As Valiant moves into the second half of the summer of 2014, its summer crossover continues to heat up as the fallout from the Armor Hunters' assault on Mexico City gives way to even more epic conflicts throughout the Valiant universe. Aric's home in Nebraska lies in ruins while MERO has been breached and is under a full-scale assault. The Armor Hunters seek out both Malgam and any individual who came into contact with the X-O Armor; even still, members of Unity, the Renegades, and Generation Zero race around the world attempting to stem the tide of casualties. Without a doubt, the Valiant Universe seems poised on the brink of catastrophe as we move into the mini-series' third installment and the next wave of tie-in issues.
Not surprisingly, fans and critics alike are responding strongly to this story arc from the primary mini-series, Armor Hunters, to the tie-in issues in Armor Hunters: Bloodshot, Armor Hunters: Harbinger, Unity, and X-O Manowar. This week, we continue to dig into this crossover event with head writer, Robert Venditti, along with Unity writer, Matt Kindt, to see where some of this month's upcoming issues will take readers.
Newsarama: Rob, Quartz rebukes Primary Reebo's celebration over the death of armor from their first hunt when he says "We killed one of them…they killed three of us" in X-O Manowar #27. Later, in Armor Hunters #3, the behemoth casts doubts on Primary Reebo's assertion that Aric's armor is, in fact, the last of them. Are there more armors out there? It also seems as though there is at least some level of dissent amongst the ranks… any truth to this?
Robert Venditti: Yeah, looking at it from the hunters’ perspective, I don't think they know if there are more armors out there. They're cut off from Control, which is their central command hub – not just in a literal sense, but Control is also the name of the rank of the leader of all the hunters. Control is the sort of five-star general, or something like that. They've all been cut off for a very long time. They haven't had communications and they haven't had any reinforcements; they have just been out in the field. As we'll find out in X-O Manowar #28, we'll give some more backstory about that. But while they've been out in the field, they've adapted and developed new ways to hunt because they're not getting those reinforcements, and they're not getting that centralized command structure. That's where we see the hounds come in. But because of all of this, they don't really know what the status quo is throughout the universe. They only know what their perspective is like on the ground. Some of them want to keep going on and hunting the other armors out there, but others are just ready to hang it up because without the central command structure… What are they out there doing anyways, you know?
Nrama: The alien in the X-O Armor from Primary Reebo's first hunt with his squad of hunters seemed to be pleading with him. Can you tell us what that message was? X-O Manowar #27
Venditti: Yeah, I think we get a sense from Malgam in Armor Hunters #1 that it's a very sympathetic state they find themselves in where they've contracted this plague that is trying to replace them piece by piece. Eventually, it will turn them into a new set of armor. These people who have fallen victim to this might have been very happy early on with something as powerful as the armor, but as it takes them over, chunk by chunk, they're just asking for mercy and peace just like anybody else would in a similar situation.
Nrama: In Armor Hunters #3, Earth demonstrates – in the face of these nigh-unstoppable hunters – that it also has some "teeth" when it sends Livewire to parlay with them aboard GIN-GR and she hacks into GIN-GR. What does she discover when she taps into their mainframe?
Venditti: That's a great question! That subject is just rife with possibilities. Some of those we've talked about – tapping into GIN-GR, what's his backstory, what sort of knowledge does he have? We're going to see some of that in Unity as well. Given the purpose of the mission at that particular time, there's so much information that it's likely Livewire didn't get some while attempting to knock this thing out of the sky, take the hunters down, and level the playing field.
Nrama: Now, following the … failed negotiations, we see GIN-GR "strolling" through the streets of Los Angeles. How much of a nod to Godzilla and other kaiju monsters were you and Doug Braithwaite making here in Armor Hunters #3?
Venditti: Very much so! We're getting into the parts of the scripts now where I was writing these having already seen the earliest drawing for Armor Hunters #1, so I could already see where Doug was going and what he was tapping into as he was translating the scripts to images. In Armor Hunters #3, we're getting into parts where I was really leaning into that and have a lot of fun with it by letting Doug do what Doug does best.
At Comic Con, Issue #3 rolled out to the printer and I was looking at the final files on my laptop. I was looking at these pages – the whole scene with GIN-GR at the end with how Doug drew it and how Laura [Martin] colored it. It was just stunning. I remember saying that I didn't even know comics could look like this. It's so much fun to work with them. In this issue and definitely in Issue #4, I'm trying to tap into that energy.
