THE UNADAPTED: Fear Agent

Posted: January 29, 2015 in Andrew, Dark Horse, Fear Agent, Guest Column, Image, Walking Dead
**This edition of The Unadapted was written by Andrew Prenger, former comic-book monger and future best-selling novelist. Here’s a look at a unique science-fiction series that needs some big (or small) screen love.**

When I was a retailer in a comic store I often tried to sell this by describing it as “Han Solo the comic book.” That does a disservice to the overall story, but was generally a nice elevator description to get customers interested. In reality the story of Fear Agent is much more complex than that. Created by Rick Remender and Tony Moore in 2005 for Image Comics, the book is about Heath Huston who is initially introduced as a space-traveling exterminator. His job is to fly around to planets and get rid of unwanted alien infestations. What starts out as a simple eradication job on a backwater planet spins out to a sprawling space epic.

Country fried space bad-ass.

Remender always came off to me as a kitchen sink writer. As in, if he was on a book he was going to throw every idea he’s ever had into it. There is no holding onto an idea and saving it for later. In some cases I don’t think landings quite stick (I’ve never been a fan of his “Franken-Castle” run in Punisher), but it tends to work out well for him on other stories.

Fear Agent is every weird-ass science fiction idea thrown together. It features time travel, cloning, alternate realities, bizarre alien creatures, murderous robots, etc. It plays up more the fiction than the science in that never stops to ponder whether something could happen and there are no long treatises on how a technology could exist. This keeps the pace up and allows the reader to enjoy the action without bogging things down.

They don’t make ’em like they used to.

Heathrow Huston is the strong character at the core of this odd universe that keeps all of the story-beats working. When the reader is first introduced to him he is simply an exterminator. He’s a slobbish Southerner flying around space arguing with his sentient spaceship, Annie. He takes work to pay for his booze between jobs. Through happenstance in a refueling station Heath finds himself blasted back in time, discovering the origin of one of the universe’s greatest threats. Heath is a character with a lot more depth than initially presented. He’s fun, loves Mark Twain and seems like the stereotypical Texan hero. The longer the series goes on the reader gets to see his deeper levels. After the first two story-arcs the audience gets the full story on how Heath went from being a trucker and family man to cruising around space, killing aliens. It is a tragic tale of Earth being invaded by two different alien races and subsequently used as a battlefield.

This history informs everyone around Heath as well. All the secondary characters, like his ex-wife Charlotte and his current lover Mara, have their own stories rooted in the same tragic tale. How they handle it and how it affected them is explored nicely. Fear Agent explores the idea of a man doing something monstrous and begrudgingly seeking redemption for his actions. The ending is one of the best I’ve read in comics, resolving all the problems without giving the character an easy out.

Behold! Science!

Part of the fun of the series is definitely the art and design. The bulk of the penciling was handled by Tony Moore and Jerome Opena. They alternated story-arcs and had very compatible styles. There was an obvious choice to keep things vaguely retro. Heath Huston’s suit is classic fifties sci-fi with the bubble head and giant jetpack. He flies around in a rocket ship with stylish fins and he takes out the giant-brain looking aliens with a ray gun that looked outdated when Star Wars came out in 1977.

Ideally, with all this in mind, I think this would be a good two-film franchise. There is too much information to be crammed successfully into one movie. That’s not to say it couldn’t be told in a trilogy, but I think it would be better served keeping it shorter. It’s fun, it’s punchy. There is a definite emotional hook, but there is also spectacle to it. A big budget would be necessary to believably portray the outrageous aliens which populate the series. With the huge success of Guardians of the Galaxy this would be a good movie to make as sort-of a companion to it. There is an audience for comedy/sci-fi movies and I feel this could help fill that need.

Alternately, it could also work well on television. There are quite a few emotional beats which would be served better with more build-up to them. The comic also had fill-ins every so often called “Tales of the Fear Agent” that served as one-shot stories which could be used for episodes covering the ground between the time Heath left a ravaged Earth to when the story starts. It would also be to their strength to imitate Arrow in some ways. Littering in flashbacks to a younger Heath fighting the war on Earth, leading up to his monstrous decision, while concurrently showing him trying to make it up would be a way to mine emotional drama. The two plots coming together in a series/season finale would be excellent.

Fear Agent Vol. -1

I’ve spent a lot of time pondering who would be ideal to play Heath Huston in a movie version of Fear Agent. Ironically my mind keeps dragging up Andrew Lincoln who plays Rick Grimes on The Walking Dead. I think the connection is that comic book Rick was also created by Fear Agent artist Tony Moore, so that he and Huston both resemble each other stylistically. Ultimately I think Gerard Butler could pull it off if he is able to put on a realistic Texan accent. This would be more Rocknrolla Butler than 300. Heath is a muscular guy, but not completely ripped. In Rocknrolla Butler’s character (named, One Two) was a good combination of friendly and ass-kicker.

The story in Fear Agent has concluded, it’s easily available in trade paperback. There are six volumes proper collecting the main story and one extra volume of the aforementioned “Tales of the Fear Agent” stories. Alternately Dark Horse has published the entire series in two over-sized hardcovers which look very nice. I like to think that even though the main story is definitively concluded, were a movie to come out and be a hit then Remember, Moore and Opena could come out with a “lost” story or maybe just a mini-series of Tales From the Fear Agent. That would be fun.

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