IO Interactive's long-running video game series The Hitman is returning to comic books for a new 'Year One' style prequel for both Agent 47 and his handler, Diana Burnwood. Scheduled to begin this October from Dynamite Entertainment, Agent 47: Birth of the Hitman will be written by Christopher Sebela and drawn by Jonathan Lau.
Scheduled to debut October 11, Agent 47: Birth of a Hitman will follow the titular assassin in his early hears - and with a childhood friend, 6.
And yes, the Shadow Client is involved as well.
Newsarama spoke with Sebela, who recently graduated from DC's Writers Workshop program, to discuss this series, the art of killing, and how much time he spent playing video games for 'research.'
Newsarama: Chris, put this in comic book terms for us - is this Hitman "Year One"?
Christopher Sebela: For lack of a better analogy, yes. It’s not the story of how Agent 47 wandered into a life full of killing people, but it’s how he went from an unwilling participant to an almost fanatic. He’s someone who dedicates himself wholly to this one thing, this one pursuit, and the rest of his life is barren. But he moved from his life being kept as a willing prisoner to being an almost mythical boogeyman of assassination, employed by a company devoted solely to murder. How do you make that move, buy into a philosophy you once found anathema and learn to love it?
Nrama: This begins with Agent 47 as a young adult. What's his situation?
Sebela: Well, technically we start with him in his 20s, but we jump around a lot in his life. When we meet him, Agent 47 is part of the Institute of Human Betterment, a place just as menacing as it sounds. He was raised there, along with other members of his program, all of them tweaked by chemical and psychological means to be the ideal peak humans. Because that’s what you need in a murderer. All these subjects, like 47, are weapons that the Institute lends out to the shadowy organization behind it - Providence - to take care of problems they’re having.
Nrama: What is 47 like at this time?
Sebela: Even though he’s grown up all around death, 47 is kind of a sensitive soul. He’s trying to make peace with this world he lives in where he goes from quiet introspection to controlled detonations and using razor wire to strangle a scientist to death. There’s a big gulf between what the Institute and Providence want him to be and who he actually is.
Nrama: And who is 6?
Sebela: 6 is, for 47, is a friend that's like a brother. They’re both members of the same program at the Institute and were both raised there at the same time, so they bonded to one another. 6 is sort of who 47 would want to be, he approaches all this as businesslike and efficient as the Institute would like. He goes, kills whoever needs killing and comes back, eager to go out again. He’s also the only true sounding board that 47 has. Everyone else in the Institute is suspect, but 6 has down a lot of rough road with 47 and so their bond is intensely strong, because it’s the only thing the two of them have in this life.
Nrama: The third party in this is Diana Burnwood - who is she in relation to Agent 47 and all this?
Sebela: Diana is, in modern-day Hitman, Agent 47’s handler at the organization they both work for, ICA. She’s the only person who deals with 47 and she’s the one who picks what jobs they take on. So she’s as close to a conscience as 47 has anymore. But Diana comes at all this from a unique perspective. Her parents were killed in front of her in a contracted kill, so she knows what this business is like from both sides. What we’re doing is tracking her journey between the 14-year-old looking for vengeance and the grown woman doing a job exacting other peoples’ revenge.
Nrama: How much of the games have you been replaying in preparation for this?
Sebela: I’ve played all of Season One of the new Hitman game. Well, playing might be a misnomer, it’s mostly replaying boards because I get antsy and while a real Agent 47 would maybe hold off on choking out a bodyguard in plain sight, I apparently have no such reservations. So, lots of my games turn into huge firefights where all I have is a silenced pistol and some coins. I’ve been learning to play it properly and trying to stick with it, to get myself in that 47 headspace? I’ve logged quite a few hours, probably because it’s easy to allow yourself to play video games when you can call it homework for your job.
Nrama: People assume the story will be based on the game, but are there any visual or storytelling queues you hope to adapt for the comic book?
Sebela: Definitely. One thing I wanted to play with was this aspect Agent 47 has of Heightened Senses. In the game, when you turn it on, the sound dampens, the screen becomes a bluish haze and you can see glowing enemies through walls, things and doors of interest are highlighted, including things that can used for killing purposes. In the games, it is very focused on this one thing, but I wanted to tap into it before 47 had the kind of control of himself he has now, so using that extra ability to kind of remove himself from the world around him, and seeing where it takes him, especially into his memories, which are always kind of teeming at the surface.
Nrama: Jonathan Lau describes himself as a deep fan of the Hitman games - are you taking advantage of that in what you ask for with the scripts?
Sebela: Jonathan is great, so I’m definitely taking advantage of his skills in general and knowing whatever I come up with, he’ll be able to handle it no problem. But knowing that he loves the character and the games, it takes some burden off of me. It gives us a bit of a shorthand. I can refer to a load screen on the new game as a bit of reference and he’ll know what I mean. We’re still figuring each other out and getting comfortable with how we both approach this material and work in general, but he’s the perfect co-conspirator on a book like this.
Nrama: Given these ties to Agent 47's past, any chance we could see the Shadow Client pop up here?
Sebela: Yes. That will definitely be happening, but we’re also working in tandem with the writers and developers on the next season of the game, so we’re trying to work things out to make sure no one steps on anyone else’s toes. It’s a dance and we’ve never danced together. Anyhow, that’s a really long way of saying “Yes.” I think.
Nrama: Overall, what are your big goals for Agent 47: Birth of A Hitman?
Sebela: Primarily what drew me in is it felt like a giant challenge to try and write a real person out of what Agent 47 is in the games. He’s a cipher, he can be anyone, do anything, except be much of a human being. But even the most screwed up and locked away of us all is still human, or they were. I wanted to see if I was up for it. Plus, once I keyed in on Diana Burnwood as a kind of parallel to 47, that was when I started to get excited. Both of their stories, how they evolve from their starting points, that’s what I love the most. And coming up with really ornate assassination methods as a part of my job is like a really messed-up dream come true.