The Valiant Universe is just about two years old, and the publisher has had about as much success as they could have dreamed up for their characters. With critical acclaim, a strong and growing fanbase, and awards from readers and retailers alike, the revival of 90s concepts as modern-day heroes in a new cohesive universe has taken off.
So what’s next? Well, Valiant promises they’ll be keeping their publishing line to a tight 8-10 titles per month, including mini-series. That focus is specifically to cater to their fans, many of whom tell Valiant that they enjoy reading the entire line.
But that doesn’t mean nothing new is coming. With Valiant First, a new initiative to carry them through the rest of 2014, Valiant is promising a new #1 every month – sometimes even more than one. Some of those first issues will be mini-series or event series, some will be new ongoings.
We sat down with editor Warren Simons and Valiant CEO and Chief Creative Officer Dinesh Shamdasani for more on Valiant first, what’s coming from May through September, and even got a couple of updates on plans for their existing characters and comics. So first, a quick rundown.
RAI #1– MATT KINDT, CLAYTON CRAIN
ARMOR HUNTERS #1– ROBERT VENDITTI, DOUG BRAITHWAITE
ARMOR HUNTERS: BLOODSHOT #1- JOE HARRIS, TREVOR HAIRSINE
ARMOR HUNTERS: HARBINGER #1- JOSHUA DYSART, ROBERT GILL
THE DELINQUENTS #1- FRED VAN LENTE & JAMES ASMUS, KANO
THE DEATH-DEFYING DR. MIRAGE #1– JEN VAN METER, ROBERTO DE LA TORRE
Well, that would be telling…
Valiant confirmed to Newsarama that Bloodshot and H.A.R.D. Corps is coming to an end as the mini-series takes its place, then other series will come into the fold. Harbinger and Shadowman, despite having mini-series this Spring and Summer, however, will continue on. In the case of Harbinger, a major change was implied, but they’re being a little coy about that one. Shamdasani confirmed that Peter Milligan has plans for another “12-18 months” of Shadowman beyond the “End Times” mini-series, however.
In a meaty and frank conversation, Simons and Shamdasani then told us why they’re putting these launches together as an initiative, where they see Valiant in the marketplace two years in, and went through each series to tell us why Valiant fans should be excited.
Newsarama: Well, gentlemen, First things First (pun intended). Why lump the next few months of launches together into this “Valiant First” campaign?
Dinesh Shamdasani: It’s very simple. We’re trying to give people an opportunity to jump into what we’re doing. We find that we have a very passionate fanbase, and they’re loving the slow and steady release plan that we have, which allows us to keep the quality very high.
But the one thing we hear a lot is “I’ve heard so much about Valiant, I really want to try Valiant, when’s the next time I can jump in?” We do two or three new launches a year, we’re very particular about shaping the books and putting them out in the market. So what we’re doing here, is we’re giving people an opportunity to jump in every month during 2014. Valiant First is a number one book, of the same quality we’ve done before, every month of 2014. It’s a chance to jump into the Valiant Universe every month.
Warren Simons: Yeah, we’re really focusing on accessibility and entry points. We’re trying to let readers jump on board, and come learn about Valiant and the things that have made us so beloved in the first place.
Nrama: What have you learned about your first two years, your first couple of rounds of launches that you’ve done, that you can apply to this next big push?
Shamdasani: I think the key thing that we’ve learned is that if you put out great stories, the audience is there, and very passionate. You can grow a publishing line, you can grow a universe, you can grow a world of characters based on the strength of the stories you put out there!
Simons: Yeah, I think that’s a great point, and it’s a great question, Lucas. The main thing that we’re focusing on is what we’ve always focused on: Just care about every individual issue, care about every page, care about every panel. We want to make sure everything goes out the door with an amazing amount of love in it. We never want to just be mailing in an arc, or even an issue. We’re really trying to focus on consistently putting out great books, every month, with every issue. You won’t always hit the mark you want to, but I like to think that we do more often than not. That’s really the goal we’re trying for here, and I think it’s what the market and the fans have really responded to.
