This month marks the final installment of Valiant Comics' hit crossover series, Armor Hunters, which has spanned multiple titles and was headed up by X-O Manowar writer Robert Venditti and multiple creative teams. Over the past four months, the status quo has been irrevocably shifted with the armor hunters' arrival and attack upon Earth, and as Armor Hunters #4 and XO Manorwar #29 show, the Valiant Universe and its inhabiting heroes will never be the same.
For our final discussion with the creative team behind this mini-series, Newsarama sat down once again with Venditti, as well as Valiant Editor-in-Chief and series editor, Warren Simons to talk about the inspiration behind Armor Hunters and the ramifications for what will come in the following months. They even brought along an exclusive first look at the pages of Aftermath, showing where the Valiant universe is after all of this.
Newsarama: Warren, since you're new to our "War Report," let's start with you. Where did the idea for Armor Hunters come from?
Warren Simons: I think it came from a natural evolution of where Robert [Venditti] was taking the story - where we built it from Issue #1. One the things I think Robert's done almost masterfully – not to kiss his ass too much –
Robert Venditti: That's alright. You said almost masterfully, so it's alright. [laughter]
Simons: Every arc of X-O Manowar, he's done a really tremendous job of changing the status quo of the character, which is an extremely difficult thing to do, and building up the character since Issue #1. I believe Rob and I were talking about what was coming next, and to be completely frank, I'm not sure where exactly the idea came from. It might have come from Rob, as that's where many of the great ideas of the series have come from. I think we talked about there being a natural evolution with the character as the armors expanded out into the universe, what the repercussions of the armors would have been, what the X-O armor was, how the Vine got ahold of it, and these are questions were began discussing with one another. I think we generated the idea of the Armor Hunters from there.
For me, I felt like it was a really great opportunity to infuse, as it was, a shot of Kirby into the Valiant Universe. I really love some of the components of the fantastic nature of the characters we came up with: GIN-GR, Primary, of all the Armor Hunters and it was a really nice evolution of where we had come in the first twenty-five issues of X-O Manowar.
Nrama: It sounds like you see your role as a facilitator playing "questions-and-answer" with your team. How do you see your role in overseeing this major crossover? And when it came time to make the call as to who would be the head writer for this crossover, what led you to Rob?
Simons: I feel like we have a very, very, very good crew of writers at Valiant, and I feel like we're super lucky to have the people we work with. Rob has been just the bedrock of that for the past couple of years. He's a very easy and awesome person to work with, as I'm sure other editors who've worked with him know this.Having the opportunity to build up this event with him, I believe it was at a retreat where we discussed what was happening in the books. I believe Matt Kindt, Rob, and others were able to jump on the phone and work together.
Rob is – again, not to kiss his ass too much – not territorial about stuff, which is extremely important when you are architecting one of these events. We'll jump on the phone with Kindt and Dysart, and we'll speak with the other editors who are working on these projects as possible storylines develop in the Bloodshot, Harbinger, or Unity crossovers. It's a really rewarding experience when you have a bunch of guys and girls who are working together towards a common goal of putting out the best books in the industry on a monthly basis. I feel like the Armor Hunters event has been really well received because we haven't tried to build anything that was really filler. Every story had a purpose and helped enhance the story Rob was telling in X-O Manowar and Armor Hunters. I feel like it's a good, collaborative environment that is helping make this possible.
Nrama: What was your level of input when it came to the artistic direction of Armor Hunters? Where do we see Warren Simons' thumbprint on this crossover?
Simons: It's a good question. I think ultimately how I try to treat all books I work on whether they're part of a large crossover or not, which is where we try to build an environment of collaboration where everyone is seeing everything. We might get Clayton Crain to create designs for GIN-GR, but then after I get them, I'll send them to Rob and ask, "Hey, what do you think?" Or Rob and I might talk about what GIN-GR is, he'll Rob will write up a description, and then we'll have four or five artists take a pass at it. Maybe we'll come up with one.
My job as the editor-in-chief and as the editor of Armor Hunters is to cast the books, to work with the writers on all facets of the story, to continue to be a sounding board for them, and to help them carry their voice through without really messing everything up!
Nrama: Rob, this month's issues of both Armor Hunters and X-O Manowar close out Valiant's summer crossover – Armor Hunters: Aftermathnotwithstanding. Did the series end the way you initially expected or were there changes made along the way?
Venditti: In terms of the larger conclusion of the story, it ended pretty much where we thought it would because it was a pretty extensive outline process, which when printed out runs about twenty-eight pages [laughter]. We would talk back and forth and go through everything. So you have to have a firm outline, and you have to know where everything is going to end up, so all the other pieces and all of the other tie-ins can be coordinated. And coming out of the event, there are going to be some long-standing changes not just to the characters involved but to the Valiant Universe as a whole. You want to make sure you have that stuff down, and there are no surprises where there is some major change that affects another books and they didn't see it coming.
