By Alexander Jones
Valiant is an incredibly dynamic and interesting superhero publisher that isn’t afraid to take risk after risk with their properties. Comics Beat had the opportunity to sit down with some of the brightest minds working at the comics company including Joshua Dysart (Harbinger: Armor Hunters & Harbinger: Omegas), Robert Venditti (X-O Manowar & Armor Hunters), Matt Kindt (Unity, Rai, & The Valiant), & Valiant Editor-in-Chief Warren Simons.
Comics Beat: The Valiant Universe is in a big place of transition right now with Armor Hunters. How do each of you manage to keep the tone of your own books, while still involving the individual characters in the event space? For instance, Harbinger still feels like Harbinger with or without Armor Hunters.
Joshua Dysart: I mean I just don’t read Rob’s scripts. It allows me to really keep my tone [laughs].
Warren Simons: They’re too intimidating for him.
Robert Venditti: You will paralyze in fear if you read my scripts.
Dysart: No, I actually think it’s because we all work together. We have a central vision and editorial team. I think that we are all valued for our voices and effort that we put in towards making these titles unique.
Venditti: It was never about we’re going to do this story, and he’s going to have to be in it. We’re going to do a story in other ways that your books are going to tie in and if so, what are your ways and let’s talk about them.
Dysart: Yeah, and you know when Rob and Warren came to me, they didn’t come to me with anything that I had to do. They were like ‘these are the parameters we have to keep in places, and there are some pieces in play here that are interesting’. That helps a lot, that’s a great way to work.
Venditti: When we came up with the premise for Armor Hunters, we were curious how these books were going to react to each other.
Dysart: And, I think that the truth of the matter is that conceivably, it would be exhausting to us and it would stretch the marketplace; but we have such a tightly integrated universe right now. We could conceivably make every storyline a crossover–it would be exhausting and terrible. I think our books could easily respond to each other right now in that way without it being forced.
Simons: I think that I have tried to make sure that the guys are all in clear and close contact with each other about what’s coming up. Rob just did a great job on the Armor Hunters: Aftermath issue, and that’s going to have and that’s going to cross into what’s happening with the Unity team. We want to make sure that nobody is stepping on one another’s toes. So that as Josh said, we are preserving their voice that we hired them for instead of forcing everyone to write a certain way.
Comics Beat: The next thing that I wanted to do was try to get a question for each of you. Rob I want to know with Armor Hunters,is Aric’s empire crippling? Or, is his time with the Visigoth people is coming to an end, or perhaps, is there a status quo shift coming up for the book?
Venditti: Yeah, I mean I think we have done status quo shifts almost every four issues since the series started. It’s something we have always tried to do. As far as him being a leader of the Visigoth people, when he came back with Rome, they got hit pretty badly after that fight–this is very long form story that we started with from the first issue. He comes from a group of about 40,000 people that were traveling around Europe. As he travels back to Earth with a suit of armor in the modern day and see’s what the world has become now, I think we start to see Aric evolve as a character that bears witness to the planet in a much different way now. The transition from him as being the leader of a small group of people to him being a leader of the globe. This is a global community now. Even the idea of the globe is a concept that is completely foreign to him.
Comic Beat: Now, Warren, as Valiant’s Editor-in-Chief, have your tasks changed at all?
Simons: A little bit. The company is growing, we are expanding. We just hired another Editor, Kyle Andrukiewicz.
Simons: Everything is heading in the right direction. I am still going to continue to edit and work on the books with the guys. Josh Johnson is an Editor up there working on Archer & Armstrong and The Delinquents. Associate Editor Alejandro Arbona is working on The Death-Defying Dr. Mirage, he’s just killing it, and he’s working on a bunch of other titles as well. We’re getting bigger, but I am continuing to edit many of the books that we are putting out.
Comics Beat: We just saw Bloodshot join Unity, how is that going to affect the greater team?