Every issue they pick up, there’s something compelling, character driven, and action driven, something that brings them into the Valiant Universe even more. That’s something that excites me as an editor. The team that I have that we work with, Josh and Alejandro, Dinesh, and the whole crew upstairs, they’re very passionate about this stuff. We spend long hours debating story and characters. I think it gets into the page.
I think if we continue to pay special attention to that, that’s a step in the right direction.
Shamdasani: And that’s one of the things we’ve learned. We have learned how to do that more quickly, and we’ve learned how to do it over more titles. Over the course of the two years that we’ve been publishing now, we’ve had tremendous success that’s allowed us to increase our staff size, let us change the way we put these books together, and how we cast them.
We have creators now that are used to working with the team, and they know the characters, so we’re able to put together the quality of books that we want to put together, but much more quickly, which enables us to do something like Valiant First. This isn’t something we could do when we launched. Here, now that we’ve defined our brand and our reputation as great, exciting storytellers, we put this series of great books together and we’re putting them out in the market.
I think that when people see this series of books, when they see Rai, which is our first one. These pages, they are phenomenal, it’s some of the best comic art I’ve ever seen. Clayton Crain is the interior artist, he’s painting the entire first arc. It looks like another world. It looks phenomenal.
Simons: Yeah, Matt and Clayton are putting together a vision of the Valiant Universe in the year 4001 that is just extraordinary. Matt worked six months on just planning what he wanted to do with the future universe. I hate to throw the term “visionary” around, but it’s extraordinary in its vision and its passion and we’re all passing it around reading it and just mouths agape. Clayton is absolutely drawing the hell out of it, we’re super excited about that book.
Nrama: Before we start running down more of the books, let’s talk about creators. In an age where most corporate owned books seem to have creators that come on for a four, five, or six-issue run, you guys have built a stable of writers. You have people like Robert Venditti and Joshua Dysart and Fred Van Lente, and now the second round of James Asmus and Matt Kindt and Peter Milligan, and Greg Pak, that came in and stayed in. Is that a particular focus, making this into a family affair in a way, for you guys?
Simons: As an editor, it is for me. We’ll always be bringing in new creators, and there will be variables there, but for the most part, I try to develop a close relationship with the writers and artists and work with them for a time where we can get a level of trust with each other, learn what their strengths and weaknesses are so that the fans can get to know them and love their takes on a character.
I think Venditti and Dysart and Fred and Matt and Peter and everyone have really put their backs into the work, and they’re excited about it. They’re jazzed up about coming over to work with us. It’s really been a phenomenal experience on my end to work with these guys and put out the quality of books we’ve been doing.
Shamdasani: It makes good books! All my favorite runs in comic book history, it’s a creative team on a character for an extended period of time. That doesn’t mean I don’t like the character when the creative team changes, but we often talk about Claremont and Byrne on the X-Men in the office, or Stan Lee on Spider-Man, or even Garth Ennis’s run on Preacher, Neil Gaiman on Sandman. Things that everybody loves. We’re not a corporation that’s owned by this giant parent that requires these quarterly earnings reports. We don’t have to have the flash-in-the-pan event every quarter to boost the numbers, which often means a change in creative team or status quo, or a new costume or a death. We’re able to have these guys come in and build a world, build a long plan.
The plan that Peter Milligan is building on Shadowman, for example, is this huge, exciting thing. I think that fans will really go nuts when they see where this is going in 12-18 months. Dysart’s plan on Harbinger is nearing a big milestone – we can’t give it away just yet – but it’s nearing this milestone that we’ve been talking about since day one. It’s really cool to have these guys come in and worldbuild like this. And it makes the best comics, I think.
Nrama: Now, I know you guys want to keep the publishing line pretty focused and tight. With some of the new introductions, does that mean we’ll see some books drop off the schedule, or even have some temporary replacements?
