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DF Interview: Kurt Busiek & Fabian Nicieza bring readers a new high-stakes sci-fi series in ‘Free Agents’


By Byron Brewer


Salvo. Pike. Katari. Shakti. Ridge. Maraud. Chalice. They've fought every day of their existence and won a terrible victory. Now they're stranded on Earth, free agents for the first time. But when relics from their long war appear, threatening their chance at better lives, their greatest battle begins. They've fought for a million planets. Can they fight to save their own souls?


An all-new ongoing series from Image Comics! Writers Kurt Busiek (Astro City) & Fabian Nicieza (Deadpool), and artist Stephen Mooney (Half Past Danger) introduce Free Agents, a team of young veterans, survivors of a massive intergalactic war. I survived the wit, wisdom, barbs and fretters of scribes and friends Kurt Busiek & Fabian Nicieza to bring you the discussion that follows…


Byron Brewer: Kurt & Fabian, tell readers how you guys happened to get together for this new ongoing series, Free Agents. I believe it is Fabian’s first creator-owned work for Image Comics?


Fabian Nicieza: It is my first Image book and it began, as most things begin when Kurt and I work together, with a phone call from Kurt. “I have an idea for blankety-blank. Wanna do it together?” And invariably, the answer I give is always, “Sure, but I’m not that confident Blankety-Blank will make for a good logo…”


Kurt Busiek: One of these days, the world will finally see Blankety-Blank #1…


When I came up with the idea for Free Agents, it was in a strange context – a book that would spin off from a different project I’d write. And at that time, it just felt to me like it was a book that Fabian would be an ideal writer for, so I was thinking of it in those terms. And then the whole previous context collapsed, but the book idea survived (which is actually not that different from what happens to the Free Agents themselves, come to think of it), but it still felt to be like a book that’d really benefit from Fabian’s voice.


So I called him up. And he’s already told you how that went…


Byron: What was the genesis, the inspiration for your new book?


Fabian Nicieza: I’ll let Kurt answer that.


Kurt Busiek: It wasn’t a conventional genesis, I’ll tell you that. The idea first came up when I was talking to Eric Stephenson about a big “event" project that, for various reasons, never happened. But one of the repercussions of that big event thing would have been that there was this squad of superhuman soldiers – young people, but still veterans of this gigantic time war. The future they came from had been destroyed, and they were stranded on Earth, and I thought it’d be cool if they went to college, looking to find their way into a normal life in this world they’d found themselves in, free agents whose war is over. But naturally, things wouldn’t be as peaceful as they hoped.


When the event project thingie collapsed, I still liked the idea of these ex-soldiers from the future, making a life in 21st Century Earth and having adventures, so I called Eric and said, “What if, instead of being from the future, they’re from other dimensions, and instead of fighting a Crisis-like time-shattering war, they’d been fighting a dimension-shattering war that can be entirely their own backstory. The Big Event happened, but now it’s over, and we see these guys starting to pick up the pieces. We could call it Blankety-Blank.”


He said, “That sounds great, but maybe you might want to think of a different title.”


I also said, “I was thinking Fabian Nicieza could co-write it.”


Eric said, “That’s a great idea, I don’t think Fabian’s ever done anything with us.”


And here we are.


Byron: Tell me a little about this world you guys and artist Stephen Mooney are building. What sort of canvas will readers be set down in come July?


Fabian Nicieza: For lack of a better context, it’s Earth-Image, a comic book Earth where other Image superheroes can exist depending on the interest of other creators to play in the sandbox.


There is already an element of the fantastic, the alien, the mystical, etc. to Earth-Image, but for the Free Agents, it’s a bit of a pristine and slightly naïve paradise.


They have all pretty much fought in a gigantic multi-dimensional war for most of their lives. They have traversed Breach-space, been the bastion of freedom at the metaphysical gates of the Firebreak, have wielded weapons from across thousands of worlds, have had their bodies manipulated, willingly and not, to become better soldiers, so, you know, Earth is… cute.


But it’s also the first time they’ve ever had ice cream sundaes, so, there is that!


Kurt Busiek: Yeah, what Fabian said. They’re all from different worlds, different realities. Some of them are from variant versions of Earth, some from weirder places. They’re all aliens, newcomers…


…And the Earth they wind up on is the one that has the Savage Dragon and Freak Force on it, Radiant Black, guys like that. Even characters readers might not expect to be part of an Imageverse, like Superstar, the hero Stuart Immonen and I co-created a while back, are part of this world and can cross paths.


So on one level, they’re from all-new worlds that we’re going to have to learn about as they go, worlds which either don’t exist anymore or can’t be reached from here. And on the other level it’s 2024 Earth, what Jim Shooter used to call “the world outside your window.” But it’s 2024 Earth with a lot of cool characters already in it.


Byron: Without spoilers, can you introduce us to your protagonists? Salvo, Pike, Katari, Shakti, Ridge, Maraud, and Chalice?