Nrama: Rob, in our last discussion, we talked about how the armor was actually a sort of techno-virus, and in this issue, it's revealed that Livewire was able to prevent herself from being infected when she donned the armor in Unity and possibly even create a cure. How did this plot point come together for you? Is it something you see yourself returning to in future issues? Armor Hunters #3
Venditti: Very much so. It's going to be one of the more micro-level aftermath aspects of the Armor Hunters event. On the larger level, you'll have what the new geo-political landscape is like in the wake of this huge event that affects the entire globe and how the entire Valiant Universe is going to deal with that. On a more micro-level, for characters like Livewire and Aric, we're going to see this as something that is as equally important to both of them, particularly Aric. We're going to see how this will affect Aric's power set and that it places some limitations on him going forward in the series. So it's definitely going to be a big, big thing. For the Armor Hunters themselves, it's a question of how hardcore are these guys? They're such true believers, they've been on the hunt for so long, are they at all open to the idea of there even being a cure at all. Or are they just so world-weary and battle-worn by now that all they know is the hunt and taking out the armors and there's never a possibility for anything else. That's the final conflict we have here.
Nrama: Continuing to look ahead, we find out that Visigoth encampment has been decimated and that Aric's tribe has suffered numerous causalities from the hounds' attack. What are some of the long-term ramifications you see for Aric in both the short-term and long-term?
Venditti: It's a transition for him. He's always been a character from the very beginning who was a Visigoth first. From the moment he crashed down in Rome in X-O Manowar #3, he's been about trying to reestablish his kingdom and take back his ancestral homeland that he believes is his and the Visigoths' by birthright. And that's always been his focus, but now we see a transition for him in Armor Hunters and X-O Manowar from a steward of his people to a steward of Earth. In his line of thinking from back in the 5th Century, his world was the Visigoth camp that he lived in. Now, he's seen the universe. He's seen alien worlds, and he's seen aliens come to his world. The universe became a much bigger place. By extension, all of Earth becomes his homeland in the way his camp was to Europe back in the day, but now, he's learned the map is much larger. In learning that, he's learned his home is much larger as well.
Nrama: Matt, in our past conversations with Rob and others involved in the crossover, it's been made clear that this was not a mandatory event where creative teams had to participate, but instead, were free to join in if it worked within their respective titles. What made Armor Hunters appealing to you?
Matt Kindt: Honestly, it was the characters that Rob created - GIN-GR and all of those guys. I'm really into science fiction, and Rob's book is really scratching that itch for me with hard sci-fi in a comic book. So getting to steal of his stuff and play with it is really appealing for me. And then the nature of Unity as a book tends to make it sort of a hub for all of these things to flow through. We have this group of characters who are probably going to be involved in a big event like this anyhow, it's natural for that book to be a part of it anyways. But I really just wanted to use some of those characters that Rob created. [laughter]
Nrama: For readers who are new to Unity, what reassurances can you provide about their ability to catch up to speed with the members of Unity and the team's mission?
Kindt: One of the challenges of writing a team book like Unity is how do you take a new reader by the hand while not retelling everything every time for those who have been following it from the very beginning. I try to do little, subtle things to introduce a character and sort of show what they're about while forging ahead. Ideally, you can pick up any issue and sort of get an interesting story from beginning to end; you may want to know more, but not feeling you're missing everything altogether. That's one of the tricks to doing a big crossover like this is to make it not like a crossover but a parallel telling of stories. You don't have to read mine or you don't have to read Rob's, but hopefully you'll be curious. If anything, our books complement each other instead of alternating back and forth where you have to read one then the other then the other. That's a marketing thing. We're trying to tell the same story but from a different point of view. That's what's appealing about crossovers to me, but I don't think it happens all that often.
Nrama: What can you tell us about your collaborative process with Stephen Segovia and the rest of your creative team members? This issue, the beginning with GIN-GR's origins in particular, will prove especially enjoyable for lettering and scripting fans as well, no?
Kindt: Stephen is great. We worked together previously on the Superman story that we did last year, so I'm familiar with what he does and how he works. So we already came in with a certain comfort level.
