Something major is happening at the end of Valiant Entertainment's first big comic book crossover since their rebirth about one year ago. The event completely changes the landscape of the Valiant Universe and forces some new alliances to form that may be a bit surprising.
And we can't tell you what that event is, because it is a massive spoiler for how the Harbinger Wars play out.
What we can tell you exclusively, however, is about some of the aftermath. Coming in September 2013, with issue #14 of the series, Bloodshot becomes Bloodshot and H.A.R.D. Corps. A new creative team comes along for the ride as well, with Harbinger's Joshua Dysart joining as co-writer with Valiant newcomer Christos Gage. Emanuela Lupacchino, fresh off her run on Archer & Armstrong for the comic publisher, joins as artist.
To announce the newcomers, we talked with Gage, Dysart, and Valiant Executive Editor Warren Simons in an enthusiastic and sometimes downright raucous phone interview. We managed to get teases on Bloodshot and H.A.R.D. Corps, Harbinger Wars, what the dynamic of the Valiant Universe will look like after, and even got veteran editor Simons to gush a little about his new creative team, the big softie. They also brought along some exclusive art from inside Harbinger Wars #3.
Newsarama: All right, gentlemen: this is one of those announcements that's a bit hard to talk about, because the whole impetus for it spoils everything that's happening in the next couple of months! Why don't we talk, first of all, high concept: what does H.A.R.D. Corps bring to the Valiant Universe that makes them candidates for an ongoing series like this?
Christos Gage: I think what they bring to it, is that so far we've seen Psy-Ops, we've seen Shadow Man, we've seen people with different types of powers, and H.A.R.D. Corps is the human response to that. It's humanity's answer to the super powers in the Valiant Universe by giving powers to normal people.
However, they may come with a cost. The normal human body wasn't meant to handle that. Josh, what do you think?
Joshua Dysart: Yeah, absolutely. Like the way we're portraying most things in the Valiant Universe, humanity's response is just as broken, and just as over the top as anything else we've portrayed.
Really, it's less humanity's response as it is Project Rising Spirit's response. And Rising Spirit has this trend of completely screwing everything up, and then responding with over-the-top wacky science. So there's this really human, emotional side that Christos is speaking about, and then there's this further exploration of Rising Spirit as an institution and really as a metaphor for, sort of, corporate interference and corporate meddling in historical events and government. I think that's really interesting. So sending a group of normal people out there that are really not prepared - and Christos has a great idea for that, for a turn on how they handled H.A.R.D. Corps originally to make it a more human book, really - but sending normal people out there that are ill-prepared for this, and are ill-prepared for powers, and they're limited! It's such an interesting thing. Throwing them into this huge field of battle with these human beings that are kind of like gods. I think we can see the best of humanity in H.A.R.D. Corps, and the worst of it. And I think that makes for a great book!
Gage: Yeah, I completely agree.
Nrama: Christos, you're coming into this new Valiant Universe, and Josh, obviously you've been in it from the very beginning. How much, Christos, do you feel you're leaning on Josh, or have you gotten yourself up-to-date on everything they've been doing in their first year?
Gage: Well, I've gotten up-to-date on all the books, definitely. But that is actually one of the reasons I'm excited to work with Josh on this; we've been friends for a long time now and never worked together, so that's cool in that regard. But also, he's been there from day one of the new Valiant Universe, and he knows the ins and outs of it. That's a great way to come into this exciting new universe but have one of the architects - the guys who were there at the start - on the team to make sure that it totally feels part of what came before.
Dysart: I hesitate to use the phrase "Christos leaning on me!" He's definitely the lead on the book, and has amazing ideas, and I'm just sort of hanging around to kind of synch everything nice and tight with its connections to the universe.
Warren Simons: Yeah, I had wanted to work with Christos for a long time. I think he was even one of the guys I reached out to when I first came up here to Valiant…
Gage: That's actually true! As a matter of fact, I think you called me and I told you to call Josh.
Simons: I think you did.
Dysart: YES! (laughs)
Simons: I was reading Unknown Soldier independently, and he was one of the guys on my list, but I believe Christos did actually recommend Josh as well. Which is one of my life's big regrets, you know what I'm saying?
Simons: But I've been wanting to work with Christos for a long time. He's a super talented writer, and as we began to talk about what titles he might want to work on, and he started pitching me, we came around to H.A.R.D. Corps. So much of this book with H.A.R.D. Corps and Bloodshot is heavily embedded in Harbinger Wars, and I knew the guys were friends, and I thought it really might be awesome to get them together in the same room, see what kind of energy there was, and see if they might be interested in co-writing together. And they were! And so far, it's been absolutely awesome.