Kindt: Not that much really, we just have a killing machine on the team now. He’s going to come in handy I think at the end. I thought the interesting thing about having him join the ranks, was seeing his interactions with Livewire. Especially when keeping in mind the fact that she can talk to machines. She is the only person that can really stand up to X-O. Livewire can take control of his armor as well. This is especially interesting when keeping in mind that Bloodshot is a machine. Seeing them interact is going to make the comic engaging. They have tonal similarities as well. Livewire is continuing to question his humanity. Even though they are opposite in many ways, they have a lot of similarities.
Simons: The first eleven pages of Unity #10 are absolutely awesome. It’s extraordinary stuff!
Comics Beat: One of the things that I wanted to clarify for your books….
Dysart: And for Josh, I needed some clarification!
Comics Beat: So we have Armor Hunters: Harbinger, but how does it line-up with the Harbinger title proper, and Harbinger: Omegas coming up?
Dysart: The Armor Hunters: Harbinger book is primarily for the Generation Zero kids. If anyone is caught up on Harbinger, they moved from being lifelong prisoners of rising spirit to being prisoner to Harada, Now they are free. They are the protagonists of the Armor Hunters series. Their last big moment in the sun was Harbinger Wars, our last big crossover. Omegas is predominantly concerned with and Harada not necessarily that they come into contact with each other. Harbinger #25 happened, and these two series are sort of happening at the same time after Harbinger #25.
Comics Beat: After the announcement of the Archer & Armstrong movie, how do all of you feel about the prospect of having these different Valiant characters that may be coming up on screen one day?
Simons: I think it’s great. I think that first and foremost we are a comic book publishing company; and we are really concentrating on the comics themselves and making the books as a good as possible, and not necessarily worrying about whether or not this will play into a movie, or whether or not this particular character will translate to the big screen. As you can probably confirm by reading the first 11 pages of Unity #10. [laughs] That said, I think it’s great. I think it provides us with the opportunity to expose our characters to a wider audience which is always important with a young company like ours.
Simons: You should tell them the story. It’s freaking awesome, a little bit of it.
Venditti: In the Armor Hunters X-O Manowar tie-in issues we are seeing the armor from the opponents’ perspective. We’ve gotten a lot of information about the armor recently in the X-O Manowar #0 Issues, I thought it would be a good time to focus on Aric as a character and what his origins were being a Visigoth. Which we got a sense of with X-O Manowar #1 in Rome with 402 A.D. Aric rallies armies behind him and he’s fierce, and he’s killing the Romans like crazy. What was the character like before all of that? We dealt some of that information in the earlier issues of X-O. The idea is that he is just a boy. We were all just kids at some point in our lives. We aren’t born amazing swordsman. The upcoming issue opens with a page one, panel one image of a 16 year old Aric throwing up behind a tree. Then you pull back and see that a huge battle has just taken place. All the Roman bodies are on the ground from the battle. The Visigoths are taken away to be buried, but the Romans are still there. His job, and the job of his friend Gafti, is to kill the mortally wounded Romans and put them out of their misery. Aric is struck by the violence of it, and so horrified, that he is actually throwing up. He doesn’t want his friend to see it. Like he had something bad to eat, but he doesn’t want his friend to see that he’s barfing his guts out. It’s so horrific to him because he wasn’t born as that type of warrior. The book looks at him from that perspective. How do you get tested by battle, and how does this really hard conflict reveal things about you that you didn’t really know were even there–both for him and for Gafti?
Comics Beat: What about Unity #0?
Dysart: It starts with Livewire vomiting behind a tree.
Kindt: She is upset about everything that Aric did. (The room laughs.) Unity #0 is basically the first iteration of a super team set during WW1 lots of great parallels between that team and modern Unity. It’s interesting to see what events would happen to see making a modern Unity team necessary. I think we are going to do something interesting with the beginning and the end. We are going to do some of the inside cover stuff. There is a letter between the President of the United States and the Prime Minister that grounds the story in reality and sort of shows the politics behind getting this team together. There is also the idea of how this team is being assembled within the issue. In that era, the baseball cards were like little tobacco cards. I am going to have a little portrait of them in their backgrounds. I am going to do portrait cards for each member of the Unity team. It has information on them in the background. These are going to be giveaways for the comics.
