BEHIND THE BOOK OF DEATH with Valiant EIC Warren Simons and Rob Venditti

"Book of Death" preview
Credit: Valiant Entertainment
Credit: Valiant Entertainment

Summer is about the sun, the surf, and summer events in comic books. And Valiant Entertainment is launching their third annual summer event on a dour note with Book of Death. Set to launch July 15, the publisher promises an influx of old favorites and new creations -- and more than a few deaths. At the center of it is Gilad the Eternal Warrior, looking to stem the coming destruction of Earth from a malevolent Master Darque -- and luckily, Gilad's got a geomancer from the future on his side.

In a new series of interviews we're calling Behind The Book Of Death, we'll document Valiant's summer event series and check in with each major chapter with the creators and key editors involved. In this inaugural installment, Book of Death head writer Rob Venditti and Valiant Editor-In-Chief Warren Simmons opens up with Newsarama about the deaths foretold in its spin-off title names, and what exactly Gilad and the other Valiant heroes are up against.

Credit: Valiant Entertainment

Newsarama: Gentlemen, two years ago, we had Harbinger Wars and last summer’s event was Armor Hunters. It seems each year, Valiant looks to place a new character in the spotlight for it’s big event story. Although the Eternal Warrior’s clearly one of your most prevalent characters, what made now the time for him to get top billing?

Warren Simons: We only started publishing about three to four years ago. We’re in a position where we’re still trying to showcase all of the characters to some extent. It’s the same reason we launched originally with only four books and not nine.

I felt Harbinger Wars did a great job of showcasing the Harbinger kids and Bloodshot, and Armor Hunters did a great job of showcasing X-O Manowar. On one hand, we’re still relatively young and working to naturally highlight our characters; on the other, Armor Hunters grew organically from the story Rob was telling in X-O Manowar, Harbinger Wars was a direct result of how we launched both Harbinger and Bloodshot, but with Book of Death we’ve reached a place where we’re not shoe-horning something in. Now, we’re building upon what we’ve published previously.

Credit: Valiant Entertainment

Nrama: Can you talk about the development of this storyline? I know, Rob, you mentioned last summer that Armor Hunters was something you had been seeding from the earliest issues of X-O Manowar. Was this an extension of Jeff Lemire and Matt Kindt’s The Valiant or was this an event you had planned early on?

Robert Venditti: Like Warren said, I think that it’s building on stuff that came before it. As time goes by and as we develop our writers’ room and talk more and more about the direction for all of the books, it becomes much more of a collaborative thing, unlike X-O Manowar where I launched the book with things already embedded in the pitch. That’s not to say that everything from Armor Hunters was planned from day one, but there were definitely things there during the pitch phase before Valiant was even publishing any comics at all. There was no writers’ room, and you didn’t really know yet what all of the other books were going to do. I don’t even think I knew what the other books were going to be.

It’s kind of fun to be able to work in a universe like that where you can pick up a bunch of toys and play with the other guys and gals who get along well – where there aren’t a lot of egos or a sense of territoriality or anything like that. Things come out of that organically. I mean, Matt Kindt probably didn’t know early on that he was going to have a big, gigantic robot for a home base for the Unity team until Armor Hunters.

Credit: Valiant Entertainment

Ideas come along based on what other people are doing in their books. It’s really kind of fun working in a shared universe.

Simons: That’s a great answer. In the same way Matt Kindt launched Unity for us, that story was built upon Rob’s returning Aric back to Earth, conquering Romania, and then Matt came in to pick up the story from there with the Unity team.

It’s important to note that this isn’t “The Valiant 2.” The things we told in The Valiant will shape and inform the Book of Death, but we’re trying to build stories that can stand alone. You don’t have to read what came before.

When Rob and I began to talk about Book of Death and what it might be, a lot of the themes he brought to the table that I responded to and thought were beautiful centered around ideas about faith – not the character, of course, but a person’s belief or religion. These are concepts that factor into this story, which I was really attracted to and you won’t see those things within The Valiant but you will in The Book of Death.

Nrama: At the end of The Valiant #4, the good guys actually lost. You pulled an Empire Strikes Back on the heroes of the Valiant Universe where the Eternal Enemy slays Kay, leaves Bloodshot battered and bruised, and The Eternal Warrior starts the cycle all over through being given another geomancer to protect – this time, the child, Tama.

Credit: Valiant Entertainment

Is the Book of Death going to break the cycle? Will Gilad actually keep a geomancer alive?

Credit: Valiant Entertainment

Venditti: Everybody dies. Can I say that, Warren?

Simons: [Laughs]

Venditti: Too much of a spoiler, do you think? [Laughs]

Simons: No, not too much of one! [Laughs]

Venditti: How to answer that? I get where you’re coming from with The Valiant, but I don’t know if I look at it in terms of whether or not the good guys succeed or fail, but I guess I just look at it as to whether or not it’s a good story. Do the heroes succeed in a way that narratively holds up? Do they fail in a way that narratively holds up? Holding to those principles, which have guided Valiant Comics all along, and I think that’s borne out by books like The Valiant. Knowing Matt, Jeff, and Warren, they got to a point in the story where they knew Kay had to die and they didn’t shy away from it.

In that regard, Book of Death will continue on in that regard. Whether or not the heroes succeed or fail, it will ultimately be done in a way that the readers will understand that this is what was meant to happen, it will make sense, and it will all hold together. It’s similar to Armor Hunters with its universe-wide story event in that there’s always going to be winners and losers. Who’s going to land on one side and who’s going to land on the other? We’ll have to wait and find out.

