In May 2014, with another Free Comic Book Day comes the launch of another Valiant comic event. Valiant’s 2014 FCBD special will bring readers up-to-speed on their universe and introduce the Armor Hunters, a team of alien warriors whose mission is to destroy all powered armors: including the X-O Manowar suit.
Following the FCBD Special, Armor Hunters #1 kicks off the four-part mini-series in June 2014, from writer Robert Venditti and artist Doug Braithwaite. But like last year’s event book, Harbinger Wars, this one will bleed out into the Valiant Universe, specifically in the two books that X-O Manowar already headlines.
Joining Venditti on X-O Manowar for the tie-in arc beginning with #26 is Cary Nord. Meanwhile, Matt Kindt and Diego Bernard will tie-in with Armor Hunters beginning with Unity #8.
For more on the FCBD Special, Armor Hunters, and how Unity will tie-in (and what they’ll be doing until they get to that point), we spoke with writer Matt Kindt and Executive Editor Warren Simons. They even brought some exclusive CAFU art from Unity #5, plus two new Unity #6 variants to show off alongside the Armor Hunters promos.
Newsarama: Matt, what's it like being front-and-center for Valiant on Free Comic Book Day, with a book that can have that kind of instant reach and literally zero-risk for readers?
Matt Kindt: It's great! Honestly, I've been wanting to do a FCBD anything forever. I think it's such a great way to get new readers into comics in general and to get readers stuck with one company or type of comic to branch out and try something new for very little risk (as in no risk, since it's free)!
Nrama: Likewise, Warren, many publishers use FCBD to just put out either old material in reprints, or maybe throw in a five-page preview. You're putting out a book with basically all of your existing creative teams introducing the next big story; what goes behind that decision, and why is it important?
Warren Simons: It's been a part of our DNA as a comic-book publisher to make FCBD a must-read issue. We love the opportunity it gives us to showcase a year in the life of the Valiant U., and what we've got in store for our lovely fans. Obviously, FCBD is also a great way to target new readers, which is important for us as a company, and which both our publisher, Fred Pierce, and our CEO, Dinesh Shamdasani are huge proponents of.
In the past few years, we've loaded the book up with character designs, easter eggs, and first look sneak-peeks. This year, we'll be making a ton of announcements in the actual book, and we're going to have a first-look preview of Armor Hunters, the biggest event that's ever been told in any medium anywhere. It's going to make Independence Day look like Be Kind Rewind. It's a story that's going to reshape a few million lives in the Valiant U., and will have profound affect on X-O Manowar, Unity, and a number of our other characters. We'll also be checking in with our talented, devastatingly dashing creators.
Nrama: And that was Warren’s bid to be the biggest hype man in Comics, ladies and gentlemen!
Matt, back to you, Unity is the latest Valiant book to launch, but has quickly become one of, if not the most important. Did you know it would be such a keystone book from the start, and does that offer any unique challenges and/or opportunities to you?
Kindt: Yeah. I knew it right away, which is why I didn't hesitate when Warren asked me to write it. To me it's like getting to go back in time and write Justice League or X-Men from issue 1. To put these characters together on a team for the first time is just kind of historic and a real kick for me personally since I was loving Valiant back in the 90s. The difference between this and every other team book, though, is the ability to be aware of all those other team books and try to do something unique and different from everything that's come before. I'm able to react to team books as a concept in general and really spin it in a fun way. That's something that adds a layer and to Valiant's credit, they're letting me run with it!
Nrama: I know it's early, but how has the transition gone from writing X-O as a foe to a team member?
Kindt: It's fun. I really think Unity #4 packs an emotional wallop that I was really excited to get to. The transition was pretty easy creatively (we had it figured out ahead of time) – and knowing where we're going and building it as a larger story really let me plant seeds in issue 1 that pay off in surprising ways in issue #4 and beyond.
Honestly, sometimes I feel like I'm working on a creator-owned book when I'm writing Unity. I'm not sure if it's because I'm that attached to the characters or the encouragement I get from everyone in the office, but whatever it is, it's absolutely a great environment to work in.
Nrama: How do you plan to tackle story coordination with Robert, who's writing the Armor Hunters mini and X-O Manowar, and yourself with Unity? Did you have an opportunity to break the story together, and how much coordination is done via Warren and the Valiant editorial crew?
