What are you willing to sacrifice for your country?
Maybe some of your free time?
How about all of it…plus the rest of your life?
That's what the men and women of "Task Force 1" are willing to give up - everything. This new book from Jim Valentino's Shadowline takes place a generation after 9/11 in a world paralyzed by terrorist sects of every persuasion: from armed religious fundamentalists to militaristic environmentalists.
General Abigail Rhodes has the thankless job of heading up the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and gives the order for "Operation: Damocles" to take place. This top-secret project results in a unit of super soldiers, codenamed Task Force 1 (hence, the book's title). Each of them is given deadly abilities for combating terror, but plagued by a fact that the government neglected to tell them - if the terrorists don't kill them, their new bodies will.
The comic is written by Jeffery Stevenson from an idea by Jim Valentino, with art by former "ShadowHawk" penciller Carlos Rodriguez. Published by Image Comics, the book will be in stores this July. Since we couldn't wait that long to find out more though, CBR News contacted Valentino and Stevenson to get the details on these doomed heroes.
Guys, thanks for talking with CBR today. Introduce us to who makes up Task Force 1 is and why they're needed?
Jim Valentino: Mass leads the team. He can increase his molecular density, giving him great size, strength, and near-invulnerability, but as he uses this power, the strain on his heart is becoming too much.
Rush can run at subsonic speeds, but because of her powers, she's trapped in a bodysuit that holds her molecular structure together - if she takes it off, she dies.
Blast wears huge gauntlets that create concussive blasts, but they've fused themselves to his hands, making him a hostage in a world where he can't touch anyone or anything without destroying it.
Alpha wears a helmet that increases her mental powers, giving her telepathy, super-intelligence, and telekinesis. Unfortunately, the human brain wasn't made for that purpose, and the strain is giving her progressive migraines that will eventually stop with a brain aneurism.
Klone was transplanted into a prototype android body made of an indestructible alloy. It makes him stronger and possibly immortal, but it also makes him a living action figure who craves the sensual world but can no longer experience it.
Jeffrey Stevenson: Why are they needed? Well, the story would be pretty boring if nobody needed them to deal with terrorist threats. We'd have to change the title to "Desk Force 1."
Well, I suppose that's true! Jim, how long have you had this idea gestating in your head?
JV: Not very long, really. It was just a matter of the initial inspiration - which, by the way, was the "T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents" and not "Strikeforce Morituri" (which I've never read) - and updating them. Not just forty years after their original publication, but twenty years from now. What would the world situation be like? What is the logical outcome of the war in Iraq, Homeland Security, etc? Once I started thinking along those paths, the concept came together quite quickly.
The team's roster is comprised of a fairly tragic group. Are there lighter moments too? Or is this pretty much a "down and dirty" book?
JS: There are lighter moments. In a book like this, you need a little contrast every now and then to help build up the characters and make the dark side of things even darker.
How does General Abigail Rhodes work with and relate to heroes such as these? Or is she someone who tries not to get involved emotionally?
JS: The General will maintain a certain emotional detachment from our heroes. She's the head honcho in charge, and they're weapons in her arsenal. That's how she views the relationship, and there's really no point (to her, at least) of getting attached.
Jim, how did Jeffery get involved with the book? In the book's solicitations, it calls him a "newcomer." How was he discovered?
JV: Well, I'll let Jeff give you his credits himself. Actually, it was Kris Simon that introduced me to Jeff. I knew from conversations with him that he was ex-military and from a military family, which was perfect for this book, as I needed it to be as authentic as possible.
JS: Yep, Kris gets the credit here for discovering me. We met at Wizard World Chicago a couple years back and kept in touch with the occasional email. When I met her again in San Diego in 2005, she introduced me to Jim and invited me to sit and chat with them one night. After they found out I had a military background, they gave me a shot at writing the book.
And yeah, I'm fairly new blood. My biggest comic project to date has been co-writer on the "BloodRayne: Skies Afire" one-shot. Prior to that, I worked on another game-to-comic-adaptation project for Studio ICE that ran into licensing issues outside of their control; I self-published a book about militant faer-folk in 3-foot tall steampunk mecha; I had a dozen or so published comic short stories; and I worked for over two years (and am still working) on a couple weekly webcomics for one of Kevin Smith's sites.