Venditti: Are you going to put on the monkey suit?
Kindt: I used to wear a sock monkey suit.
Venditti: I have known Matt for ten years at least now. I was working for Top Shelf packing boxes for years. He was one of the creators. His first book, Pistol Whip was brand new when I started working there. Over the years, I would see him all the time at conventions as he was going through doing more books. He always did World War Two -era stories back then so he had this merchandising idea back where he created a cigarette case called Red Heine cigarettes, and the little logo was like a monkey. He had a cigarette tray that he wore around his waist, and he actually wore this to Wizard World Chicago and gave it away. The cigarette cases contained artwork. His face was cut out, but the rest of his outfit was the Big Heine monkey.
Kindt: The funny thing is, is that book is a really sad World War One story.
Comics Beat: Are any of your books tying into The Valiant?
Simons: That’s a great question. I think that Armor Hunters will be a bit of a delineating point in the way that we, the universe operates with the giant aliens who basically have come down and attacked the earth. We have superheroes in our universe, so our response to what I have talked about with Matt and Josh with what the trajectory of the universe will be after that, I have seen a lot of it expanded with the Armor Hunters: Aftermath title that Rob is working on–Unity #12, #13, and #14 and another book with Josh that we haven’t announced yet.
Dysart: That and the world is in a really interesting place. It’s not just a mass scale invasion that happened right on the tail end of the outing of the pilot, so there’s this whole sub-group of human beings that have been manipulating markets and essentially controlling human affairs since World War II. It’s a bit of a shell shocked world–it’s not just the alien invasion, it’s not just out there anymore, it’s also in here. Everything has changed. So humanity is in a pretty frail interesting place.
Simons: How would our fictional Valiant Universe respond to something along these lines? The Valiant will be four issues, it will be in-continuity, and it will have a direct impact on the world after the story ends. It will have massive reparations for the universe.
Comics Beat: Is it safe to classify The Valiant as an event series?
Kindt: If it’s an event, it can only be classified as such because the scope is so big. It’s going to involve the entire Valiant Universe you know. So we are basically taking this small story as a mine cart that we are going to ride through the entire Valiant Universe and you are going to see everything–you are going to see it’s a great place to start if you have never read a Valiant book. You are not going to see the origin of every character, you are not going to know what Ninjak is all about; but you are going to see him, and you are going to be like that guy is awesome you know for like the little bit he is in, it’s a small story with a large scope
Simons: It will be accessible, it will be an entry point, but it will take a look at really the entire universe and wit will have bloodshot eternal warrior Armstrong, Kay, The Geomancer. They will come out of this changed for the most part.
Comics Beat: Because it is billed as a prestige format, do you think it could even last longer than the typical event if it has an era of nuance about it like something in the style of Kingdom Come?
Simons: Possibly, but we try to bill all our books like that to be honest with you. I hope Josh’s run on Harbinger is the defining run on Harbinger that’s on the shelf in 25 years. I hope the same thing about the first run of X-O or the first 12 issues of Unity. I really want all the books to feel special. We aren’t treating this one to feel more special. We want all the books to kind of have that feel that this will be the defining run. The scope of this along with Paolo’s extraordinary art that’s coming the pages just looks absolutely amazing. It will be something that will stand the test of time, but I am not walking into this project thinking that we are absolutely going to hit grand slam and that this will be on the shelves in 25 years’ time. I just want it to be as good as Unity, Harbinger, and X-O Manowar and that’s where we are starting at.
Kindt: There are so many superhero comics on the market. What’s the point of putting another in the one world if you aren’t trying to do something different with it? Like I love coming into this universe, and I can come up with a creative way to tell the story maybe you have seen something similar, but you’re not going to see it being told this way with comics. These are things that I have never seen comics do before you know, that’s just what I love most about comics instead of just panel panel panel panel story. It’s more about what makes you think of comics as a medium you know, as much as the story.
Simons: I feel like everyone is bringing their A-game and that everyone is putting their heart into it.
Comics Beat: Thanks!