Described as a “James Cameron-meets-Jack Kirby vision” of the future, Valiant Enterainment's next summer event 4001 A.D. begins this week with the Free Comic Book Day preview folowed by #1 on May 11. In this new crossover series, Matt Kindt and Clayton Crain explore what happens when the Valiant world as readers know it is left behind, and a dark worldview and regime takes its place - with the Valiant heroes of old being pressed back into duty to rebel.
In picking up on the story of the banished and left for dead Rai, 4001 A.D. looks to see how mankind and its heroes will rise up and put an end to the iron rule of it’s A.I. ruler, Father. The "mankind" in this is both those living in the orbiting country of New Japan, flying above Earth as well as those still dwelling on the planet’s desolate surface. In the lead up to its release, event writer Matt Kindt and Valiant Editor-in-Chief Warren Simons spoke with Newsarama about their plans for 4001 A.D. and some hints about what to expect from this futuristic crossover.
Newsarama: In just a few days, readers will be introduced to the world of 4001 A.D.. Matt, Warren, what is it about this setting and cast of characters that made it the right place for the setting of Valiant’s 2016 summer crossover event?
Simons: Matt’s done an excellent job at building the 4001 A.D. architecture for us and populating it and fleshing it out. That took about a year, and we’ve arrived at a point where we’re going to shake things up dramatically. We’re building a story that is completely accessible to new readers, but by the same token is also a continuation of the future Valiant Universe. One of the things that is so great about the Valiant Universe is that it exists on three timelines: the past, the present, and the future. We’ve seen that in our books, either in the past with Unity or Eternal Warrior, or in the future with Rai. A lot of times, what happens in the past influences the future, and the future will drop clues that we can pick up in the past. Matt’s built a story that’s so broad in scope that it’s essentially a second universe, and we wanted to give him the space to tell the story as best as possible.
Matt Kindt: It came about organically. This was a plot point that was in Rai when I pitched the series at the beginning, and it was a big story moment that we were building to for over a year. Then when we got to it, I remember being in the writer’s room when we were deciding everything. The story just seemed so big, it became obvious that we’d need more room for it. We needed to expand it and give it more room to breathe because I was doing a lot of stuff with Clayton and growing a lot of the stuff we did in the first 12 issues of Rai. It started blowing up, and I knew we needed more space for it.
Honestly, and I think this is how I’ve seen every event happen at Valiant, it started organically. It’s like, “Oh, this could be a big story, so let’s make it a big story, and loop in who wants to be looped in, and have it touch the rest of the universe.” From my point of view as the writer of Rai, it made sense. It was like, this is where I’m at right now, and nobody else had anything big going on at the time, so it made sense to then include whoever wanted to work on it.
Nrama: Warren, you’ve helped to shepherd Valiant for over four years now, which includes crossover events such as Harbinger Wars, Armor Hunters, and The Book of Death. What are some of the lessons learned from these past events? What do you think you - either individually or as a company - did well and what some things you want to improve upon with 4001 A.D.?
Simons: I’d say that I’m extremely proud of all of our events, including Harbinger Wars, Armor Hunters, and Book of Death. I think one of the keys has been working with such great talent that takes pride in their work, and doesn’t look at this as their second or third most important thing they’re working on. They really put their hearts into it. Also, I think we try to keep the scope of the events measured. We haven’t forced our fans to purchase additional books to understand what the core story is. I think providing sister books like 4001 A.D.: Bloodshot #1 that tie into the tapestry of the event, but aren’t necessarily required reading to understand the story, have helped a great deal. We care a great deal about these stories, and try to make them as good as possible. As Matt mentioned earlier, we try to make sure that they’re developing from the right, organic place, like The Valiant, or 4001 A.D., where there’s a natural evolution into why this story is being told, as opposed to putting something out there because we have to hit a quarterly number.
Nrama: Now, the past two summers, we’ve had Robert Venditti at the helm for the summer crossovers. What made you think it was time to tap Matt Kindt as the head writer for the 2016 event?
