When the deadly raid against Osama Bin Laden’s fortress was announced to the world, the truth behind the secretive group responsible, Seal Team Six, was kept secret. But inside the Special Forces community there’s a group even more secret than Seal Team Six; it’s called the Intelligence Support Activity, the ISA. And for the first time, this clandestine group is getting its chance in the sun in a new comic book series from Image titled The Activity.
Created by writer Nathan Edmondson and artist Mitch Gerads, The Activity is a comic series in the vein of Tom Clancy if he was a hardcore Call of Duty gamer, mixing heavily researched military specifics with action-oriented storytelling ideal for the comics medium. A collection of the first six issues came out in June.
The Activity features a real-life, and truly secret Special Operations group in high-action, globe-trotting missions, most fiction, but some based in reality,” explains Edmondson, who also wrote the spy/noir series Who Is Jake Ellis?.”In real life the Intelligence Support Activity has a goal of being the "eyes and ears" of the Special Operations community—serving, for example, groups like Delta Force (who are more recently called "Combat Application Group."). “
“There is much speculation, however, that within the ISA is a contingent that focuses on more 'hot' engagements: snatch and grab jobs, assassinations, battlefield preparation,” explains Edmonson. “The Activity’s Team Omaha is a fictionalized representation of that idea. But whether within the ISA or not, what our team does in The Activity are things that groups in our Special Operations do, absolutely, in real life.”
Edmondson and Gerard open up the world of the ISA and The Activity in the first story-arc through the introduction of a new recruit into Team Omaha, nicknamed Fiddler. The team quickly find themselves on the road, with missions crisscrossing the globe. The book features stories about current conflict zones without pulling any punches or making up fictionalized nations.
“We don't shy from anything in this book,” Edmondson points out. “We use conflict zones and military issues that are real and we hope that doing so sparks the reader into research and discussion. Also, it's great intrigue for the reader when the stories in the book seem to echo what is between the lines in many TV and internet news reports.”
The comics medium has a long history of military-themed stories over the years from Marvel’s Nick Fury & The Howling Commandos to DC’s Sgt. Rock and the toy franchise-turned-comics-hit G.I. Joe. But The Activity has its sights set on something different than those title’s targets.
“The Activity is a very different approach to the military. While there have been a few true-to-life military series and graphic novels, this is the only mainstream book that I'm aware of in comics that represents the military as realistically as we have done and are doing,” says Edmondson. “We take great strides to do so. In addition to immense amounts of reading—both articles online and current and historical books—we have many advisors who are former or current military, and other folks who have been immensely helpful in our research, for example Kevin Maurer, a reporter who has embedded with Special Forces groups in Afghanistan and who co-wrote the book No Way Out.”
In addition to talking to reporters, Edmondson reached out to the men and women who’ve served in the SpecOps community to get accuracy never-before-achieved in comics. Retired Staff Sergeant Jack Murphy is one of the consultants on The Activity, and also a writer of both fiction and non-fiction about the military.
“I think it’s pretty wild that there’s a comic about the ISA,” says Murphy. “Very little is known about ISA, even within the SpecOps community. The little information that we shared while I was active duty was kept on pretty hushed tones, so when I first heard about The Activity I was taken aback.”
A couple months after The Activity was announced, Edmondson tracked down Murphy through the website the veteran operates about Special Forces news, SOFREP.com. Murphy turned from interested bystander to a close consultant for The Activity, giving insight on the technical aspects of the job as well as the other, more intangible affects.
“A lot of times it’s just little things that I provide Nathan,” says Murphy. “He’s been pretty spot-on with most of the larger things, but I’ve been able to help in small things like how soldiers talk to each other. For instance, in one script there were characters calling each other ‘Sarge;’ in the Ranger regiment, there’s no way that would fly. Things are so formal and disciplined in that regiment that you could only say ‘Sergeant.” Using a nickname would get your balls crushed.”
While Murphy and the other veterans acting as consultants for The Activity can provide some factual information regarding the military, there is a limit to what they can share and what they can’t.
“Pretty much what it boils down to is we can’t talk about anything that could contribute to undermining tactical security,” Murphy explains. “I can’t go into detail about specific tactics used in operations, like how SpecOps soldiers are trained to breach and clear a building. Some things are better left unsaid.”
In the course of researching the military for The Activity, Edmonson says he did get some surprising phone calls telling him what he should (and shouldn’t) reveal in the book.
“In a couple of phone calls with folks formerly of the intelligence and special operations communities I've been advised not to use acronyms or proper names of some of the stuff we're talking about,” reveals Edmondson. “To be clear, I don't think I've really gotten 'information I shouldn't have,' but the National Security Agency, I've been told on more than one call, monitors electronic traffic and looks for patterns. I'm sure between my research into, for example, satellite pictures of Chinese military installations, and perusing the pages of different terrorist web pages, or ordering books on ‘survival, escape and evasion’ online, I've built up quite a profile for some NSA analyst.”
The first graphic novel collection of The Activity is on shelves now and issue #8 of the periodical series is scheduled to come out on August 29