IMPERIUM: Harada's an All-Powerful Madman With Nothing to Lose

Art from Imperium #1
Credit: Valiant Comics

Valiant is looking to expand its lineup starting with The Valiant this month, and continuing at the beginning of next year. One of the titles, Imperium, written by Joshua Dysart (Harbinger) and art by Doug Braithwaite (Armor Hunters) centers around the aftermath of Harbinger: Omegas, and shows the next stage of Toyo Harada’s and his master plan. With Harada’s powers being outed and his empire rotted away, the next logical step is to start over… by teaming up with the world’s most violent supercriminals. Makes sense, right?

Recently Newsarama had the chance to speak to Dysart about Imperium and what’s next for that part of the Valiant world at large, though keeping some details still pretty close to the chest. Valiant also gave Newsarama the exclusive look at the first issue with art by Braithwaite.

Art from Imperium #1
Art from Imperium #1
Credit: Valiant Comics

Newsarama: Joshua, let's talk about the events leading up to Imperium. You had this massive throwdown between the Renegades and Toyo Harada, where are we now?

Joshua Dysart: The Renegades are no longer a factor in this book. They won their fight with Harada, meaning they completely brought to ruin his organization and his long-term plans, but they also sort of destroyed themselves in the process. Harada, however, seems to have emerged with even stronger resolve, he's less cautious, less measured and more ambitious than ever. It seems that those who won have lost, and those who lost have won. When Imperium opens Harada, has taken over a few hundred miles of Somali coast where he intends to establish a post-scarcity society that will eventually become the testing model for his future civilization, which he first plans to implement on the continent of Africa and then eventually across the entire world.

Nrama: How would you say Harada is different from most super villains?

Art from Imperium #1
Art from Imperium #1
Credit: Valiant Comics

Dysart: It's not uncommon to humanize your villain in comics these days, or to have his ultimate failing be simply that his ends justifies his means, so I don't know how unique Harada is conceptually. But I do think that in his actions, in where he draws his line in the sand, in his capacity for kindness and horror, we've created someone that feels both intentional and unpredictable at the same time. Maybe that's what makes him unique. The last time we saw him he threatened the President of United States with the ultimate destruction of America and then, only a few pages later, washed the feet of a poor old Somali Muslim who had come searching for a haven free from conflict and base poverty. If we write and execute him properly both these actions should feel in line with one another, not at odds with each other.

Also, it's a pretty standard trope to have a dictator type character who is trying to take over the world (tropes are big part of this series, but we'll get to that in a moment). All the best villains want to take over, or at the very least, change their world. But the real calculations about how to do this are rarely ever fully explored - and don't get me wrong, this is a pulp world packed with super beings so we're not exactly going for naturalism, but we are a book that's really into the "hows" and "whys" of it all, the minutia of it.

Art from Imperium #1
Art from Imperium #1
Credit: Valiant Comics

Hopefully that's what makes us a welcome addition to this kind of pulp storytelling.

Nrama: Now in Imperium, he's started recruiting a new alliance. Do you think he's the kind of guy who is a team player, so to speak?

Dysart: He’s a team leader, not a team player. Peter was a team player. Everyone in the Renegades got a say. No one tells Harada what to do (and only a few in his inner circle can even recommend a course of action). This is ultimately his greatest flaw. The arrogance of divine vision. A team suggests a governing democratic principle, even inside of a chain of command system. Harada has seen the worst in humanity and he distrusts our collective instincts, which means he also distrusts communal systems like democracy.

Nrama: Are we going to see any new characters introduced into the fold?

Art from Imperium #1
Art from Imperium #1
Credit: Valiant Comics

Dysart: Loads. This is a real chance for us to play around with some super villain tropes the same way we played with superhero tropes in Harbinger. In Harbinger you had the typical team: the "tank"; the "hottie"; the "brain"; the "heart"; and the "anti-hero" lead. But the point was to try and invert all of those ideas, or at least handle them in a more grounded way than is usually done. This is the same principle we're applying to this book. This time the tropes we're playing with are an "evil alien"; a "robot soldier"; a "mad scientist"; a "political extremist" (the most terrifying of all monsters); and, of course, a "global dictator" bent on taking over the world. So all of that breeds new fun characters to throw into the Valiant universe.

This is my third take on building a super-powered team for Valiant (The Renegades are the first, obviously with a tremendous template from Jim Shooter and David Lapham to riff off of, and the child-soldiers of Generation Zero are the other). I really love creating these teams and then using the stories to explore team dynamics. Bands are hard, and I'm fascinated with watching people who are caught up in the same organization work both for against one another.

Art from Imperium #1
Art from Imperium #1
Credit: Valiant Comics

Nrama: Can you tell us a little bit about your design aesthetic with this futuristic world?

Dysart: I'm hesitant to talk about that aspect of the comic. I'd like a lot of that to be a surprise. Let's just say that I give Doug ideas and Doug takes them to new and amazing heights.

Nrama: You're working with artist Doug Braithwaite on the series, so what do you think of the joint effort process so far with him?

Dysart: I'm in love with him. I think we should move into a flat together and make this comic. Sleep in the same room together. Drink the same milkshake, forehead to forehead, with two different straws. I was always really impressed with his storytelling and page design before I ever got to meet him. Then, after our first phone call about this book, I was on cloud nine.

Art from Imperium #1
Art from Imperium #1
Credit: Valiant Comics

This book needs a humanist to draw it, a kind and smart heart, because we're going to try to tell stories about terrible people, and the artist is going to have to impart the humanity of these characters to the reader (especially the humanity of aliens and robots). Doug can not only go both big and intimate in the span of a single page, he seems to take pleasure in these kinds of juxtapositions.

Nrama: Does Imperium also act as a jumping on point in anyway for those unfamiliar with the new Valiant universe or is some backtracking required?

Dysart: It absolutely acts as a jumping-on point. If we've done this thing right there will be a real sense that you're at the start of something fresh when you open that first issue. You're at the start of a new mission and a unique team. But the events of the past are still relevant because this is ultimately a chapter in a larger narrative. Hopefully references to the past will entice the reader to see how this world got to this point, but it's not necessary to enjoy the action, ideas, characters and story that Imperium will thrive on.

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