Nrama: To that end, Warren, it seems like you're giving a very unique confidence in Josh, in handing him the keys to the kingdom a bit. You've let Josh really expand the Valiant Universe in a big way in these last few months and the next coming months. What is it about his approach that made you do that? I'm going to make you say this on the phone with Josh sitting here listening! (Laughs)
Dysart: I love this question! (laughs)
Simons: I think Josh is a great writer, and I believe in him, and I believe in all my guys. It's not just about giving Josh the keys to the kingdom, but hopefully as an editor having an incredible amount of trust and faith in my guys that they're going to deliver. I work with them at every stage, but at the end of the day, I have an immense amount of faith in Josh. The Harbinger book has been exceptional! We literally can't keep the trade of that on the shelves. We don't have it in the office anymore because so many people have come in asking for it!
I have an incredible amount of faith in his ability to do superhero work, even though he wasn't historically a superhero writer before he came to Valiant. In the same way, I had an incredible amount of faith in Robert Venditti to handle X-O Manowar as our launch book even though he hadn't historically done a monthly book.
I believe in our guys. I feel like if they're committed to the process and they're talented writers, I can have an immense amount of faith in them. One of Josh's great strengths is to tap into character, develop character, really tap into human emotion, and find what makes these characters tick. That's what he's doing in Harbinger, and structurally, Josh is great when it comes to plot as well.
So as long as all this doesn't go to his head, I'm very confident saying it.
Dysart: I do want to echo a sentiment that Warren brought up. When this company launched, I think that Warren made some bold decisions as far as talent that he put on books. The two that he mentioned are really the most bold - putting Robert Venditti on this big over-the-top action book when he was known for these small scale character driven sci-fi, that was an interesting decision on Warren's part! And quite frankly, reading Unknown Soldier and deciding "yeah, this is the dude to do our big superhero book," that also was pretty bold.
I think it goes to show - Valiant has had to make bold decisions to survive in the marketplace and do as well as they have, and I think Warren is a huge part of that engine.
Simons: See what I did there, Lucas? I took a question about him and turned it into a question about me! (laughs)
Dysart: (laughs) I did that, I did that! Warren didn't do that, I want the points!
Simons: I appreciate it, Joshua. But this is why I'm excited to work with Christos. I think he's another incredible talent in the marketplace, and I think he's going to work really well. I'm excited to have these guys working together. I just want to roll the dice a little bit with the titles, and the books, and the casting, and have a little fun with it. I like taking some risks, doing things people maybe don't expect - that's part of the fun of the gig.
Dysart: 'Cause really, who cares if we succeed! (laughs)
Nrama: (laughs) We won't tell Dinesh [Shamdasani, CEO & CCO, Valiant] you said that…
Dysart: Yeah, really, anyone who has invested millions of dollars into these properties probably doesn't want to hear that.
Simons: He already knows! But let me just say one thing, because that's a good point. You know, Dinesh deserves a massive amount of credit as well. Because when I came to him with this stuff, he wasn't like "nope!" Or when I came to his partner at the time, Jason [Kothari], or Peter or Gavin [Cuneo], they weren't pissed off, they just said "Yes." They take chances with this stuff. That's a great environment to be in. It's part and parcel of working with this team, that goes from the top to everyone, the writers and the artists, so hopefully that's why it's working, if it's working.
Nrama: Very cool. Let me ask Christos and Josh kind of the same question from two different standpoints. I want to know why Bloodshot is so important. I want to know on the outside level, why is Bloodshot so important to this new Valiant Universe, and then also from the meta standpoint, from within the universe, why is he so important to people like Project Rising Spirit and people like Harada?
Dysart: Let's take this in two steps. I think that first of all, Bloodshot, to be super pragmatic about it, Bloodshot is important to PRS and Harada because he represents really the most impressive technology that we've seen inside the Valiant Universe. Nobody has really addressed the idea that the self-healing, self-replicating, protein-driven nanites are really the height of science fiction technology. They bring a much more interesting technology than anything else introduced in any of the other books, except for maybe some of the abilities of the Vine, which is alien tech, of course.
In that sense, what we're looking at here is something truly revolutionary. I'm not going to hide the secret that Bloodshot's nanites are going to play a big role in how the future of humanity changes. So that alone makes him the golden ball. We haven't shown or discussed yet exactly how PRS was able to create these naniteSimons: Did they create themselves? did PRS take them from another source? That's something I hope to explore soon. So in that regard, he's the king. It's nice to have a bunch of Psy-Ops kids, but it's another thing to have your hands on these self-replicating, protein-driven nanites. You know, that changes all technology.
