A hero is bound to learn a trick or two about how to throw a punch after a few y ears on the job -- but what about tens of thousands of years? That's what readers have discovered as Valiant put their Eternal Warrior on a collision course with the super-team Unity in the current event series The Book of Death.
The Book of Death #2 hit shelves this week, with Robert Venditti, Robert Gill and Doug Braithwaite showing this struggle over the new Geomancer along with the return of Master Darque. And on August 26, Ninjak enters the event -- and meets his end -- in The Book of Death: The Fall of Ninjak one-shot by Matt Kindt and Trevor Hairsine.
Newsarama talked with Venditti and Kindt about The Book of Death and its companion pieces as part of our monthly "Behind The Book of Death" series.
Newsarama: Rob, The Book of Death #2 is all about the action. We finally see Eternal Warrior take on his past teammates from Unity. When we see a scenario like this, what’s the difficulty for you as a writer? How do you make it feel natural and logical for readers?
Robert Venditti: From the beginning of The Book of Death, this is something that I’ve had on my mind in terms of how I would work that out. He’s kind of been on the receiving end of a number of fights in the Valiant Universe, you know? And I’m just as guilty of placing him there as anyone else on any of the other books. In X-O Manowar’s“Homecoming” arc when Aric returns back to Earth, he tries to conquer Romania and has his first meeting with the Eternal Warrior in the modern day, making quick work of him by snapping his arm.
The Eternal Warrior’s been on the losing end of a number of fights and I just found myself asking, “Why would that be?” He’s just someone who has a wisdom beyond what anyone can comprehend. It seemed to me he’d have a long game plan there. He’d be up to something by making himself look weaker to someone like Aric or Ninjak and take them by surprise. This way, it sets the stage for this fight in a fashion that respects what came before while still feeling organic and surprising in that given moment.
Nrama: I know you write a pretty tight, full script. With these action scenes, how much do you leave for Robert Gill and Doug Braithwaite?
Venditti: This issue’s major action scene would be all Robert Gill, but it all depends. If it’s just two characters throwing punches, I leave it to the artist. However, there’s a scene where he’s using the axe and he’s using the heel of it to knock someone back, the hook to push Aric’s hand away, or the bottom curve to pull his ankle out…that sort of choreography where you’re using a certain weapon in a certain way requires me to highlight that in the script. They’re not conventional ways you’d use an axe in a fight, and that’s the point: Gilad’s been around long enough to know how to use an axe in ways that all of us have forgotten about.
The axe is kind of emblematic of his character. He is the axe, and he’s extremely versatile. Just by our standards, we can’t even comprehend how versatile he is because we don’t have the same knowledge base as him.
Nrama: We also get our first glimpse at the series’ villain, Master Darque, who seems to be positioning himself in the present to become the final victor that we see in the grim and apocalyptic future. What elements of his backstory did you look to keep as you brought him into the new Valiant Universe? Any plans to keep him around post-Book of Death?
Venditti: We’ve had some exposure to Darque already over in Shadowman – a lot of really good stuff was laid down there. Even going back to the original Valiant Universe, he’s just really one of the great, villainous characters, so we didn’t want to go and reinvent a lot of that stuff.
So, we just approached it from the perspective of asking “How would Darque respond to the situation?," after all of his time spent studying various spheres of necromantic magic, where he discovers this entirely new sphere of magic that he never really knew about – the magic of the Geomancers. Obviously, it’d be something he’d want to get to, and combining his necromantic powers with that of the Geomancers would bring out some new combinations that none of us have really seen before.
Now, in terms of Darque’s place going forward after the Book of Death, I can tell you from sitting in the writers’ room at Valiant and knowing what the upcoming arcs will be and the direction of the universe will be, Darque may not have had much onscreen time in the comics before but he’s someone whom everyone is talking about and going back to now. There are definitely things in place and long term plans whom readers can expect to see more of in the future.
Nrama: It’s interesting in one regard because, as Tama continues reading from the Book of Death, we discover that while the Eternal Warrior does not die at the end of the world – at least in a permanent sense – he does fail to save the Valiant Universe, which you alluded to earlier. In spite of his continued failures though, he’s still an incredibly compelling character. How do you reconcile this with a genre that provides victorious wish fulfillment for its readers through its heroes?
Venditti: Yeah, there are a lot of things there that you hit on that are exactly right! I think with a character who is immortal, you have the possibility for a lot of reader wish fulfillment. How many people haven’t wondered how great it would be to live forever? I could do all of the things I like for eternity!
But there’s a complete flipside to that. Just like real life, all of our lives are made up of both our successes and our failures. For someone who’s lived eternally, they would have eternal successes, but also eternal failures. And those failures are often what haunt us the most; they’re the things we dwell on even more than the successes. I think it’s great to take a character like the Eternal Warrior – a character whom readers know as a hero – and have him dwell on those failures as though he, too, is not beyond them.
