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Black Panther's Brian Stelfreeze lunges back into creator-owned comics with "the most badass American secret agent ever"

(Image credit: Brian Stelfreeze (12-Gauge Comics))

After helping Marvel Comics revitalize Black Panther ahead of the mega-successful film, artist Brian Stelfreeze is returning to create something of his own, with long-time friend Doug Wagner. That something is a new limited series called Thomas River, starring someone the artist calls "the most badass American secret agent ever."

(Image credit: Brian Stelfreeze (12-Gauge Comics))

"To me, Thomas River is the ultimate American patriot and my vision of the perfect CIA operative," Wagner tells Newsarama. "He's smart, methodical, and surgically precise. He stands for truth, honor, and fairness, and he'll do what it takes to uphold those virtues. Being raised by a mother and retired marine with high values and high expectations, he doesn't really know anything else."

In this debut book, a terrorist attack unlike anything seen since 9/11 hits the United States. Many lives are lost, and as one of the attacks is in Baltimore, it hits all too close to home for Thomas River. But before the day is over, River is called in by the President of the United States herself and charged with tracking down the people who orchestrated and carried out this heinous act. As River chases leads across the globe in his effort to bring the guilty to justice, he will discover the plot goes deeper than he could have ever imagined.

Following in the footsteps of James Bond, Jason Bourne, and John Wick, Stelfreeze and Wagner's Thomas River is like them in almost every regard - except that he's a Black man.

"When Brian came to me with the idea for Thomas River, the most intriguing word he used was 'perceptions.'," Wagner explains. "He wanted to see if we could create a story that played with the readers' perceptions and honestly, use them against themselves—to make them believe or assume one thing when the opposite was true.

"However, as we started diving in deeper, we realized we had this opportunity to really have people question their own beliefs and truths through our story," the writer continues. "What misperceptions does one have to have to be racist? What differences in perceptions make one person fight for what's right and another murder innocents to send a message? The deeper we went the more we realized politics, race, and culture were impossible to exclude. Even now, neither of us considers this as a political statement of any kind. If anything, our greatest hope is that the story encourages everyone to question what they believe just a little bit, while having a fantastic time."

Thomas River #1 variant cover (Image credit: Bengal (12-Gauge Comics))

Stelfreeze has made a name for himself in the past two decades for major changes to the status quo, such as the aforementioned 2016 Black Panther run as well as the 1995 redesign of DC's Nightwing. While the artist enjoys working for others, creator-owned work gives him " a deeper personal satisfaction." 

"Oftentimes working on established characters feels like contributing to a historical document. It's cool but you're just one of a thousand names," Stelfreeze tells Newsarama. "Creating your own stuff just has a different energy altogether. It's more of an inward journey and brings a deeper personal satisfaction."

Thomas River #1 (of 4) is scheduled to launch this November, and the duo - along with publisher 12-Gauge Comics - are taking pre-orders now on Kickstarter.

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Chris has covered comic book news for Newsarama since 2003, and has also written for USA Today, Life, Entertainment Weekly, Publisher's Weekly, Marvel Entertainment, TOKYOPOP, AdHouse Books, Cartoon Brew, Bleeding Cool, Comic Shop News, and CBR. He is the author of the book Modern: Masters Cliff Chiang, co-authored Art of Spider-Man Classic, and contributed to Dark Horse/Bedside Press' anthology Pros and (Comic) Cons. He has acted as a judge for the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, the Harvey Awards, and the Stan Lee Awards. Chris is a member of the American Library Association's Graphic Novel & Comics Round Table.