Shamdasani: Well, for the tie-ins, Harbinger will continue as well. Bloodshot will move into Armor Hunters. But that’s the nice thing again about having the longterm writers. We’re nearing some of the milestone moments they were already building towards for a year or two years. So when we switch things up when they hit these milestones, when you see some titles come out and some new ones come in, it’s happening because of what was planned.
The beauty of the Valiant Universe, and what these guys in the 90s created, Layton, ad Smith, and all those guys, it’s such a large, robust universe. We still haven’t even touched so many elements of it. We want to continue to expand, but we want to keep the universe as small as possible, so that one, if you want to read everything, you can read everything – we don’t want to gouge the consumer. Two, it’s so we can keep the quality high, make sure that every issue of every title is as strong as it can be. We’ll keep ourselves to nine core titles for this year.
Simons: Yeah, I think Dinesh summed it up. The thing I talk to all my writers about is that slow and steady wins the race. It’s just about consistent quality over time, and that’s something we’re looking at with the new titles we’re launching out. We could expand quickly, but we’d rather focus on making sure every launch we have is sound, is a homerun. We want you to put any single issue down and just want to come back for more. That’s our focus every single month.
Nrama: well, with that in mind, let’s go down the line of the new launches here. You guys talked about Rai already. With Armor Hunters, and the two tie-ins there of Armor Hunters: Bloodshot and Armor Hunters: Harbinger, what’s the advantage to you, and what’s the reason creatively for you to do this kind of “Event” crossover with the mini-series?
Shamdasani: This is something – we don’t plan for these things by saying “Hey, we want an event here. This is the most profitable month for us, and we need this because of a certain financial need.” What we do, is we build these stories, and organically, the event happens. Rob Venditti has been, in his original pitch, been building to an origin of the X-O Manowar armor, that he’s been revealing very slowly. Armor Hunters is an extension of that reveal. So what you’ll get there is more background on the truth of where the armor came from, and it turns a lot of it on its head. The Armor Hunters coming to Earth is that built-up revelation of the origins of that armor.
Simons: Yeah, and for myself, while I was an exceptionally cool kid, probably one of the coolest kids in my school (laughs), Mutant Massacre and Age of Apocalypse were two shining moments of my youth. They were these points where I was just absolutely enamored by these stories. For me, I just love the magnitude of it when it’s done right. I love seeing the different characters interact with each other. I love seeing Thor in the Morlock tunnels. I love seeing what the repercussion was for the characters when they went through the grinder. I love seeing what it’s like in a future.
So comparatively in our universe, I love seeing what Bloodshot is going to do when he goes up against one of these things. How’s it going to affect him? How will it affect the Harbinger universe? What is the broader tapestry of our universe when they all interact with each other, and they’re facing this extraordinary force that nothing on this Earth – nothing has ever been like this in the Valiant Universe before?
Rob Venditti and I have these character designs from Clayton Crain of Ginger, one of the main characters in Armor Hunters, who is this giant robot, who has this Kirby head that looks like it’s smiling, but is absolutely this walking nuclear bomb. It looks like a smiley happy children’s character, but the thing levels… well, I don’t want to get too into it, but I’m super stoked about where it’s going.
Shamdasani: He’s a death robot. He’s a giant, Kirby-style Death Robot.
Simons: (laughs) Yes! He is walking destruction. And we’re so excited about it. So we’re not just dropping Armor Hunters in here for the sake of dropping it in here. It’s a story that Rob’s been building toward telling for 25 issues. It will subvert all the expectations of what X-O Manowar has been for two years, and turn all of it on its head.
Nrama: Very cool! Well, August, we have Delinquents, which you're calling the "World's Worst Teamup" – I don’t know that I’ve ever heard of a team-up book of two team-ups. How did this one come about? Knowing Fred Van Lente, it sounds like this was a bar conversation about two or three hours into the night…
Simons: Well Fred and James, when we talked to them about the idea… After we launched Quantum and Woody, we knew that sometime in the future both Quantum & Woody and Archer & Armstrong had to meet up with each other. It had a very natural feel, so when we talked to the guys about it, they both responded really well to it. Having Fred and James write a comedy series featuring Archer & Armstrong and Quantum & Woody is a little bit of a dream project. So I’m super pumped up about it.