Simons: Rob’s done a magnificent job with our events. Definitely one of my favorite things to do over the past few years has been to work with Rob on our events. We have a great time, put a great story together, and have fun. But Matt’s also done a masterful job with us on huge projects like Divinity and Unity, and like we noted earlier, there’s the natural evolution for why this story is taking place now. Matt was excited about the prospect of blowing this thing out and having fun with it, and here we are.
Nrama: Along similar lines, Matt, I’m curious how this experience compares to your past writing opportunities. I believe this is your first time as the showrunner for a major event, no? What are some of the obstacles and highlights in terms of coordinating all of the moving pieces with the other writers?
Kindt: I’ve had some experience with events in the past. I think coming from that background, and seeing how things can become a train wreck, it’s helped me approach this in a way where I make it fun for me, and make it fun for everyone involved. And I can’t do that on my own, so I think editorial and everyone is helping make that happen.
Coming up with a concept for a crossover or an event is the key. You need something that’s inclusive and lets everyone plug into it and tell a story, but isn’t so overbearing that it ties everybody’s hands up. It shouldn’t be, “Oh, you have to do this event; you have to tie into this; you can only do so much.” Having been on that other end, where I’m trying to fit my thing into somebody’s bigger story, it’s hard. It’s not the most fun thing to write. So with 4001 A.D., I tried to frame it in a way where it gave everybody else that wanted to be involved the freedom to come up with whatever they wanted to come up with. I just wanted them to use their imagination, with the sky as a limit. The fun, for me, is to set up a sandbox that everybody can play in and where they can bring their own toys.
Nrama: That seems to be the trend over the years based on your past summer event interviews with Newsarama.
Kindt: That’s the strength of what makes Valiant so good. They hire people to do what they do. You come in and do your thing, because that’s what you do best. The same thing goes with an event. You can come in and tell your story as you’d like to tell it, and connect it in a way that’s fun and unique. With 4001 A.D., we really get that, because the way Rai was structured, the series starts where you just see these few characters. Then we pull back and we see New Japan and how it works. Then we pull back again and see Earth. So now we’re at that point where we’re in the year 4001, and we’re wondering what’s happened to Earth for the past 2,000 years. What happened to all the characters we know and love? We pulled out to that point and that’s where we hit the crossover. We can get jazzed and get other writers to take characters they’re already working on, and imagine what they would be doing between now and 4001 A.D. It really leaves it wide open. And it behooves a showrunner to really respond to what other creators are doing. When Jeff Lemire was doing his 4001 A.D.: Bloodshot story, he kept sending me things that gave me new ideas for 4001 A.D. It’s more a collaboration than just handing out marching orders. That’s the key to a good event.
Nrama: One thing I’m sure readers will be wondering about is the challenge of moving 2,000 years ahead in the Valiant universe when most characters who people know reside in present day timeline.
Can you talk about the challenge this posed and how you are working around it?
Kindt: Honestly, it makes it easier in a weird way. It makes for a better jumping-on point, because everyone is starting from the same spot. Whether you’ve been reading Valiant since the very beginning, or are just picking this up for the first time, you don’t know what’s happened 2,000 years into the future. It’s basically starting from the ground up, and showing what Earth is like, and what New Japan is doing. All the characters you already know and love and are curious about, you get to check in on them and see what’s happened and what they’re doing, and what their 4001 incarnations look like.
It’s great if you’re a fan already, because it’s kind of a nice twist, and you get a glimpse of the future. But if you’ve never read a Valiant book, then you get a great sci-fi story set in the year 4001 with all of these new characters. If you’ve never read a Valiant book, this might actually be a better way to jump into the universe.
Nrama: Artistically, we have some familiar faces as well as some newer names to the halls of Valiant in 4001 A.D. Who and what has you most excited from a visual standpoint?