In terms of the long-term evolution, yes, but along the way and how you get there, you can develop things organically. Using Armor Hunters #4, this is the moment where bring the whole cast of characters from all of the different tie-ins together in the same place at the same time, and it's a pretty large cast with a lot of heavy-hitters. You've got a giant robot, three armor hunters left, Bloodshot, Unity, Aric, and you have twenty-two pages to give them all moments and do those kinds of things with the story. So as I was writing this issue, there were things that happened organically as I was trying to figure all of this out. How does Bloodshot show up? How does he introduce himself? How do you take someone like Quartz, who we've established as being pretty much indestructible rock, and beat him given the weapons available in the Valiant Universe? That's the kind of stuff you don't figure out until you get down to writing the actual issue.
Nrama: Time to play favorites! What is the one part of this crossover that stands out to you most as Valiant's greatest achievement with theArmor Hunters storyline? Was there anything that took you by surprise?
Venditti: Do you want to go first, Warren?
Simons: Oh, no! You go first! [Laughter]
Venditti: [Laughter] Alright. Gosh, I don't know. There's a lot of stuff that I really enjoyed. The ways it was all translated to the page by the brilliant work of Doug Braithewaite and Laura Martin to some moments that I'm really proud of and were really fun to have written. From the opening moments when Helix first uses her weapon on somebody and it digitalizes them into binary code, basically, and I felt that translated to the page really well. The way Doug and Laura handled Helix in general in a sort of "Plastic Man-esque" sort of why as she moves across the page, I just loved looking at that stuff. I also liked in the climax how Bloodshot shows up and handles Quartz, and I remember I was laughing as I was writing that because I was having so much fun doing it.
Nrama: You're sick. [Laughter]
Venditti: [Laughter] In terms of the crossovers, there was this moment in Unity #11 where Ninjak is in this jet and he's figuring out to deal with these drones that are attacking. You see, we looked over everybody's scripts to make sure we knew what each other was doing and didn't step all over one another. I remember reading Matt [Kindt]'s script as he was describing Ninjak's thought process and the way the panels would flash back to these different moments in his life where he learned a particular piece of information. Then all of these flashbacks come back into this one page to show this thought process and how he solved this problem. I think the comment I gave Warren was "I think I'll just go be a farmer now because I will never be able to create something like that. So that was another moment I really enjoyed.
Simons: Yeah, I loved the way Laura Martin colored Doug's pencils. I thought she did a masterful job over Doug's work. I also think Doug is one of if not themost underrated artists in the business today. His work in Armor Hunters#s 1-4 is just extraordinary. I can just go page by page and glow over it. The way he uses camera angles, the compositions he chose, the panel layouts…it all comes together to enhance the story. It's really watching a master at work. And to see Laura come in color it and she how she handled the lighting. Some of the moments I loved were in Armor Hunters #3 when GIN-GT crashes down into Los Angeles and creates a line of sight for Primary, I thought the art there was just extraordinary.
It's really, really difficult to tackle one of these crossovers and not have it come out worse for wear. Rob did a real masterful job of making sure he was seeding and building this antagonistic force, and then having the entire Valiant Universe come meet them head-to-head over the course of eighty-eight pages. It's a real difficult thing to do. I'm very proud of all the work the guys have done and I just feel like it's been a beautiful four issues. The flashback sequence that Rob built over the course of X-O Manowar where we begin to see the threat established of what the Valiant Universe is facing now really stood out. I thought it was a super interesting choice. A bold choice. I really loved those three issues.
There's also Unity #11, which Rob mentioned, as there was this five-page sequence in the beginning, which was extraordinarily innovative and smart. It made me want to be a farmer as well. I thought [Robert] Gil and Josh [Dysart] did a really fine job as well with Armor Hunters: Harbinger and it was great to see Trevor Hairsine on Armor Hunters: Bloodshot, to see his pages come in and how he broke down the pages, produce the layouts, and how much kinetic energy he packed into every page. It's a lot of fun. We had a lot of really great teams who lined up together to try and create a really good crossover, and I'm really proud of it so far.
Nrama: Last month, we discussed the key role Livewire played in terms of offering a cure for the X-O techno-virus. Now, however, we discover her "cure" is not all that it seems. It's not a total cure. How do you see this playing out?
Venditti: It establishes a limitation on a character like Aric, a character like Malgam, or anyone else who would choose to wear the armor. The healing capability is still there, but you're going to lose a little piece of yourself. So that's something that will certainly come into play. It is a cure in the sense that it has stopped the replication process, but it does not repair the damage that was already done. As Warren was saying, we always try to change the status quo with the characters, and this was a pretty big status quo change for Aric going forward that he has to make these choices now. So yes, that will definitely be a part of the series going forward now into the future. It also sets Aric's armor apart from every other set of armor out there that are still alive and active forms of the techno-virus whereas his has gone dormant.
Nrama: Rob, these issues show a strong undercurrent of Aric as king, not only of his people but of the whole Earth – especially in Armor Hunters. This was particularly clear in his discussion of the weight of the crown he now bears. Are we seeing the seeds of future conflict being sewn here?