Carlos Rodriguez is handling the art chores on this book. As the artist for "ShadowHawk," it seems like he'll be a good fit.
JV: He is. He knocks every single page right out of the ballpark. And we're shooting directly from his pencils, so none of the nuances are lost. You'll never find a bigger supporter of Carlos than me. Well, except for maybe Kris and Jeff. Much more so than "ShadowHawk," this is the book he was born to draw! And it shows on every page.
JS: It does show. Detailed backgrounds, military gear and vehicles, and all the emotional nuances needed to bring these characters to life. He just rips through everything this book calls for and makes it look easy.
Jim, how much of the story did you have completed? Did you two bat around ideas? What was the process like?
JV: What I did was give Jeff the basic concept - "This is who they are, this is the direction I want the book to take" - and then got the hell out of his way. Jeff totally understood the concept right from the get-go. And this could be the single easiest book Kris or I have ever edited, because he just nails it every time. Pacing, dialogue, plotting - everything is just spot-on first time through.
JS: If you could see me right now, I'm blushing. There was a little more than that at the beginning when I was asking Jim a lot of questions as a sanity-check to make sure I was on the right path. And Jim did provide a lot of good material to work with in his concept. Pretty much everything you see in this book was built up from his initial ideas.
Is this an ongoing series?
JS: Both Carlos and I would love for this book to be ongoing, but that's mostly in the hands of the retailers and the readers. As long as sales support the book, there will be a new issue on the shelves month after month (the team on this book is full of deadline junkies), and we'll put everything we have into making sure readers get a good book.
Talk to us about the story in the first arc. What's it about? And what is the overall mission of the team - fighting terrorists? Or something more grand?
JS: The first story arc is about Task Force 1 finally seeing action after years on the bench, and dealing with a dictator threatening the world with an arsenal of stealth-capable nukes. A neighboring country has already bit the big mushroom cloud, and two top special ops teams sent to resolve the issue had their body parts mailed to the press all around the world. That's when Task Force 1 gets the call.
The original purpose of the team wasn't just to fight terrorists - it was to fight fire with fire, terror with terror. They were training to become the terrorists' bogeyman.
What can you say about "Operation: Damocles?"
JS: It's an "off the books" government project initiated in response to a major terrorist action known as the "Great Lakes Incident." The project's goal was to turn soldiers into weapons; (to become) one man-battalions to allow a powerful response to terrorist threats no matter how thin the armed forces might be in an area.
"Terrorist" is in intriguing word in post-9/11 times. Without getting political on you, how does the book define terrorists? Does the book use real-life events as a launching pad to tell its stories?
JS: Well, we won't really be able to springboard off real-life events since this story takes place decades into the future and feeds off the legacy of current world conditions and politics. Once the genie's been let out of the bottle and shows the U.S. of A. that they can get their nose bloodied, more and more factions of all varieties sprang up to use terror as a tool to further their political, economic, or ideological agendas. This is the fictional build-up that provokes the need for a response team like Task Force 1 in this future.
What excites you most about this book?
JS: Seeing page after page of the book constantly rolling in is pretty exciting - Carlos, Joel, and Jason are putting a remarkable amount of skill and effort into this book. But the most exciting part for me, as a writer, is exploring the psyche of a soldier and pushing the patriotism of career military folks to the limits. They already lead a stressful life, and when you mix advanced yet buggy technology along with highly covert missions, you get a team serving their country that can never truly be heroes...no parades, no magazine articles praising them, no chance to be role models, and no opportunity to go out in public ever again.
Are there any other upcoming projects either of you'd like to mention before we finish up?
JV: We have our first black and white comic debuting in September - a three issue mini called "Sam Noir: Samurai Detective." Take gumshoe narrative, mix in Bushido code and add in quirky humor and you've got Sam Noir. Then in October will be "Bomb Queen II: Queen of Hearts," also a three issue mini.
JS: Aside from "Task Force 1," nothing else in comics that's anywhere close to announcing just yet. I do have a satire advice column kicking off on Mondays over at Pop Syndicate later this month that some people might enjoy.