Kindt: I just think from a visual standpoint, the pages that Clayton Crain has been turning in for 4001 A.D. have blown everything else he’s done away, and that’s saying something because I’ve loved everything he has done. But with the story being bigger and more bombastic, things have really opened up. There is a double-page spread in that first issue that I’m specifically thinking about... It’s probably the most amazing thing I’ve seen him do as far as storytelling and rendering. Artistically, Clayton is at the height of his powers. And I think the art on Rai is also amazing. The stuff that CAFU has been doing in Rai is beyond anything I’ve seen him do, and I don’t know, I think he has changed his process a little bit, but he’s using grey tones. We are getting to see Rai and 4001 A.D. filtered through his lens, which is a revelation as well.
I’m getting to see a lot of the older Rai in the story, the protectors of New Japan that came before the Rai we know. We are telling a little bit of backstory there. From the year 3000 to 4000, there were a bunch of Rai. So we get see those stories, and we get to see the history of New Japan. I’m super-excited for those issues.
Simons: Let me just chime in and say that 4001 A.D. and Rai proper would not be the same books without Clayton Crain. He is just doing an absolute masterful job. He is probably, if not the finest, one of the finest visual storytellers working in the industry today. He is doing an extraordinary job. When that page came in that Matt was talking about in issue one, there was a word balloon on it. But we took it out, because Clayton had made such a beautiful moment. He is doing gorgeous work.
Nrama: How about the other tie-in books? Who do you have involved there?
Simons: Clayton Henry, who used to do Archer & Armstrong, just drew the first tie-in book, which is called 4001 A.D.: X-O Manowar, which Robert Venditti wrote. Clayton said it was one if his favorite things to ever draw. It’s basically a giant mech battle in space versus New Japan, which now orbits the earth.
Doug Braithwaite just drew 4001 A.D.: Bloodshot #1, which Jeff Lemire is writing. Ryan Lee did an amazing character design for that, where Bloodshot is basically just his head, and the rest of his body is nanites. Then we have Robert Gill on 4001 A.D.: Shadowman, which Jody Houser and Rafer Roberts are co-writing.
And then Matt’s writing a great story in Rai, about Father basically coming to terms with humanity and figuring how humanity operates, and why people do what they do via the Rai. That happens in the proper Rai series, and CAFU has done extraordinary job on that. We have a really extraordinary artistic line-up here. The books are really coming together beautifully, and I couldn’t be happier.
And I want to give an extra shout out to Matt Kindt, who did some extraordinary design work early on in the process. He did this beautiful rendition of future X-O Manowar, which is ultimately what we based the current 4001 X-O Manowar design on. So, beautiful job there, Matt.
Kindt: Thanks, I forgot about that. The stuff with the X-O Manowar design, that’s a beautiful thing to me. With these crossover collaborations, we had just so many ideas in the beginning when we were in the writer’s room. But then there are only 22 pages in the comic, so there is no way to get it all in there. So letting it expand out into things like Rob’s X-O Manowar stuff and the Shadowman story, and having the space to do all that, has been super-exciting.
Nrama: I seem to recall past hints of the future Matt is creating here in previous crossovers and ongoing series. Where would you point readers to for these types of Easter eggs should they be so inclined?
Kindt: I would say Rai is the best place the start. The stuff that’s happening in 4001 A.D., we really hinted at that and built up to it in Rai. The whole series was structured previous to these four issues of 4001 A.D., and then the stuff that comes after. So if anything, I’d say read those issues.
Nrama: Finally, what do you suggest readers brush up on from the Valiant catalog so they can be current with what’s taking place in 4001 A.D.?
Simons: I think that one of the great strengths of our events is that we try to make them as accessible as possible. I know that Matt and I worked really hard on that first issue to make it as accessible as possible, and we were lucky enough to have David Mack join us and give us an extraordinarily beautiful recap sequence to fill readers in. So whether it was Book of Death or Armor Hunters or Harbinger Wars, we always try to make the previous stories in the Valiant Universe not required reading. I’ll leave it there, but Rai is a great place to start.