That particular sequence was interesting because it's the only one I had an idea for right away. Rob and I were talking on the phone about what I was going to do and what story I could tell that would run parallel to Armor Hunters. One of the ideas Rob had was that I could do a sort of an origin story for GIN-GR because he wasn't going to be able to get to it. I said "Well let me do that! It sounds super interesting" not knowing what I was going to do with it at all. I just liked the idea of that as a starting point.
The next day I texted Warren [Simons – Valiant's Editor in Chief] about going from two to ten pages for her… or his origin story – Rob and I argue about whether or not it is a him or her.
Venditti: IT'S A HIM!!!
Kindt: Well, I wrote the origin story. But it doesn't matter. It's a robot.
Anyhow, Warren said "Let's do it." Ten pages. No words. As I was writing it, the process for writing that origin sequence is even different. As I was typing this up, I kept thinking "This is ridiculous!" so I ended up thumbnailing the whole thing and sending that in as script. Then I found a font online that was this weird symbol font and just assigned meaning to the different symbols. It has meaning, but you have to decipher it with the pictures. Credit to Warren and everyone at Valiant for letting us try something different in using a team book and taking a robot who's not even on the team and tell her [laugh] story. It was a lot of fun.
Nrama: You also have Ninjak and Eternal Warrior operating more independently – almost as a tag-team – than as part of a traditional superhero group for this issue. Why is that?
Kindt: I wanted each arc of the series to have its own unique structure. It's more fun to split them up and give the focus on a little bit of each of them or in pairs. Then in the next arc, we bring them all back together so we get to see how the group works all together. I feel like it's fun to set four guys jumping into the action all at once and sort of cruising back and forth. Unlike a typical team book, I wanted to split them up, have them do different things, come and go, and just vary the kinds of stories I could tell.
Nrama: Is it an exaggeration to say that with Unity #10, you've essentially changed what readers know about GIN-GR and her background up to this point as the Armor Hunters' transport and chief means of leveling planets? How could this play out later in the Valiant Universe?
Kindt: I think she's too good of a character to be gone after this. Part of the rationale of telling her story is to sort of care about the character instead of some giant killing machine. I think it's nice when there's more nuance needed than that. Getting to do that in Unity is a nice complement after seeing all of the horrors in Armor Hunters. While what she did was horrible, these are the events that led her to do that. She's just too good of a character to not flesh out and keep around.
Nrama: Matt and Rob, this question is open to you both. In Armor Hunters #3, we see GIN-GR wreaking havoc in LA, and in Unity #10, we see her standing ominously amidst the fallout from her crash landing to Earth surrounded by dozens of strange multi-colored globes. Any hint as to what these are?
Kindt: They're basically "GIN-GR spawn."
Venditti: They're counter-measures, I would say, but more advanced than that.
Kindt: When you read Unity #11, you'll learn more about what the globes are.
Venditti: It's like I was alluding to. They're counter-measures, but there's a lot more to them than that. It's one of those things like Matt was saying earlier where two things will supplement each other. You get a glimpse at the end of Armor Hunters #3 and then Unity #10 you'll see much more of them in different ways.
And I just want to add, so it's clear to everybody, that what Matt said earlier about their being an idea in place about an origin story being told and him being the one who would get to tell it is true. But he made the origin. That's his story. The counter-measures show up in Armor Hunters #3, but Matt knew they were also going to be in his book and the capacity to which he used them in his book and what he did with them are his own design and creation.
It becomes a thing where, and I don't think "hive-minded" is quite the right description, something starts here and goes over there. Then it comes back here and becomes something else yet again. I don't know. It's like all of the minds in the room are coming together and it becomes a big story.
Kindt: Yeah. I feel like it's going to sound super pompous, but it's like music – and I'm not even a musician at all – but if we were just playing and making it up as we go, reacting to what the other guy is doing. It builds on top of itself and becomes a new thing that wouldn't have been what it is if we had worked alone, you know? It became something better and more layered because we've worked together. I'm reading one of Rob's stories, and he's so good at plot and ideas, and Armor Hunters is kind of like that – like running through a field of flowers where all of this action is taking place. In my story, I get to stop in that field and say "Huh. Let's stop in that field and look at this flower for a while." Both of those approaches together are like a harmony of story.
Both Armor Hunters #3 and Unity #10 are available to purchase digitally or in retail stores on August 13th. Look for other issues in the series later this month with Armor Hunters: Bloodshot #2 and Armor Hunters: Harbinger #2 due on August 20th and XO Manowar #28 being released on August 27th.