Shamdasani: And to correct you a little, it’s a duo and a threesome. We have to remember The Goat, a key player in this sordid tale (laughs).
Nrama: “The Goat is what brings them together... and tears them apart.”
Shamdasani: (laughs) No spoilers, man!
Nrama: Okay, September! September sees a new take on a classic Valiant character, with Dr. Mirage played out as a female lead. And you’re bringing in someone new to the Valiant Universe with Jen Van Meter. So, why the gender swap with Dr. Mirage, and how closely will this book be connected to Shadowman?
Simons: Yeah, Jen Van Meter just put together an exceptional pitch. The editor on the book Alejandro Arbona worked closely with Jen, and they put together this pitch that we all just fell in love with.
And yes, it does tap into the mythology we’ve seen in the Shadowman series. While it’s Dr. Mirage’s story, and wholly her story, we are operating in that corner of the universe. It does explain what she and her husband did, her background, how this character came to be and her larger role in the Valiant Universe. So it will go with those things we’ve established in Shadowman, but I don’t want to give too much away yet.
Nrama: Tell us a little more about the character here, if you can.
Shamdasani: This is Shan Fong as Dr. Mirage, who we introduced in Shadowman. This is a really really exciting book. It’s a high-octane adventure story, but it’s also a love story at its core. It’s something we haven’t done before; it’s very emotional. It’s so hard to talk about this book without giving away the big revelations.
Simons: Yeah, I’m trying to walk the line here. By the end of the first issue, we’ll be introducing a character we haven’t in the Valiant Universe yet, and exploring how this character interacts with Dr. Mirage and helps build their origin together.
Nrama: Of course you have Shadowman: End Times, then this one launching in September… is that spelling bad news for Shadowman fans?
Shamdasani: I think Peter Milligan is spelling bad news for Shadowman fans! (laughs) If you take a look at what is happening in Shadowman right now, things are not looking too rosy for Jack Boniface.
But no, Peter has a long, long plan for Shadowman, and it’s very cool. You’ll be seeing Shadowman in various forms for the foreseeable future, but we’ll be having a little bit of fun with it. It’s going to be very unexpected.
Nrama: And there will be more beyond September, right?
Shamdasani: There will be more in the Valiant First program, but not that we can reveal just yet.
Nrama: Always have to leave us wanting more, like you said. Well, let’s start wrapping up here, guys. If you have a theme or a mission statement for 2014, for “Year 3” of Valiant Comics, what would that be?
Shamdasani: Our mission statement is, and this is the reason we’re doing Valiant First. Let me tell you where Valiant First came from.
We kept hearing from fans at conventions, at stores, from letters, on facebook and twitter, they would tell us the same things over and over again. They told us how excited they were about specific characters or books, and they’d tell us that no matter how many books they were buying – they’re all buying Marvel books, DC books, Image books – those publishers are doing some great books right now, but no matter how many books were in their stacks, the first books they were most excited to read were ours.
We don’t publish anywhere near the quantity of the books Marvel and DC publish. We’re not trying to publish the most books. We’re not trying to publish even the biggest-selling books. We’re trying to publish the best books. It was so motivating for us to hear that our fans were more excited to read our books than anything else anyone was publishing. That’s what we want to do in a broader way.
Simons: So yeah, I think the tagline for this year is Valiant First, which is a great tagline.
Shamdasani: Yeah, if nothing else for this year, we offer people a chance to get into our books. And if they read one of our Valiant First books and it’s the best damn book they’ve read that month, then mission accomplished.
Nrama: So “Valiant First” has that double meaning of being number ones, but also that you want people to be reading Valiant, first.
Simons: Yeah, as Dinesh said, it’s that thing we heard over and over at conventions. When they’re buying a Valiant book, it’s the first thing they’re reading in their stack. It’s very rewarding to hear that, for creators for me as an editor. We feel like that’s part of our DNA, and that’s our initiative for this year.