There are several agencies within the American government that a majority of citizens recognize by their acronyms, such as the F.B.I., C.I.A., and the I.R.S. These are well-known departments with very important jobs within the United States. Interestingly enough, there is another agency in the U.S. with an extremely important job, yet most folks have never heard of them. This is unfortunate, as they potentially have the coolest acronym-name of all: I.C.E. (Immigration and Customs Enforcement).
In 2011, 12-Gauge Comics published a four-issue miniseries called "ICE," written by Doug Wagner with art by Jose Holder. In this fictional adventure, the team's protagonists had to deal with a ruthless Mexican drug cartel whose war crossed came across American borders. This month, Wagner returns with a prequel to this story in "ICE: Critical Mass," with art by Daniel Hillyard. And this time around, ICE is up in the Pacific Northwest dealing with a terrorist plot to wipe out the entire region.
CBR News spoke with Wagner to discuss his approach in writing about a real government agency, how ICE operates in our country, and what readers can expect from the comic. Along the way, we even managed to get the writer to share a story from the comic industry's heyday, when Wagner got his start.
CBR News: Doug, most readers are likely surprised to hear that ICE is a real government operation. When were you first exposed to ICE and what made you want to write a series about them?
Doug Wagner: I had only seen tidbits here and there about ICE before Keven Gardner (12-Gauge Comics' President) initially called me about writing the first miniseries. Keven knows I'm an action guy at heart -- guns, explosions, and chaos are the things that fill my daydreams. After doing a little research, ICE quickly became my new obsession. Accepting the gig was a no-brainer.
What kind of research did you do in preparing for the series?
Besides the typical days upon days of reading, I made contact with an ICE agent. It turned out that he wasn't just a great resource, but also a really nice guy that I've kept in contact with ever since. As he answered my tidal wave of questions, he threw in some stories that still raise hairs on the back of my neck.
How would you compare ICE to other units of the federal government? Your book makes them feel very street-level. Would it be safe to say that they shouldn't be categorized with the "suit and tie" divisions, like the CIA?
You are correct. ICE isn't like any other federal agency that I know of; they are very "street-level," as you put it. ICE enforces more laws than any other law enforcement organization in the U.S. -- over 400 statutes. As a matter of fact, other agencies and law enforcement typically invite ICE agents on busts and raids just for that reason. If the suspect is committing a crime outside of one group's jurisdiction, ICE usually can take up the slack. They handle everything from immigration enforcement to human trafficking to terrorism. If you live within U.S. borders, ICE has your back.
"ICE: Critical Mass" is a four-issue prequel to the original story. What made you decide to jump back in time for this series?
When Keven and I discussed this current "ICE" miniseries, we both agreed it would be fun to start from Cole Matai's first day as an ICE agent. Yes, that isn't your typical sequel, but we wanted to try something different.
ICE seems to cover all sorts of immigration issues -- from things concerning our borders to issues with Homeland Security. What sorts of antagonists should we expect to see in the upcoming series?
That's where this particular miniseries became a blast. As a premise, ICE is fairly grounded in the real world, so it wouldn't make sense to have super-villains, space aliens, or the Sasquatch as antagonists. However, Daniel and I didn't want to create boring villains either, so we put together a unique group of mercenaries. The leader is a former SAS bloke, his right hand man is a seven foot African (think Zulu warrior), and the guy that does the dirty work is a Russian Cossack. They've come to our country to kill as many Americans as they can, and they're willing to sacrifice anything and everything to make that happen.
I find it interesting that you set this series in the Pacific Northwest. When most people think about immigration, their minds probably jump to places like Texas, Florida, or New York. What made the NW an ideal setting for your story?
I chose the northwest because of exactly what you just said. It seems everyone immediately assumes all immigration problems happen along the Mexican border. From what I've learned, every square inch of the US border can be a problem. When I was doing research for this story, I came upon an article about drug smuggling via helicopter across the Canadian border, which captured my attention. That's when I decided our story had to take place in the northwest. It's not your typical setting, very few comic stories take place in Montana, and it was just different enough to pique my interest. Keven loved the idea, and we went from there.
Daniel Hillyard is joining you on art for this series, and I really enjoy the "rough" feel to his pencils. How did he get involved with this project?
I can't tell you how excited I am to have Daniel on this book. When Keven first approached me about this series, I immediately thought of Daniel. I had fallen in love with Daniel's work on Gale Anne Hurd's and Peter Calloway's "Anti" book (also from 12-Gauge Comics), and had been hoping I'd get a chance to work with him some day. When Keven asked for artist suggestions, I begged him to get Daniel on board.
What else is coming down the line for you?
I'm working on quite a bit at the moment. I have a new graphic novel in development with Tim Odland called "Beware the Eye of Odin." In addition, 12-Gauge Comics will be putting out our 3rd "ICE" miniseries in 2015. I'm also working on Table Taffy's "Bastion's 7" and "Shadow Pirates" with Sean Galloway, and "Average Joes" with Average Joes Entertainment.
Before letting you go, I have to ask -- is there anything you can tell me about your time writing Malibu's "Ultraforce?" What was that environment like back in the heyday of the '90s?
Ah, "Ultraforce" -- my first published work. I loved working on that book. At the time, I was working on a new title for Malibu with Cully Hamner. Our editor, Hank Kanalz, called me up and asked if I could help get "Ultraforce" back on schedule. I loved the book, so of course I agreed. The book Cully and I were working on never came out, but at least I could say I got to work for Malibu. Plus, I made a good friend in Hank during that time. We're still friends to this day.
The '90s are a strange time to look back on. Those were the days of putting out whatever idea crossed your mind and making money doing it. We all thought comics had finally come into their own and that sales of millions of copies every month would last forever. Wow, were we ever wrong. The bust did hurt the industry as a whole, but now you typically have creators creating comics because they love comics. That's the way it should be.
"ICE: Critical Mass" #1 is in stores now. "ICE: Critical Mass" #2 hits stores December 3.