Valiant comics has been on the rise over the last few years in the direct market. Author Joshua Dysart has been instrumental part of the company’s success starting with his first title for the publisher: Harbinger. After the conclusion of that saga, the author went onto sculpt Imperium, a spinoff the previous series focusing in on Harbinger antagonist Toyo Harada’s journey after he was exposed as the largest robber baron in the Valiant Universe stealing money through his own psychic abilities. Comics Beat sat down for an exclusive interview with the author in advance of his upcoming arc on the series launching next Wednesday; ‘The Vine Imperative.’ The story see’s the reintroduction of the first villain ever launched in the new Valiant line: The Vine introduced in the pages of Imperium.
After the time displaced brawl that took place within the arc of ‘Broken Angels,’ there didn’t really seem to be a clear victor between Divinity and (Toyo) Harada. Does that affect Harada’s plans at all?
Well, Divinity got what he wanted and Harada didn’t get what he wanted, so I would argue that Harada did, in fact, lose. But what I think this really does to Harada as a character is impact his own faith in himself. I think that’s something really interesting that Divinity gives me a chance to do for the very first time. I can really shake Harada. In terms of future plans, that affects his sense of self and makes him an insecure character. This is the first time since I’ve been working with Harada that I’ve been able to make him insecure, which is cool.
Will we see the perfect futures of the other characters that Divinity made for the rest of the team return in future issues?
I mean, anything is possible, but I think the future that Divinity and Harada tumbled across isn’t really going to play out now. The moment Harada made the choice to stop going after Divinity, that future changed. So while it was all really interesting and I’d love to play with it some more, unless Harada changes his mind and goes after Divinity again, that future is not something that will come to pass.
Interesting, so even though Harada had those encounters with Rising Spirit and with the Hard Corps., you felt like he was still secure and in control of the situation?
Right. Exactly. Whenever anyone has seemingly gotten the upper hand on Harada it’s almost always because of the increasingly powerful anti-psiot technology, but that’s not something that shakes Harada’s idea of himself. When technology compromises his ability, he sees that as an opportunity, a challenge to overcome. Encountering Divinity is literally the first time Harada has been lost in every sense of the word. One of the points of this series has always been to make Harada more human, I think we took what could’ve been seen as a crass character crossover to capitalize on Divinity’s success, and turned it into the perfect device to push Imperium’s own themes.
With the resurgence of the Vine in X-O Manowar is there a greater shift in the Valiant Universe — are you currently aware that Venditti is planning to introduce those characters and planning around that in the Vine Imperative?
The nature of a shared Universe is pretty interesting, there’s a lot of organics to it. We all sort of unintentionally inspire one another as we work off of each other. We have these writing conferences where we all get together and share ideas and look for common ground and for the next year I always see shared concepts arcing across all the books. Ever since Robert first pitched the concept of the Vine to the room I’ve loved them. And the minute we made LV-99 a Vine construct, his backstory became intertwined with Harada’s endgame, and so too did the Vine Plantings. I don’t think it was intentional that Rob and I are doing this stuff together, I think it’s just a matter of a good idea being in the Universe and both us finally getting around to playing with it.
The solicitation for the Vine Imperative revealed that there was a treaty that was signed by Harada in 1968 and that he’s going to go back in the Foundation zone is there anything you can talk about from that perspective without jumping into spoilers?
All I can say is that their was a long road to that treaty. It wasn’t arrived at lightly. That’s exactly what the book is about.
How do you balance the different tones, characters, and ideas meshed together throughout Imperium?
I try my best not to make the book too unwieldy. I always have so much I am trying to achieve, so I’m looking to find the breaking point in our twenty-two page comic between where it becomes too dense and where it’s just dense enough so I can balance multiple ideas. I’m always wrestling with that. I think it’s the most difficult aspect of my job. I wish I could tell you how I do it (laughs) but I don’t really know. When it feels right, it feels right. When it’s too much I cut something and a little piece of me dies. That’s how I do it.
How do you retain the level of action while keeping this nuanced character working well?
As long as your action is either coming from a place of character (meaning it’s an aspect of character that has brought about the action) or if that the action is revealing more about the character while it unfolds, then I think that action can go a long way in allowing you to deliver thrills but keep the story substantive. The very best writers in comics are always doing multiple things at once in a sequence for economy’s sake. The magic I’m trying to achieve is to illuminate character and action simultaneously. I don’t always succeed, but that’s what I try for. So, yeah, always look for action that will reveal character, or character that will end up in action.
Coming out of Harbinger with these last moments between Toyo and Peter, do you think that Toyo’s confidence was shaken at all, because Toyo is using a completely different pool of confidence than he was?
I think that Toyo is a pretty complicated person. He was unquestionably pissed off when Peter screwed up his game — but I also think that it elevated his respect for Peter. If you want Harada’s respect, one of the only ways to really get it is to outsmart him. I don’t think Harada respects Divinity because Divinity simply out-powered him, but I do think he respects Peter. There might be a part of Harada, that he would never admit to, that’s really happy because all the fakery has been dispelled and Harada can be out about who he is. I don’t think Harada is making the smartest decisions, but something about him being unfettered, or unbound, brings him joy. If you ask him I don’t think he would say that’s true, but since I’m his unconscious I say it’s true. So yeah, he’s pissed at Peter, but something in him, that he wouldn’t admit to, loves the new world Peter created for him.
You think he might actually be a in a better place than at the start of Harbinger because he’s been able to craft a more underdog story for himself?
I don’t know if he is actually in a better place. He was far more in control when he had a secret global organization that everybody worked with, but I do think some part of him is happier. While he has a very complicated moral code, he also has a huge ego, so there’s a part of him that thinks he’s more in control now then really he is. In fact he’s in a more dangerous situation than he’s ever been in. He’s surrounded himself with people he can barely control, not a single one of them is certain they want to be working with him, they’re all in it for their own reasons. Plus, He’s made an enemy of every government in the world. So he’s in a far more precarious place than ever, but I think he’s in his element too. He is a man who can’t live without conflict trying to bring about an end to all conflict. It’s tricky psychologically.
Do you think Harada is entertaining a confrontation from Peter at this moment, or do you think that he’s divorced from the idea completely?
I think it’s the latter. For now at least. I don’t think that Peter represents any kind of threat to Harada. If Peter were any kind of threat to him, then yeah, he’d try to take care of it. But he doesn’t see Peter as a problem. Their conflict came to a head and it’s done. Right now Peter is out there wrestling with the idea of inaction. Pondering as to whether taking action is really the right thing to do. So he’s not a problem. If there’s anybody Harada is pissed at, it’s the Bleeding Monk. The day that Harada finds out where the Bleeding Monk is, shit gets crazy. That’s his real emotional spot. He feels like he was taken in by the Monk as a young man and used and manipulated most of his life. Whether that’s true or not remains to be seen, but Harada ain’t chill about that dude at all.
Here’s a preview for Imperium #9: