The Book of Death continues its dark and twisted tale this month with its third issue last week. Whereas Gilad was on the run in the first two issues of The Book of Death, last week -- without spoiling anything -- his enemies found out what happened when you put the Eternal Warrior into a corner.
And this week's one-shot, The Book of Death: The Fall of Harbinger, Josh Dysart returns to his Harbinger characters to explore the end of the team as fans know them, and yet, new beginnings as well.
In this third installment of our monthly look at Valiant's The Book of Death event, Newsarama sat down once again with event head writer, Robert Venditti to discuss his work on The Book of Death #3, along with Dysart to discover more about the finality given to Harbinger.
Newsarama: Rob, in The Book of Death #2 the Eternal Warrior took apart each of the members of Unity including their massive robot transport, GIN-GR. And as we discussed, this was really a chance for the Eternal Warrior to cut loose and show readers just how truly deadly he is.
Does this mean Gilad’s now on his own after having violently pushed away those who were arguably his closest friends?
Robert Venditti: For the foreseeable future, Gilad is going to be fractured from the Unity team. This is something that relates to The Book of Death specifically, as he continues his journey with Tama to find the villain who is responsible for the end of the Valiant Universe, as the Book of the Geomancers foretells. And going into the Wrath of the Eternal Warrior series, he’ll continue to be fractured from the Unity team, all for character-specific reasons.
Nrama: Now, we’ve really only seen Gilad and Tama on the run in these first two books as they try and escape from David and Master Darque and figure out some sort of plan of action. #3 mareds something of a departure in this respect as we see Gilad begin to shift from being the hunted into becoming the hunter. Meanwhile, we get to see Master Darque fully revealed and he is certainly not sitting in his lair waiting for The Eternal Warrior to arrive at his gates. Can you talk a little bit about your process in terms how you create this sort of epic, high-stakes battle that is preparing to go down?
Venditti: The fight sequence that happened in The Book of Death #3 is one of the really key pieces of the entire series. It’s one of those moments where everything clicked, and a bunch of other elements in the story came together for both the plot and the characters. Robert Gill drew the heck out of it. It’s one of the coolest fight scenes I’ve been able to write in a comic, and the way that he executed it, you can just see all the fun and excitement he brought to the page.
And while Gilad has been on the run and has been hunted up until that point in the series, he is very much the guy who’s going to figure stuff out. That’s what makes him the character that he is. He has this wealth of knowledge and living experience that allows him to be this master strategist and get himself out of any situation if you give him enough time. He’s resourceful in dealing with forces and entities that he’s never encountered before, because of his time spent throughout history. So if Master Darque made one fatal flaw, it was that he gave Gilad the time to figure everything out, instead of taking him out when he could.
And now, Gilad has certainly gone from being hunted to hunter.
Nrama: In our first interview about The Book of Death, I remember you mentioned that this book represented a new challenge for you in that it had you dipping your pen into the well of horror. This latest issue certainly does not shy away from it with David’s Darque-infused creations, which are truly terrifying creatures to behold – kudos to Robert Gill here!
How exactly did you and Robert come together to create that sense of tension and horror in this issue?
Venditti: One of the things I wanted to try with the series, as it was my first foray into horror, was to tap into different horror elements that left an impression on me throughout my life. For example, in the first issue’s scene with the scorpions, I was calling back to a scene in Creepshow where there were all these roaches, and just how terrifying that was for me. Then in issue #2, you had this moment with all of these birds that flocked around Gilad’s truck. Of course, that was an Alfred Hitchcock The Birds reference.
Then in #3, there’s a campfire scene—what’s a more basic element of horror than scary stories told around a campfire? So we have a scene with Gilad and Tama in the woods, and it looks like they’re hiding, but their specific location is all part of Gilad’s plan. As Tama is reading from the Book of the Geomancers, this huge, horrific fight sequence—and hats off to Robert Gill—unfolds. And I’d be remiss not to give a hat-tip to David Baron as well, who does phenomenal color work on Robert Gill’s pages. The campfire scene wouldn’t be the campfire scene without that eerie glow illuminating the pages. There’s a double page splash that I wrote specifically for Rob to have fun with, and he absolutely nailed it, as did David.
Nrama: Absolutely. The use of lighting – especially in a campfire scene – is going to be essential with building tension for the audience.
Of course, there’s a different horror playing out in this book as well in the scenes that Doug Braithwaite worked on in terms of the rise of Master Darque in the future. Can you talk about how you maintained a similar tone with Doug as you did with Robert?
Venditti: For Doug, it’s interesting because all of his pages are where the stakes of the series are laid down. It’s a book of prophecy, and the events that everyone is trying to stop have not happened yet. This isn’t a story where there is a terrorist attack, and you know what the next attack is going to be like, so you’re just trying to stop that next attack. A lot of these things haven’t happened. A lot of the story’s weight, and the pressure it has on our characters, comes from the way Doug is able to horrifically portray this death of the Valiant Universe as foretold in the Book of the Geomancers. What Doug is bringing to the pages, and how he’s wrangling some pretty tricky shots in terms of showing what’s ahead without spoiling anything—I couldn’t be prouder of how it’s turned out.