As far as to us, as creative people looking at the Valiant Universe, Bloodshot represents something very interesting. I'm almost always either consciously or unconsciously dealing with the theme of identity and free will versus determinism. I think that Bloodshot, more than any other character in the Valiant Universe, is the very manifestation of that fascinating philosophical struggle between determinism and free will. So in that character, there is so much that can be done. Other than being that bad-ass action character, he's really on the search for identity.
I don't think there's a better time, or a better thing to tell a story about. Comics as a whole is obsessed with identity and free will really since its inception. Bloodshot is just primed to handle all of that stuff for us.
Nrama: Tell me a little bit about the H.A.R.D. Corps that we'll be seeing in the ongoing. Is this the same roster we see in Harbinger Wars right now, or will we be seeing some new characters added to the lineup?
Dysart: This is primarily Christos's question, and I'll let him run with it, but also, we don't want to say too much about happens in Harbinger Wars. But other than that, go Chris.
Gage: Let me just say that there will be new characters coming in. One of the things, I love the original H.A.R.D. Corps series, but one of the things I wanted to move away from was the idea that these guys are all from a common military background, because it seemed to me to be a bit repetitive, and that it was more relatable if the members - the idea is basically that not everyone can survive the H.A.R.D. Corps process. In order to survive it, you need a specific genetic profile. So basically, PRS is constantly screening people through various sneaky ways, like when you donate blood. They find candidates and try to recruit them, and those people could come from anywhere. You could have a single mom, you could have an alcoholic who's selling his blood to make money for booze and he winds up qualifying. You can have people from all ages and races and backgrounds.
So that's one of the main things I wanted to do, throw regular people as opposed to all combat veterans into these types of situations. Now, Charlie Palmer is still the head guy. He's in Harbinger Wars, we've already seen him, so he's still there. Obviously, there are some veteran H.A.R.D. Corps guys in Harbinger Wars, and without spoiling anything that happens, they may or may not continue to be a part of what happens going forward.
I mean, Josh, I don't want to talk too much more about that without giving anything away, would you agree with that?
Dysart: I agree!
Simons: In issue 2 of Harbinger Wars, we meet Charlie Palmer for the first time. Then in issue 3, we begin to see, and I don't want to spoil anything either, just a little bit more about the team and about the tapestry of how they fit into the larger Valiant Universe, what kind of role they played in the past, maybe a little bit of why Project Rising Spirit is reaching out to them.
Josh has done some really wonderful stuff with this particular team; I'm excited for you guys to see #3. But we introduced them in #2, they're coming in bigger in #3, and as we'll see, this new book will pick up directly some of the events that happen in issue 4.
Dysart: Yeah, that's exactly right! The short answer to your question is that some of the characters in Harbinger Wars will go on, and there will also be new characters.
Nrama: All right. Let me ask you this then, about these characters. A lot of the concepts from Valiant Comics, from the old days, are very much what people would think about when they think of a stereotype of "90s comics." I think there's been a very concentrated effort to update them and bring them into 21st Century storytelling. Is that difficult to approach characters in that way, characters that are known in such stereotypes, and turning them into something relevant for today?
Gage: That's not really a problem for me with H.A.R.D. Corps. Taking away obvious things like mullets and things like that…
Dysart: NO MULLETS?!
Simons: What happened to our all-mullet issue, bro?
Gage: That'll be our next campaign. You saw the 8-bit thing, now from now on, everyone will have mullets (laughs)
But it was written by David Michelinie, an experienced writer and artist who didn't cash in on trends and really did some solid character and story stuff there. It's not been difficult for me. Josh what do you think, as it relates to Harbinger too?
Dysart: No, I completely agree with Christos. It's an interesting exercise, but I wouldn't think of it as difficult. Especially with what I've been doing is, I sit down and take a look at a property, and I think about what's cool about it, what emotionally speaks to me, and what is timeless about it, and keep those bits, and then toss everything else out!
So it's not hard, and I don't think we're too beholden to anything. We're fortunate, there were a lot of really great ideas in the early Valiant Universe. It might be a little too attached to its era, sort of the victim of 90s excess, and there might be some wonky, clunky storytelling in there, but there's some bits we have to pursue and cast the others aside, and generally we're going to have something interesting. It's interesting material to work with, really.
Simons: Yeah, I just want to add, exactly what Josh said - we have incredible stuff to draw from here, based on the creators who came along and worked on Harbinger, and worked on X-O, and worked on H.A.R.D. Corps. You know, Shooter and Lapham, and Michelinie as Christos said. And Bob Layton and we feel blessed to have that to work from. We're obviously modernizing all this stuff, but we feel incredibly lucky we have all that to draw from.
Nrama: Well Christos, let's kind of start to wrap up a bit, and let me ask you first of all, what's appealing about coming into the Valiant Universe?
Dysart: Getting to work with me!