Fabian Nicieza: The squad they were a part of, Breakpoint-10, was commanded by BARRAGE, who was lost in battle before the unit was stranded on Earth.


SALVO is the field commander, and though young, he is a calm, measured, loyal soldier. He has no clue who he is outside of his life as a soldier.


MARAUD is Salvo’s older brother, an augment who takes on a thoroughly vicious lupine form when in combat – and a barking personality to match.


KATARI is second in command, arrogant and controlled, with enhanced speed and agility and able to generate knife-like fléchettes.


PIKE is the oldest of the group, a religious figure on his home world, granted the power of “the Obelisk Order” and able to channel massive energies through his Xozier.


SHAKTI is the team’s technical engineer, able to access the electromagnetic field on any world and manipulate it through the tech around her. She’s a relaxed “party-girl” who most enjoys their new freedom on Earth.


CHALICE served for ten years as the apprentice (read: indentured servant) to the DIVINE NECROMANCER. On her world, women had the power, but men used it. She was the vessel through which to feed the Necromancer, but now that he has died, who – and what – is she without him?


And finally, RIDGE is the youngest, a boy whose species was traumatized by the biological manipulations of the big bad they were warring against, ESKANDIR THE ARGIVE. Ridge is able to terraform himself into a hulking – and very emotionally challenged – brute.


Kurt Busiek: And they’re living in a college town in New Jersey. Some of them are going to classes, some of them are drinking too much, some of them are trying to heal, and some of them wouldn’t know where to start healing, even if they had a road map and a GPS system for it.


And then it turns out that other things made it through the Breach too, and there are people on Earth who are verrrry interested in it all.


Byron: Without spoilers, can you discuss the interdimensional war the agents fought in. Will their Earth families be a part of this continuing series?


Fabian Nicieza: Eskandir the Argive is a millennia-old conqueror who would make Alexander the Great’s march across Earth seem like a shuffled two-step by comparison. He found the means to access the Breach, the space between dimensions, and uncovered an infinite number of planes to ravage.


The war has been fought for centuries – through resistance by small bands on individual worlds at first, building to a massive multi-dimensional army fighting the Argive through the Breach.


Our unit was called Breakpoint-10. Led by their grizzled veteran, Barrage, they manned one of several mobile platform stations in the Firebreak, that was poised to monitor and stop incursions made by the Argive’s forces when he sought to penetrate Breach space to traverse dimensional planes.


Kurt Busiek: And the only way to fully stop the Argive from reaching “new worlds to conquer” was literally to destroy the universes he’d already reached, cutting off his path to the wider universe. Creating inter-dimensional firebreaks that cost an unimaginable number of lives, in order to save an even larger number.


So it’s safe to say that hard choices were made, by soldiers too young to make them.


Byron: Will the “battles” the agents fight be on a physical or mental plane? I was thinking their experience in the war they fought for so long may have left scars, something akin to post-traumatic stress disorder?


Fabian Nicieza: Yes.


Kurt Busiek: Oh yeah.


Byron: Talk about the awesome art of Stephen Mooney.


Fabian Nicieza: Stephen is a great guy, a great artist and we’re very lucky he wanted to join us! Along with the wonderful color art of Triona Farrell, I think they provide the book a nice balance between high-falutin’ hi-tech superhero SF-adventure and softer, quieter human touches.


Kurt Busiek: Again, what Fabian said. Stephen is, in technical terms, a strong storyteller and a highly-skilled draftsman, but beyond that, he’s right in his wheelhouse with this inter-dimensional SF-superhero ensemble cast. He makes them come alive as characters, no matter how weird they are in concept, so they always feel like real people. Plus, he’s already working on Free Agents #7, and it’s great to have this much finished work in the can before we launch.


And yes, Triona, who I got to work with before on Namor: The King in Black, is an amazing colorist who works beautifully with Stephen.


Beyond that, to include the rest of the team, we’re working with Tyler Smith of Comicraft and our editor Kel Symons, both of whom have been working with me on the Arrowsmith and Astro City books at Image, both new material and new collections of the backlist, making sure it all looks great and that I don’t screw anything up too badly.


Byron: Fabian & Kurt, what other coming projects on which you are working, together or individually, can you tell readers about?


Fabian Nicieza: Not a lot on the comic front right now other than Free Agents, since I am currently also in the process of trying to sell my third novel and working with a potential production company to hone the TV-pilot script I wrote based on my first novel, Suburban Dicks.


Kurt Busiek: I’ve got plenty to work on: more Astro City, Arrowsmith, Autumnlands, a secret project or two. It’s all been going very slowly, because I’ve had a migraine for over three straight years now, which makes it hard to get things done. Another reason it’s great to be working with Fabes on this book! But I’ll keep scratching my way forward on all that while my doctors work to come up with something that’ll get me back to full productivity.


Dynamic Forces would like to thank Kurt Busiek & Fabian Nicieza for taking time out of their busy schedules to answer our questions. Free Agents #1 from Image Comics is slated to be on sale July 3!


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Updated: 07/18/24 @ 3:16 pm






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