life for him.