Valiant kicked off its annual summer crossover series Wednesday with the first issue of 4001 A.D. – a sci-fi action adventure event with its cybernetic superhero, Rai leading the charge against his controlling progenitor: Father, the artificial intelligence controlling the monstrous space station orbiting the Earth. Last week, we began The 4001 A.D. Chronicles by speaking with Valiant Editor-in-Chief, Warren Simons and series head writer, Matt Kindt to get an idea of what readers can expect at the onset of this epic new storyline that they and artist, Clayton Crain, bring to readers.
This week, we continue the discussion with Kindt looking in depth at the first issue and exploring some of the processes that helped bring this event to the forefront as well as the themes that are already emerging.
Newsarama: Matt, as the first issue of 4001 A.D. opens up, we get a recap discussing the geo-political state of Earth … which isn’t exactly the sort of future we might have hoped for: Mankind has essentially fled Earth to live on “New Japan” – a flying space station of epic magnitude run by a form of artificial intelligence that isn’t necessarily the most altruistic.
In some ways, it almost reminded me a bit of Pixar’s Wall-E. But with a lot more death involved. How much political commentary do you have fused into this backdrop?
Matt Kindt: I’m not interested in political commentary in art or literature. I can’t think of anything I want to read less than something that has an agenda or political message. Religion and politics are things that most people are hard-wired for after a certain point, so you can’t just write something with the idea that you’re going to change a person’s mind on something they’ve believed most of their life. If you want to actually change a person’s perspective on life or anything really, you’ve got to go about it in a much more obtuse way. There are “messages” in my work but it all comes from story and character. I don’t start writing a story with the “big idea” of “what it’s all about.” Every story ends up being what it’s about – without you having to worry about it.
Nrama: So, how do you get to that point in your writing?
Kindt: My writing has always been based on a simple question of “what would this individual do in this specific (and outlandish) situation?” Everything else springs from that. It’s character driven. It’s about basic human emotions and needs and fears. That’s the stuff I’m interested in. Global politics and largely held belief systems are interesting to me like like an angry mob is interesting. They’re fun to draw but the interesting stories are the individual ones. The premise may seem political on the surface – and sure, there’s an element of that to it all – but the real story is how a teenage girl reacts to this future and how an orphaned half-human son responds when he finds out his father is deeply flawed.
All that said, not everything on Earth is dead or dying. There are a lot of interesting characters and locations on Earth that we’ll eventually get to – and the events in New Japan will definitely have an interesting impact on everyone left on Earth.
Nrama: While I do want to get to that – those remaining on Earth - we also find at the start of this series that Father, the name for the governing A.I., is shedding parts of the New Japan space station in the way one might use a tourniquet: lose a limb to save the whole. It seems pretty cut and dry that this enemy is one that is out strictly for its own aims and needs to be stopped.
Is that what we’re looking at here? Or is there more to Father than what appears on the surface?
Kindt: Yeah – that’s it. Father is at the end of his evolutionary journey as provider and protector of humanity. He’s what you end up with as a leader/father that can only see the long view – he only cares about the big picture. If he loses children for a greater good – it’s something he’s done before and something he can live with. It’s a basic lifeboat scenario: do you toss somebody overboard so that the rest may live or do you try to save everyone? The bigger issue isn’t going to be Father and what he’s got planned – the bigger decision – the decisive moment is going to all rest on Rai’s shoulders. What is he going to do? He’s in a position to make a decision that will affect millions of lives. That’s what the series is going to really end up hinging on: if Rai’s the hero, what does the hero do in an impossible situation?
Nrama: We also come to discover in this issue how you’ve managed to rope in at least one character from the current continuity, the Eternal Warrior. But perhaps even more exciting than that, however, is the remnant of the X-O Armor we see Gilad has been protecting over the years, albeit in a new and gigantic form. We seem to get a second clue from you about a “Great X-O War,” with the first being in your Book of Death: Ninjak issue.
Are these the seeds for future summer events I see unfolding here?
Kindt: That’s the beauty of working with Valiant. Those might be seeds – they might not. The seed of the 4001 A.D. event was a natural progression in Rai’s story, so I could certainly see a hundred different ways to expand on the 4001 universe in ways that would be crazy fun to write and fill another hundred comics. I could see a lot of these characters and 4001 scenarios being worthy of their own ongoing books even. There’s just so much rich material to be mined… It’s exciting as a creator to see this stuff starting to really flower and open up.
