Comic imagines world of top secret military unit
August 16th, 2012
01:00 AM ET

Comic imagines world of top secret military unit

By Henry Hanks

Early this year, comic book writer Nathan Edmondson set out to tell fictional stories based on the super-secret U.S. government paramilitary organization once named the Intelligence Support Activity (or ISA).

But it turns out what Edmonson created from his wildest imaginations hues pretty close to reality about the little known, seldom discussed agency.

His stories focused on a specialized subset of the organization that was a "technologically advanced, mixed-gender team of first responders with backgrounds in a variety of military and spy disciplines."

In reality, the ISA has been around since the 1970s. Originally hidden from the Pentagon and Congress, its existence has never publicly or officially been acknowledged.

"The ISA is a secret kept from the Army, it's even a secret kept from itself," said Edmondson. "If you're in the ISA, you may not know who else is in it. It's the military equivalent of telling a story about aliens in space. You're reaching out for that great mystery, that void to see what you can pull out of it."

The mystery around the group alone seemed like a natural for storytelling. Then a funny thing happened as Edmondson started publishing the Image Comics title: He got a lot of things right.

"There were parts of this group that we crafted as fiction that we later found out were not as fictional as we thought," the writer told CNN.

Once Edmondson discovered this, he made a point to have the right people consulting on every issue.

He reached out to a few contacts from his days having worked in Washington, as well as the U.S. Army Entertainment Liaison office.

"We're [often] working with some special ops group, whether it's Green Berets or PSYOPS Delta. We don't let an issue go by without consulting people to see how we can make the issue richer in terms of special ops activity."

The most recent issue, "The Activity" #7, had the participation of Navy SEALs, who co-plotted a major scene in the story.

"What happens in this particular scene has a domino effect on the rest of this book," he said.

"We contacted some rather elite Navy SEALs - in fact, we can't say with whom we consulted. We were instructed not to," he said. "We gave them our scenario and asked how we would go about doing it. They gave us a step by step of how they would execute this mission, down to things they would say or not say. The first 10 pages goes into what the SEALs told us, down to gear and weaponry too."

If you haven't heard about the ISA, that's by design, as Edmondson pointed out when describing how he researched this idea for a comic book.

"I'd been reading a lot about Delta Force or as they're more commonly referred to, 'The Unit' [the subjects of a recent CBS TV series]. In the course of reading about them I discovered some things about the ISA – their name changes every year to protect them. They are commonly known as Orange, the counter-terrorism of Delta Force - they wanted a group in the army who could do all these things. You can go a lot of places with that," Edmondson said, talking about possible story ideas.

Edmondson said that many of his ideas come out of conversations he has with those involved in various special ops areas. He has also done various panels at conventions with members of the special warfare community.

Comic books and the military have been connected going back to troops reading them in World War II to Marvel Comics' recent special issues for service members. Edmondson's writing on this and other books such as "Dancer" has gained him a following in the comics world, but it goes beyond that with "Activity."

"We have an e-mail account set up into which we receive e-mails from soldiers all over who appreciate the accuracy and attention to detail. Officially working with the military on this is tricky as they cannot to this day acknowledge the existence of the ISA, but we have received much support in general regarding simply our respectfulness of the armed forces."

Edmondson will also be visiting a few military bases in the near future.

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Filed under: Military • Pop Culture
soundoff (31 Responses)
  1. Brent

    This book as been top notch from the get go. Mitch Gerads has really done a fantastic job on the art duties. It's been really cool to see his process on how he makes everything as real as possible when it comes to the situations and gear Team Omaha gets into. If you are interested he's on Twitter at @MitchGerads.

    August 27, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Reply
  2. Marc Lombardi

    Fans of Edmondson's THE ACTIVITY should also check out some of his other comics, such as WHO IS JAKE ELLIS? and the upcoming WHERE IS JAKE ELLIS? DANCER (as mentioned in the article) is another wonderful comic and definitely recommended. THE ACTIVITY reminds me a lot of what I loved about another espionage comic book called QUEEN & COUNTRY, so for a British spin you should check that out as well. THE ACTIVITY is a great comic and Edmondson is definitely one of the brightest rising stars in the comic book community.

    August 27, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Reply
    • Gordy G

      Are these also written with the aid of soldiers/intel people?

      August 27, 2012 at 4:00 pm | Reply
  3. ColonelProp

    I really enjoyed The Activity after a great review over at I believe it is an awesome way to give just a smidgeon of insight into some very necessary groups who protect our freedoms and ask only quiet respect in return.
    A very well done by the authors and I look forward to many more – a Sgt. Rock for the 21st Century. Great research and very cool graphics!!!