Gage: Yeah, that's a big draw, obviously!
But yeah, I was a fan of the original Valiant Universe, so that's a big draw. Really, what I always loved about H.A.R.D. Corps is the fact that these are people, normal humans, trying to take on these incredibly powerful opponents with limited means. It's almost like the David & Goliath story, which is very appealing to me, and the idea that there is a severe cost to having these powers.
And then there's the idea of what kind of people - because we're not looking at this as people get knocked over the head and then they are drafted into H.A.R.D. Corps - you have to volunteer for it if for no other reason than that fighting the process means its not going to work. I love the idea of asking what kind of people would sign up for something like this, knowing that the cost is going to be break. Are they incredibly patriotic, incredibly altruistic… are they crazy? Are they desperate? Looking at that, I've always been drawn to books like Suicide Squad, things like that. It's fun to look at that type of thing, so it was exciting for me to have that opportunity.
Dysart: Well, I just want to tell you guys, that now that this phone call is wrapping up, my coffee is finally done. You got fuzzy-headed early morning Josh, you could have had my mind is made of the same material as the sun Josh. (laughs)
Simons: (laughs) Every part of Josh is like a rainbow, just beautiful and sweet. He tries to put this curmudgeon, angry guy forward, but he's really just a nice guy.
Nrama: (laughs) Well, Josh, let me ask you, similarly, you've been around for a year now, what's keeping you around the Valiant Universe? What's the main appeal to keep you around and even expand your role?
Dysart: Uh, no one else would hire me. No, honestly, I said this when we first announced my exclusive, but I just like it here! This is so alien to my previous experiences. I was never much of a superhero writer, and I was really not a superhero guy. So I thought it was weird to be tapped for this.
But I love the faith that they put in me, I love the relationship with my Editor, which has always been so important to me, in my life. In my career, no one knows this, because it's behind-the-scenes stuff, but whenever I'm on a book the longest, and whenever I'm on a book the strongest, it's usually because I'm super attached as a friend to my editor, and I have that with Warren.
To me that's the most important thing. This industry is filled with guys who want to work on a certain property, or have their dream Batman project, and I think that's so awesome. It's part of what I love about the industry, but that's not me. I generally like the people that I work with. I'm not much of an escapist.
So when you put me in a group that I like and that I admire, and that I'm impressed with their gumption - their balls, quite frankly - I'm going to want to stick around that group of people. And that's what has happened here at Valiant. My creative energies go into the work because my personal feelings about the people I work with are so strong. And that's why I'm still around!
Nrama: Very cool. Let me just ask you one more thing then, Josh. Is there a character that maybe has surprised you - you've now written a good half, maybe two-thirds of the Valiant characters in the new universe. Is there anyone that has stood out and really taken you by surprise?
Dysart: Ah, that is a really interesting question. I think I saw potential in everybody.
You know, maybe, honestly, it's been Bloodshot. I really - I didn't see the appeal, other than just as a big action book, of Bloodshot for awhile. Then we started working on Harbinger Wars and I started putting my head inside of his head, for lack of a better term, and I started to see what was interesting about him.
It's kind of a little bit frustrating. Because this crossover is a big event, kind of squeezed as tight as we can get it, wrapped super-tight into four issues, and as I keep writing these passing, fleeting scenes with him, I suddenly have a lot - I'm thinking a lot about him and I can't get it all into the work.
So to answer your question, it would have to be Bloodshot. I'm really surprised, once I really started thinking about the character, the multi-faceted nature, how interesting this character is, really. And a little frustrated that I haven't gotten to explore that because I'm working on such a big tapestry at the moment!
Gage: And that's what we'll do going forward!
Dysart: Yeah, exactly! That's what's so exciting about this. And to do it with Christos, too.
You know, one of the things that i think comics lacks is humanist creators, creators that make decisions from a place of not just character but really a genuine kind of love and interest in the human condition. I think there's a few people who do that - I think Garth Ennis's World War II stories do that - but Christos has always done that. Whenever I sit down to talk story with him, he's always moving creatively to a place that's really being fascinated by and loving human beings. I think when he infused that into his action books it can be really interesting, and important, and deep, and fun.
Gage: Well I appreciate that very much, and I think that what Josh has been doing in Harbinger has breathed fresh life into superhero comics. So kudos!
Nrama: Any last teases or comments you want to say about Bloodshot and H.A.R.D. Corps or Harbinger Wars?
Dysart: I think we've said all we can! Christos?
Gage: Yeah, I was just going to say it's gonna be bad-ass.
Dysart: Yeah, that's our big hidden secret! It's gonna be bad-ass. (laughs)
Simons: And the first issue will be on sale in September. Bloodshot and H.A.R.D. Corps #14.