Kindt: We had a writer-retreat a while ago and talked in broad strokes and we'll probably work the same way we did with X-O - which is kind of fun. One of us will take a stab at an outline for the series and we'll pass it back and forth, adding ideas and taking things out and moving things around and responding to each other – it's really the best way to do a cross-over – it's more of a conversation combined with role-playing where we sort of put our characters up against each other and respond as the characters would.
Simons: Yeah, I can't tell you what an extraordinary pleasure it is to work with Matt Kindt and Robert Venditti. There's a tremendous sense of collaboration and teamwork between the team, and there's a real pure love of storytelling that's infectious. And I can't let a day go by where I'm not raving about Doug Braithwaite and Brian Reber's work in the office.
Nrama: What can you tell us about the breakdown of the Armor Hunters team? Who are these characters and what will lead them into conflict with Unity?
Kindt: I'm not sure how much I can say about it so I'll keep it vague and just say that X-O makes a fantastic lightning rod.
Simons: I don't know why he keeps standing under trees when people are trying to kill him.
Nrama: With that in mind, this will be the first time Unity has gone head-to-head with another elite team of powered individuals. Will that call for a different approach or strategy than their previous encounters with solo threats like X-O Manowar and Dr. Silk?
Kindt: Definitely. Unity is still trying to figure out how to work together so hopefully they'll have it figure out by then (they won't) – which makes it interesting. It's hard to have a team full of Type-A personalities with varying interests and allegiances. So with that said, I think with an otherworldly threat I think that really ups the stakes. I really think that's at the core of what Unity is as a series. How can these characters possibly work together? If I had my way we'd change the logo so it has quotes around it: "UNITY"
Nrama: Playing off that, of course, before we get to Armor Hunters, Ninjak gets to take the lead for three issues as they face down Dr. Silk.
Ninjak, the ultimate warrior/hand-to-hand combat genius versus a decrepit old man... Wait a second, why is this a major threat to him?
Kindt: Ha! That's what I asked everyone! I've re-read all the old Valiant books and there are so many great ideas in there waiting to be tapped and re-spun into something new and cool. So there will be a lot of roots to some of the old stuff and at the end of the day, Silk won't play a physical threat to Unity and the world as much as he will pose a ideological threat. That sounds horribly boring, but I promise it manifests itself in a really scary and heart-breaking way. I want you to both hate Silk and kind of feel bad for him…but still want him dead. There are killer-viruses and a little more history revealed about not only Silk, but Unity as a concept.
Simons: Matt's added a few wrinkles to Silk that make him absolutely terrifying. Anyone can throw a right hook. It takes a special type of depraved lunatic to set up shop in a jungle and begin playing with lethal viruses.
Nrama: There have been some great comic book terror organizations in the last several decades, but terrorism is a very real threat that the general population actually thinks about in day-to-day life now, more so than ever before. How does that inform your new take on Webnet and Dr. Silk?
Kindt: It's tough. I honestly think that when I was a kid, terrorism was sort of a vague notion. An easy bad guy. I re-watched Back to the Future with my daughter last week and the big threat to Doc at the beginning (and end) was "Iranian terrorists" which at the time had no meaning for me really. But now it's such a concrete palpable part of our every day lives that it has to be treated differently.
At the same time, it's a comic book, so I'll figure out how to handle it in a way that's fun, horrible, sad, and hopefully still make you look at things in a different way. Honestly, I don't think as a writer the idea of "terrorism" or "terrorists" is an interesting topic to write about. But, what's interesting is writing about A terrorist. Take it to an individual level and make the characters, heroes and villains both as interesting as possible.
Nrama: Finally, Matt, you go from the first introduction, big fight, and changing allegiances, to re-introducing a major villain, to a big crossover - is this fast pace of Unity sustainable? Does that ever get daunting when you look at your first year and see how much you're cramming into it in this age of superhero comics that are often lambasted for decompression?
Kindt: I'm gonna die before I get all of my ideas out onto paper so I'd rather have an issue or an arc or a book have as many varied ideas in it as possible (without losing entertainment value). I'm racing the clock (my death) to get as many great Valiant stories in print as possible!