Venditti: I think the way he is using the word "king" is in a benevolent sense. He's not saying, "I'm king, all of this is mine, and everyone is going to be my subject." We try to make this clear in the issue itself and through the dialogue that he sees himself as a king in the sense that it's his responsibility to protect everyone, which is a huge character development for him. He's a guy who's come back from being enslaved aboard an alien ship and was thinking in very small terms during the first arc when he came back in Issue #s 15 to 18. He was someone who wanted to go back and reclaim the Visigoth homeland, in what is now modern-day Romania, and that was going to be his kingdom to now realizing he has the power and responsibility to take the whole world on his shoulders and look after it, that's a big change for him. So he sees himself as a king in the sense that it's his job now to protect his people and do whatever he has to regardless of the danger in order to see that through.
Nrama: This month also promises to not only shift the status quo for Aric, but it also cleans the slate with resolution to armor hunters' story arc. Is this the last we can expect to see from the hunters or will Control resurface?
Venditti: One thing we've done with the Armor Hunters story as a group was to expand what the Valiant Universe is even beyond what it was historically in its original incarnation. There weren't a lot of cosmic worlds nor much of an intergalactic nature to it. So we've really expanded that. We spent a lot of time architecting and building that up, and I think it's safe to say we wouldn't have spent all that time building it up if we didn't have plans for it.
Simons: I think what's also interesting is that the close of Armor Hunters in the Armor Hunters: Aftermath issue, we'll see it's really a delineating point for the Valiant Universe. We've had these aliens come down and attack the Earth; they've attacked many countries. What we're going to see after is almost like a brand new universe. The way the public perceives it, the way X-O Manowar and Unity perceive, it's going to change things dramatically. A lot of what Rob and I were trying to do with Armor Hunters was to shift the direction of where we're going with all of this. What we're going to see coming up in the next arc of X-O Manowar and the next arc of Unity are not going to be direct tie-ins by any means, but there are going to be repercussions from the Armor Hunters event in how the characters act and operate moving forward. So that's really important to understand with what's coming up.
Nrama: In X-O Manowar, you seem to be setting up additional story seeds with the introduction of a mysterious infiltrator in MERO as well as the rehabilitation of Malgam. Is this the last we'll see of the armor hunter? Who is this organization seeking to acquire X-O technology? Is this how the Armorines will factor into the series given their tease in the previews? Where do we go from here?
Venditti: Regarding the infiltrator at MERO and Malgam, we'll learn all about them later on down the line. We have plot lines, and when you close some plot lines, you open others. It's something you do with a monthly series. You never have an end point – you always keep the story going.
About the Armorines, that speaks to what Warren was saying just a moment ago in terms of how the world is different now in the wake of this attack by these aliens, and how does the international community confront this reality. So that's more along the lines of how the Armorines will factor into future storylines as opposed to any connection to the infiltrator.
Nrama: What will become of GIN-GR, who was left for dead in the midst of the wreckage of downtown Los Angeles?
Simons: You should definitely check out the Armor Hunters: Aftermath issue. That question you posed is central to that story, and it's going to have a direct impact on what happens after that point in time. The next few months of Unity will directly address that question and the next few months of X-O Manowar as well.
Nrama: How does Armor Hunters pay homage to the Valiant Universe and the stories that came before?
Venditti: It's particularly with the X-O Manowar tie-ins, where Aric doesn't even factor in for the first three issues; it was a bit of a risk. We weren't sure how people would handle that. But they were on board with it! It's nice to see. I think the Valiant fans, whether interacting with them at conventions or on Twitter or whatever have you, they're very literate. They're a very smart group of comic book readers, and it's nice to be able to deal with these characters and tell the story you want to tell and still be able to appeal to a fan base like that.
Simons: They also tend to be a little better looking than other fan bases, a little smart, a little more handsome or pretty [Laughter]
Well, you know, I've said this many times before, and I feel very lucky to work on properties that some of the greatest minds in our medium have worked on. From Jim Shooter and Bob Layton to Barry Windsor-Smith, we've had some real visionaries who helped launch the line back in the day. They provided a bedrock for us. And our Valiant fans are the foundation of so much we do, and we feel lucky to have them. But we have to move forward and continue create new things, new stories, and new characters and just forge a path where we're envisioning new stuff and continuing to move ahead. That's our goal. That's the key. We don't want to continue to do the same things that may only fit inside a certain box of what came before. Thatseems to be a recipe for disaster. I think we have to be innovative. We have to be new, and we haveto tell great stories. We don't just want to tell others' comic stories of what came before. It's not going to grow our medium. It's not going to grow our readership.
One thing that Rob and I alwaystalk about for every arc – and probably every issue – is accessibility. We need create entry points for new and old readers alike. I feel like it's something ubiquitous that both new and old readers like will appreciate: If you come out of the box and tell a great story whether it's Rai, Unity, Harbinger, or X-O Manowar, I think people will jump on board and appreciate what we have to say.
Armor Hunters #4 and XO Manowar #29 are now available for purchase online and in local comic retail stores. Readers looking to find out the rest of the fallout from the Armor Hunters series can check out the Aftermath issue on Oct. 1st.