Nrama: Now, Josh, you’ve been with Harbinger since the beginning of the Valiant relaunch. How close have you grown to the characters since you took the helm in 2012?
Joshua Dysart: Very. I’m at a point where they’ve become extremely complex and consistent people to me. Even when they’re contradicting themselves I feel confident in writing them because I know their unconscious desires better than they themselves do.
Nrama: How difficult was it for you then to go about killing each of these characters off? Was there any one character’s death scene in particular that was especially difficult for you to write? Without spoiling anything, I almost felt like there was a sort of victory with what we see in Faith’s final moments.
Dysart: This might be a tough answer to swallow, but it wasn’t really difficult at all. Because, and I mean this with all deference to the project, it’s not really an ending, is it? And that’s part of what my issue is about, the false idea of this as an ending (but really the false idea of all endings - as far as I can tell, the real “page one” is the big bang and the real “last page” is heat death of universe. It’s all one story in between those two).
But in this situation we have all of these characters dying, but actually they’re going to continue to live and love and fight and laugh across the Valiant Universe for years to come, so it’s not a particularly emotional act to kill them.
When we killed a character in “Death of a Renegade,” there was a strong understanding that, shy of a few flashbacks here and there or psychic projections, etc., that character was really going to be gone. There would be no further progression for them, and baring some narrative contortion, no other writer would get to explore them. That was hard. This was more fun. I got to ruminate on life and death but without the consequences of losing a character I love to write.
Nrama: This series often raises the idea that absolute power corrupts absolutely, that is, in spite of our best intentions, the idea of people who have unimaginable power are inevitably going to turn into forces of destruction.
With Harada and Peter – the only two omega-level psiots, we have what appears to be both the good and evil who are absolutely unmatched in their power. Were you looking to play this theme out to its logical conclusion in The Book of Death: The Fall of Harbinger?
Dysart: I’ve never seen Harada and Peter as good and evil. I see them as physical manifestations of opposing “isms” and philosophies, but yes. The end result is hard to talk about here without giving it away, but I think the book explores unification, not conflict. I think it shows more clearly what Harbinger was always really about, and that the inherent complicated nature of trying to do the right thing. This issue has more destruction and death in it than probably anything I’ve written, but really it’s about life, positivity, finding joy, even when life, circumstances and your own personality flaws have trapped you in an inevitable struggle with an omega-level psiot.
Nrama: Of course, the art in this issue is surreal. I know Kano is the only person creating the art, but the aesthetic shifts in this book – particularly with the multitude of backgrounds and approaches to coloring – almost make it feel like there was a whole team covering down on the various scenes. It’s really impressive! Can you talk a little bit about your process with him and how some of the decisions behind these visuals were made?
Dysart: The book is gorgeous. It’s one of the most striking, pure and perfect comics I’ve ever been a part of. My part in that was pretty simple. All I had to do was create a big, bold story that careened wildly from image to image, set-piece to set-piece, and then try to fully understand the “story of the page” so that each part of the story could be easily sectioned off and given it’s own visual language. Lastly, I just tried to leave it open so Kano had room to play. But it’s really all his genius.
Nrama: As I was reading through the issue, however, there was one thing that really stood out to me in my first reading. Although this is a part of The Book of Death mini-series event, we really don’t get much of a direct connection to what is taking place either in the main series present day timeline or the apocalyptic future depicted therein.
How do you see this issue fitting into the greater narrative of the series?
Dysart: A shared universe allows for so many amazing possibilities as creators, but it’s always odd to me when we try to ratchet our stories TOO tightly to one another. When we do that we make the future and the present seem small. In life, everything doesn’t relate to everything else, except in the most metaphysical of ways. So I guess I thought that operating untethered from Rob’s larger narrative would actually give the whole series more scope, make it seem more epic. These characters will die. Their story is in Book of Death featured in Rob’s series… but that book is vast… and tells more stories than the confines or our connected crossover could ever imagine covering. I wanted to get that idea across.
Nrama: We have one more issue left and it seems like there’s still a good many questions left open in terms of how this story will resolve itself. Rob, I know you can’t reveal the ending that readers will see, can you tell us about storylines or plot elements that you were thinking of using but didn’t make the cut for The Book of Death?
Likewise, Josh, were there any alternate endings to The Book of Death: The Fall of Harbinger that were left on the director’s floor?
Dysart: Oh man, this is going to suck, but I don’t actually remember. I have a very bad memory and my head is usually clouded by whatever I’m working on in the moment. I think that lots of my ideas actually found their way into the book that we have now. I hope that, in the end, one way or another, every idea got used. If that’s not true, well, the book is the net. Whatever we didn’t catch in that net is just the fish that got away, and that means the fish was underwater the whole time and I never really got to see it anyway. I know that’s a weird and unsatisfying answer. Sorry!
Venditti: Whenever you do one of these events, there’s so much stuff that gets left on the cutting room floor. That’s just the nature of it. You always start off with the scaffolding, but things get changed a lot by the time you reach the end. And the interesting thing is, the stuff that you think winds up on the cutting room floor ends up getting used somewhere else, whether it’s your book or another person’s book in a repurposed way. All of it ends up getting used eventually. So for that reason, I can’t tell you what stuff has been put away, because there is no telling when it might show up again.