Nrama: This also calls to mind your love for big robot toys in your books, as evidenced originally with GIN-GR back in the Armor Hunters events that played out in Unity. This time around, however, you’ve really stepped up your game! Can you talk a little bit about how you and Clayton Crain came up with the designs for these new additions?
Kindt: I think it came out of a conversation I had with my editor Warren Simons a year ago. And I don’t think it was Rai or 4001 A.D. related – and I don’t even remember exactly what project we were talking about – maybe a future X-O Manowar story? I don’t remember – but it was exciting, so I started doing sketches and I sketched maybe 10 different giant X-Os of the future…under the water and with trees and moss growing over them. I just loved the idea of that image of these big old robots that have died and then nature is kind of reclaiming them. Like an abandoned city in a way. But those sat around and whatever project that had been for never happened.
When I got to this point in the story, it seemed like a good way to get that visual made real, and in a way, that helps the 4001 story. And of course, Clayton took my sketches and made them amazing – it’s really like seeing a cartoon made real. I get the same kick out of seeing his art as I do going to the super hero movies, you know? You’ve seen these cartoon characters your entire life and then when you see them actually “real” and moving around on the big screen – it’s kind of a unique thrill that I can’t explain. That’s what his art does to my stories.
Nrama: I noticed you also have David Mack joining you and Clayton, where he provides the first three pages that serve as a summary of the events leading up to this event. Unlike Clayton’s visually arresting approach, David employs his well-known brushwork that leans into a more traditional Eastern look and feel.
Aside from the practical need for getting readers caught up, why make use of his “high art” water color aesthetic when dealing with a cutting edge sci-fi book?
Kindt: The contrast is what makes it great. I love and hate recap pages. They’re great and essential for following comics monthly and I’d rather have that then the recap put into dialogue like comics did when I was growing up. But this seemed like a great happy medium – visually it illustrates the “story so far” but it puts you in the mindset of the kind of story that’s being told. An old one – with a new skin on it. Hero’s journey – coming of age – all of that made new.
Nrama: In a similar line of thought, the story seems heavily influenced by Eastern traditional and pop culture with the ronin samurai in Rai and the robotic kaiju that we see at the end of the first issue. What would you say informed your ideas behind 4001 A.D. whether directly or indirectly?
Kindt: I did an illustration for Criterion’s Zatoichi box set collection a few years ago – and I hadn’t seen any of the movies so they sent me a bunch so I could see what I was illustrating. That really inspired me – and I was a kid reading comics in the 80s and Frank Miller’s early stuff had all these references to things I wouldn’t really be aware of until much later. I just love myth stories in general. I love the Greek stuff especially, but what’s great is that every culture has overlapping myths – they start to bleed in to each other and there’s an analogue for every myth story in every culture. But particularly in the Japanese myths I found some super crazy stuff that I hadn’t been aware of before. This is the best part of writing – the research – I love writing about things I don’t know, so that it forces me to learn about ‘em. Image search “rokurokubi” to get a little taste of what I’m talking about. Some amazing great old stories that are really fun to tap into – really basic primal stuff that I found inspiring.
Nrama: Now, it’s clear from the onset that you are working on a massive scale with what promises to be explosive and bombastic event especially with how the issues ends as the last of the X-O Giants looks down the maw of New Japan transformed into a monstrous robotic dragon. Amidst these global battles, however, I’m curious how you plan to draw out the character moments that can often develop out of those still, quiet moments in a story as explosive as this?
Kindt: I’m following the sort of pattern that we established in the Rai ongoing series. Lula and Rai are our entrée into the world and the story – really two kids that are growing up together. So they will always be the emotional anchor. On the other hand, I will say that Rai has been building slowly for 12 issues to this big bombastic moment, so it’s definitely going to be 90% bombast in this series – but we’ve earned it. And ideally – if this is your jumping-on point you’ll be like “Holy Hell?!” and go back and read the stuff that came before to see how we got here.
Nrama: Final question: I’ve heard it said that every writer is trying to answer a very particular question. What’s the question you’re trying to tackle with 4001 A.D.? Why do you think this is something readers out there will want to be a part of as we close out 4001 A.D. #1?
Kindt: The question I’m answering in this is, “In real life, what would a human/A.I. hybrid (Rai) do in a situation where his omniscient A.I. Father was intent on not only killing him, but half of New Japan in an effort to maintain his absolute control over the other half?”
Stay tuned to Newsarama for our ongoing coverage of Valiant's 4001 A.D. with "4001 A.D. Chronicles."