OBJECTIVE FIVE: Kevin Hoffer and Luke Lizalde (Mania.com)

By:Jeff Peters
Date: Wednesday, November 22, 2000

Does your stomach hurt? What about your back or head? Perhaps you've simply got a cold or the flu. Maybe its more serious. Maybe you're suffering from a Viral Hemorrhagic Fever your whacked-out neighbor created in his basement. Or maybe its because you just can't wait for the next issue of Objective Five, one of the new ongoing series from the revamped Image Comics.

Objective Five comes from the newly formed Magic Beans studio and is the brainchild of two newcomers: writer Kevin Hoffer and penciler Luke Lizalde, as well as their mentor Glenn Kaino (Cyberforce, Shadowhawk) and two epidemiological consultants from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), John Patrick Abellera and Heath Holmes. Epidemiological consultants? It all makes sense when you consider that Objective Five combines real-life science with traditional superhero fantasy. The creators are exploring what President Clinton recently cited as one of the most dangerous threats in the world today: biological warfare. It's a serious topic, by they insist they're not trying to frighten readers.

'It's out there and it's real,' says Hoffer, 'It's not a scare tactic, but when you've got a guy in Irvine, Calif., arrested for having Anthrax in his house, it makes you think. It's the killer you can't see. The more people know, the more protection they'll have. I know Luke is washing his hands a lot more since we started doing our research!'

The idea of focusing on biological warfare originated with the duo's mentor, Kaino. 'He got the project rolling by introducing us to John and Heath,' explains Hoffer. 'They answered our initial research questions and are keeping us up to date on epidemiological trends. Glenn basically put all the pieces together.'

In fact, it was Kaino, who was also their teacher at the University of Southern California (USC), who helped them launch their professional comics careers. 'Luke and I did three projects for his class,' says Hoffer, 'and Glenn saw we had the drive and desire to make something happen in the world of comics. So he proposed that we open a studio. Then, at the San Diego Comic-Con in 1999, Glenn met with [Image publisher] Jim Valentino, who he knew from working at Image, and they hammered out the details. Glenn pulled in old markers with Jim to get the title off the ground. Jim said they were looking for strong female characters, who were sexy because of their strength and independence, not just because of their breasts. Women who don't need to go to a man to get a job done.'

Origin Story

Objective Five chronicles the experiences of four people accidentally subjected to a super-soldier viral test while heading out to a rave in the desert. The test was being conducted by an unknown laboratory and alters their DNA, endowing them with meta-human abilities. There are the two token babes, Alexis and Lark, who develop the ability to manipulate electrical fields and telepathic/psionic powers, respectively. They have the added twist of being mother and daughter, with the daughter Lark actually being the more mature of the two. To top it off, there's Lark's on again-off again boyfriend DJ, who develops super speed, and his rich, arrogant pal, Simon Cox.

Following their exposure, Alexis, Lark and DJ are taken in by Vectorshort for Viral Emergency Control, Tactical, Operations and Response, which represents the CDC's four main objectivesto the CDC labs in Atlanta, Ga. Once there, the trio are asked to become a fifth objective: a covert team created to seek and destroy epidemiological trends. Simon, meanwhile, is rescued by his father's multi-billion dollar company, Cox Corporation, which is strangely prepared to handle this emergency. After a bout of training in issues #1 and #2, Alexis, Lark and DJ headed out for their first mission to stop a bio-terrorist in issue #3.

The first two issues made it onto Diamond's top two hundred sales list, not necessarily a bad debut position for an unknown series from unknown creators. But Hoffer and Lizalde hope to improve upon that as the book finds its niche in the marketplace. 'It's a risk to start something from nothing [and] take a gamble,' says Hoffer. 'That's why we named the new studio Magic Beans. I mean, [in the fairy tale], here's a guy who trades the family cow for a handful of magic beans, and he ends up killing the giant, getting the golden goose and winning everything! We want that association with taking risks, that something magical is growing out of our studio. We want to be known for doing cool stuff.'

Viral Growth

While Image is in no hurry to trade away their Top Cow, the Magic Beans team is gaining confidence in that magic. Being fans themselves, they're determined to keep the book on schedule and arriving in stores on time. In doing so, they're already beginning to get the rhythm of producing monthly comics. Lizalde, for one, is committed to a page-a-day work ethic, a goal he works on with assistance from Crimelab artist Allen Martinez.

'I learned it at USC in art school, where I met Kevin and we started putting together comic books for Glenn's class' says Lizalde, 'In order to get all my homework done and still keep up with our schedule, I had to do a page a day. On the first issues [of Objective Five], I was not as clean, not as sure doing the pencils. Danny [Miki of Spawn] was really helping out ink wise; he really draws with ink.

'Now I'm starting to find my own style and be more confident about the work. I've gotten much tighter, adding more detailnot as loose. I still leave enough leeway for Danny and Allen, but issues #4 and #5 are a lot better. We've got a healthy competition going now. They're trying to keep up with me, and I'm trying to stay a full issue ahead of them.'

Future Diagnosis

Objective Five is part of the newly re-imaged Imagehome to such currently hot titles as Powers and Red Starwhich is helping give the series momentum. And while Kaino is moving on to other projects, taking more of a consultants role, it's giving the duo freedom to fly or fail on their own. Hoffer and Lizalde are excited by the challenge, and what they have in store for the series.

'After the first story arc concludes in [today's] issue #4, when the Objective Five team finds out what sort of DNA change has affected Simon, things will begin to heat up,' says Lizalde. 'Simon was taking antibiotics when he was exposed to the super-soldier virus, so he has more complications. As the team is searching for clues as to where the virus came from, Simon shows up to remove all traces of evidence that might incriminate the Cox Corporation [and] they have their 'final faceoff.''

Part of being on the Image team means sharing the company's vast talent pool. Issue #5 will feature a new cover by Tomb Raider penciler and fellow Image artist Andy Park. Dynamic Forces is also planning a Limited Gold Foil Edition. 'We figured issue #5 [is] our chance to really do something special with the book,' says Hoffer. 'We begin a new story arc as we start to explore the relationships between the members of the team, especially between Lark and Alexis, and the psychological journey they're taking. We'll find out who they are and what their weaknesses are, [and] that their new enhancements don't make them invincible. They'll also continue their training with another mock mission.'

The action continues in issue #6, when the team must deal with a biological outbreak in China. 'The Chinese are taking strands from the Spanish Flu and genetically engineering them to create a super-soldier virus,' explains Hoffer. 'Since they are an Imperialistic nation, they can test the virus on individuals without sanction. That storyline will extend into issue #7, where we learn that the Objective Five team's reaction to the super-soldier virus is one in a million, and they discover the dark, screwed-up version of the infection.

'After that we want to continue to keep the storylines fantastic and yet real, taking our influences from what's happening in the world, like the Ebola outbreaks in Africa. Or perhaps [the team will] go to Washington D.C., to stop a terrorist bomb threat.'

The duo's ideas don't stop there, either. Beyond the comic itself, plans are also under way to develop a movie based on Objective Five, to promote the book with an online contest to give away original artwork, to participate in more store appearances and to elicit feedback from fans and retailers on their Objective Five Website.

'We've also brought in a new writer to help plot, Todd Samovitz, who has written a number of Spider-Man animated episodes for Fox,' says Hoffer. 'He's helping to flesh out character nuances and will eventually take over writing the series, while I run the studio full time.'