Nrama: No one has been shy about discussing that characters will die in this series, and it’s to be expected when the series is called The Book of Death. Rob, you’ve already been dipping your pen in red ink since things started off, and Matt, we end of seeing what appears to be Ninjak’s curtain call as well. What’s it like crafting the death scene for these characters? Can you walk us through your thought process / experience?
Matt Kindt: It’s difficult. You’d think it’d be fun and you come up with this big moment, but it’s kind of hard. You don’t want it to be a cliché or overly dramatic, but you also don’t want a guy like Ninjak just dying in his sleep – it’s a comic book!
But for this issue, I really tried not to think too much about the death scene. Instead, I wanted to take what we know about him now and bring the reader forward a hundred or so years into the future. I think that was kind of my idea from the beginning – I want to jump ahead one hundred years! But then I realized he wasn’t an eternal warrior, so I seeded some ideas early on in Ninjak. He doesn’t have any powers, but he is into meditation and he’s always been into various philosophies. So, I used that to help bring him forward for one final battle.
That’s the fun thing: not necessarily the death, but what happened to Unity? To Livewire? What is Ninjak and Eternal Warrior’s relationship like after a hundred years? That was the important thing to me. In Unity, they’re always at odds – bickering, fighting. In this issue, you see over time they’ve become the best of friends. They’re very much alike. It was important that not only did they reconcile, but they became really close over time.
Venditti: X-O Manowar just dies in his sleep. [Laughs]
Kindt: Spoiler alert!
Nrama: [Laughs] That’s going to be an exciting issue, no doubt!
Matt, I was particularly intrigued with some of the things you were setting up in this issue – in particular the design of Livewire, which resembled both Bloodshot and Rai, as well as the introduction of orbiting city of New Japan – again, another element that hearkens to future Valiant Universe we see in Rai. Is this providing you with an opportunity to set the history for your work in Rai?
Kindt: Yeah, I think that was another opportunity provided to me where I could build a bridge between the present day and just before what we see and know in the Rai universe. It was fun to finally reveal some of Livewire’s goal – something I hinted at in Rai #1. All of Japan runs on the “blood” called livewire – the stuff that makes it work. Being able to hint even more directly at it made it even more enjoyable, and something I think Rai fans will really get behind.
Nrama: But by the end, though, it seems like Ninjak and GIN-GR’s final victory might not have had the desired effect of short circuiting Livewire’s plans for New Japan. Without spoiling things, can you fill us in a bit on what we see in the end?
Kindt: You’re not spoiling it! Japan has to get to space somehow, and it gets into space. But there’s still a thousand years between now and what we know in Rai. There’s still more gaps to fill in, but Japan makes it and Livewire succeeds.
Nrama: Shifting gears a little here, there are also some unique design choices with the future Ninjak and even GIN-GR. Can you talk about how you and Trevor Hairsine came up with this?
Kindt: All of those design elements are story-driven stuff. It’s driven by character, not “Oh, that’d look cool.” If you’re reading Ninjak now, it’s all about the gadgets and the stuff and how he utilizes it. I figured that after a hundred years, maybe the character’s burned out on it and realizes everything he needs is within himself. That’s how he’s keeping himself alive. He would have stripped all of that technology away. Now, he has this strange sort of robotic arm, but he’s actually just controlling it with his mind. He has his sword and that’s pretty much it. This crazy old monk with a sword relying on the power of his mind.
Now with GIN-GR, I think the only direction I gave Trevor was something like Shogun Warriors from when I was a kid. I had one of those toys –
Venditti: I had three of those toys! I had the one with the missiles, the fists, and my mom got rid of all three of them!!!
Kindt: I still have mine, but they’re broken down beaten up and gross –
Venditti: Mine were in perfect operating order! I went away to college, and my mom them gave away.
Kindt: But your mom’s so nice!?!
Venditti: I know, but she still got rid of them…I didn’t deserve that. [Laughs]
Kindt: [Laughs] Yeah, but I turned in those design ideas to Trevor, and he just totally nailed it. That had to be one of my favorite panels – seeing GIN-GR with the big sword and looking like a samurai.
Nrama: One last thing I want to ask from Book of Death: The Fall of Ninjak. We hear about a second Armor Hunters attack. Is this a hint of things to come in Valiant’s future?
Kindt: Yeah, you know that’s something I think I’d like to see. If I got a chance to do it, I’d do it. Or if someone gets to chance to do it, maybe someone will? I put some of these ideas in my notebook and throw some of it out there, and we’ll see if one of us or someone new gets to take a shot at it. But yeah, I wouldn’t mind seeing another Armor Hunters war.
Nrama: Last question: Looking at each other’s work, what aspect of Book of Death #2 and Book of Death: The Fall of Ninjak #1 do you think is going to get the biggest reaction for readers?
Venditti: What’s going to get the biggest reaction from readers for Matt’s book are the connections to the Rai mythology.
Kindt: I don’t know what I can say without spoiling anything. I’m scared to talk! But, I think you’re going to love Robert Gill and Doug Braithwaite’s art, and if you don’t love the Eternal Warrior now, you’re going to by the time everything is done.