Credit: Valiant Entertainment

Nrama: Although there are certain to be surprises in store for readers, are there any hints you can give fans as to what they can expect? Any new or returning characters?

Venditti: Obviously, it’s news now that Master Darque is going to be the primary villain, and he was a part of this right from the pitching phase with Warren. I was reading up on the series and looking back through the history of Valiant and its past stories and characters. Then, I found Master Darque. He looked really fun, really interesting, and seemed like he’d be someone who could get me out of my comfort zone. He’s much more of a horror themed character, and I’ve never done anything like that.

I’m always trying to get better as a writer and expand my skillset, so I’m really excited to be working with Master Darque.

Beyond that, there’s going to be a ton of new content in the first issue alone. Favorite characters that people are used to seeing, like Ninjak and Livewire; however, there are also going to be first appearances from classic characters from old Valiant continuity as well. It’s possibly the most amount of content I’ve ever put into any comic I’ve ever written just in terms of volume of concepts and things that are introduced. It’s part of what drew me to the project in the first place – being able to just put all of these threads out there that future writers – either myself or others – may choose to pull on. It’s a great chance to put some new toys in the toy box for others to play with in the future.

Credit: Valiant Entertainment

Simons: Yeah, the book that Tama, the Geomancer carries, is from the future. It has recorded several hundred years of the Valiant Universe’s history. So, we’ll see new characters, the deaths of key characters, we’ll see new formations of old teams, and some of the relations that developed.

It was definitely one of those things that Rob and I talked about, and I was really quite interested to see how he was going to execute this. He ended up putting together this 8-page framing sequence of a story within the story for Dougie Braithwaite, who absolutely killed. One of the reasons that I love working with Rob is that he doesn’t just build continuity, it’s not just a callback to something that occurred in continuity; it’s something that feeds into the greater story that we’re telling.

I don’t know if I should tell Rob that I love working with him during an interview, but there it is. [Laughs]

Nrama: In that case, what other creators do you love? Who else can we expect to see from the other creators and titles in the Valiant Universe?

Simons: I love all of my freelancers equally! [Laughs] We have four one-shots that are going to accompany the main Book of Death story. The first one will be by Jeff Lemire and Dougie Braithwaite (Book of Death: The Fall of Bloodshot) and will accompany the first issue, the second one will be by Matt Kindt and Trevor Hairsine (Book of Death: The Fall of Ninjak), the third one is by Joshua Dysart and Kano (Book of Death: The Fall of Harbinger), and then we’ve got a fourth book with Rob and Clayton Henry (Book of Death: The Fall of X-O Manowar). On top of all that, we have Legends of the Geomancer series that charts the origins of the Geomancer and talks about what a Geomancer is, which is by Fred Van Lente and Juan José Ryp.

Credit: Valiant Entertainment

I guess I love all of those guys, Forrest!

Nrama: I presume we can expect the same standard of accessibility that Valiant has had in the past?

Venditti: Yeah, absolutely. It’s something we strive for on all of the books. I came to comics late and didn’t start reading them until I was in my late-20s, and so I very much understand the feeling of going into a comic shop and seeing these titles with their astronomically high numbers and sheer volume of series with their seemingly impenetrable continuity. As a result, I’m always trying to think of that new reader.

As I like to say – and I think this is a phrase they’ve picked up on and begun to use in the Valiant offices – “I don’t want to make comics about comics.” [Laughs] Actually, that’s something I picked up from Warren. When I first started writing X-O Manowar, which was my first monthly series, he really showed me the ropes about writing clean entry points, how to get a series going, and how to avoid repeating too much information to returning readers while keeping the newer readers from feeling like they’re entering at the middle of a story. It’s something that I’ve always held on to and carried over into all of my writing, here and elsewhere.

Credit: Valiant Entertainment

But yeah, Book of Death is a bit more complicated as a story in terms of its complexity and the cast of characters who need to be introduced and all of these concepts; however, the thing we work the hardest on with all of these stories is accessibility.

Simons: Right. The Legends of the Geomancer series will stand on its own, but if you read Book of Death series, it will further inform what you’re reading. It’s just like any of the other one-shots for the event. These are all stand-alone one-shots where you can get a complete story about the history and future of the character without having to read the main series. And the same goes for the main series.

Ultimately, Forrest, that’s what Rob, myself, and the rest of the folks strive for. You don’t need to read 60 comics to know what’s going on in the main book, nor is the main book simply built to service the crossover. I feel like, right now, that’s the pressure on Valiant Comics: Tell great stories. Everything after that is gravy.

Nrama: It’s been a few years since Greg Pak and Trevor Hairsine headlined the Eternal Warrior ongoing series. With Gilad back on top, does this mean we could see more of him in the future?

Simons: It’s an excellent, excellent question. [Laughs]

We love Gilad, and I think Greg’s run was excellent with his run on the second arc being one of my favorites that I’ve edited at Valiant. I was just talking with a writer here today, who thinks it’s one of the best things Greg’s ever written, but … I don’t want to get too far into it. I’ll just say we love Gilad and think he’s a wonderful character.

Nrama: What promises do you want to make readers about this series that you feel confident Book of Death #1 will deliver on when it’s released next month?

Venditti: Readers are absolutely going to be surprised by some of the content. I know people go on message boards and shoot out theories. They can start making up whatever they want, but they’re never going to guess what’s going to take place here. And I never make guarantees about this sort of thing, but I can guarantee you they won’t see all of this coming!

Simons: I won’t get cheeky. We’re just hell-bent on getting the best possible book out there. Like I said before, anything else is gravy.

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