    August 27, 2012 at 9:34 am | Reply
  4. Chris Martin

    Good to see the book gaining some wider recognition. I remember when I came across the initial announcement of the series I was a bit shocked that a comicbook writer was even aware of the unit's existence let alone attempting to tackle this subject matter. But on further consideration it made perfect sense - the unit remains secretive and mysterious enough to provide a ton of room for Edmondson and Gerads to tell fictional stories that feel close enough to what might be the reality to remain interesting but at the same time not so dead-on as to cause any significant OPSEC concerns or feel overly predictable. Good stuff.

    August 26, 2012 at 4:24 pm | Reply
  5. Gordy G

    The "ISA" and those code names are real (while some are out of date). CNN has no right to take them down, but whoever posted them has information they should not have or should not be sharing.

    As for SEALs sharing things with comic writers: it all depends on what. Obama leaked information that arguably jeopardized Operational Security and the safety of downrange operators/agents. Whether or not this book does that I don't know, but if it's just some tactics, some basic info it's not a major issue.

    However it is about time that the military (not some political PAC, mind you) started dealing more ruthlessly with those soldiers or former soldiers who are being cavalier with secret information.

    August 24, 2012 at 7:40 am | Reply
    • reflexivefire

      I agree Gordy, it has really gotten out of hand. I published an article just today about this topic:

      August 24, 2012 at 9:13 am | Reply
      • Gordy G

        Interesting. The politicization of these missions is a problem, but so is the response from the soldiers.

        August 24, 2012 at 9:16 am |
  6. ----q--q-

    Certain comments to this thread should be removed ASAP.

    August 17, 2012 at 4:17 am | Reply
    • eyetweaks

      Unless they benefit the Killer in chief?

      August 17, 2012 at 4:08 pm | Reply
  7. 66th Strategic Command & Operations Unit.

    The existence of a elite military unit should not be any concern to you if you are not military cause the general public is good at bring things to light that don't effect them but just feed their need to want to know.

    August 17, 2012 at 12:57 am | Reply
    • Gordy G

      Can you explain your point further? Are you saying that the public should leave well enough alone, that it's not the business of the taxpayer to inquire into its military? Isn't it the military's job to protect the secrets, not the citizen's job to not investigate them?

      August 24, 2012 at 9:17 am | Reply
  8. mariya simpson

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    August 17, 2012 at 12:39 am | Reply
  9. cybercmdr

    OK, so it is good if the SEALs pass on their tactics to a comic book writer, but if Obama talks about it, that's a breach of national security?

    August 16, 2012 at 10:14 pm | Reply
  10. Sodomite

    I miss Sgt. Rock and Sgt. Fury.

    August 16, 2012 at 4:55 pm | Reply
    • eyetweaks

      Sad Sac he was the real heroe

      August 17, 2012 at 4:09 pm | Reply
  11. Joe

    TF Red – Ranger Regiment
    TF Orange – ISA aka grey fox aka centra spike etc.
    TF Grey – AF special ops
    TF Black – SOAR
    TF Blue – Dev Group
    TF Green – CAG aka SFOD – D aka delta
    TF Yellow – logistics dudes aka black army of northern virginia

    pretty sure there are more...there is a book full of military code words...cant remeber the author but it came out in 2005 or 2006.

    August 16, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Reply
    • ___

      are you serious? take this down.

      August 16, 2012 at 5:24 pm | Reply
      • ed gein


        August 16, 2012 at 8:01 pm |
      • eyetweaks

        Why if the world had these thirty years ago who cares now?

        August 17, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
      • Gordy G

        Can you point to where this was public 30 years ago?

        August 27, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
    • Eric

      Which TF is GI Joe part of? You seriously believe that secret military units have cool codenames and super-secret-squirrel patches and stuff?

      August 16, 2012 at 11:13 pm | Reply
      • JD McNugent

        and you dont?

        August 17, 2012 at 11:29 am |
    • Ben

      I believe TF Green is also an airport in Rhode Island.

      August 17, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Reply
  12. Fred

    The correct word he should have used in the second sentence is not "hues," it is "hews."
    Just goes to show you that spellcheck does not always give you the right word for the right situation.

    August 16, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Reply
  13. Bobs

    This stuff really exists and we should pay more attention to those who explain it to us in comic form.

    August 16, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Reply
    • ed gein

      If you're to rely on getting the "truth" from comic books, then you'll stay stupid for the rest of your life and deservedly so.

      August 16, 2012 at 8:03 pm | Reply
      • eyetweaks

        Lots of stuff dreamed up in comic books Ed Gein are now fact so there....

        August 17, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
  14. Costa

    Edmonson's an amazing writer and a great researchers, the little things that pop up in his writing are what make it all the more worth it. So stoked to see him getting more and more attention for his work!

    August 16, 2012 at 11:04 am | Reply

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