The kids aren't all right.
One of a half-dozen new series announced Tuesday by Valiant is the new series Generation Zero. The new ongoing focuses on the teenage superhumans originating from Harbinger and the “Harbinger Wars” story event from three years ago.
The premise behind Generation Zero is that this group of teen-aged superheroes escaped from Harbinger's Project Rising Spirit – a governmental organization, which kidnapped them and forced them into serving as members of a covert strike force. Now that they’re on their own, they’re making themselves available to help other teens and young adults who reach out for help.
With it scheduled to debut August 24, Newsarama spoke with series writer Fred Van Lente about this about the plans he and artist Francis Portela have for this group of teen-aged, would-be superheroes, and what sort of ground they’ll cover in the fictitious town of Rook, Mi.
Newsarama: Fred, what is Generation Zero about?
Fred Van Lente: They’re like Archie meets The Authority.
Nrama: Now, I’m curious: It’s been two years since we’ve seen Generation Zero in their involvement in Armor Hunters summer crossover, and even further back when they made their first appearance in Harbinger Wars. What have they been doing during this time?
Van Lente: They’ve been traveling around the country and the world, helping those few kids who can find them in an especially violent and dramatic fashion. They’ve already passed into the realm of urban legend, where no one is entirely sure whether they actually exist or not. A young woman, Keisha Sherman, in the town of Rook, Michigan, who’s got some serious problems -- she thinks her father helped engineer the murder of her own boyfriend, then covered it up -- has managed to get a hold of them and has summoned them to Rook to help get to the bottom of the murder, and the mystery surrounding her seeming-wonderland of a town.
But as you said, the Generation Zero kids were bred to be human weapons. Their response to every problem is essentially a hardcore military one. So summoning them can very quickly become a “be careful what you wish for” kind of situation. When Generation Zero shows up, infiltrates her school and starts knocking heads together, we’ll see what kind of consequences it has for Keisha’s friends and family.
Nrama: Fred, you’ve made a name for yourself at Valiant with the humor book, Archer and Armstrong. Tonally, this title seems like it’s going to have a markedly different feel. What made you want to change things up?
Van Lente: I don’t know. It’s hard for me to see it as a much of a change, really. I see the world as equally hilarious and horrifying, and that’s the sensibility I end up bringing to most everything I do. A lot of what appeals to me about Generation Zero is it’s kind of cross-breeding the superhero genre with horror, to treat them almost like frightening creatures of folklore. They’re amazing, they’re beautiful, but they’re dangerous to regular people, too. Mortals don’t often survive their encounters with them.
Nrama: The generation gap becomes increasingly apparent to me in the classes I teach. As someone who is a few years removed from the age and culture of the teens you’re writing about, how do you get into that headspace and tell a story that looks, sounds, and feels real to the reader?
Van Lente: What, you mean me hanging around the halls of the high school around the corner with sunglasses down the bridge of my nose and a skateboard under my arm isn’t going to be a good way to drum up material? I wondered why they called the cops on me…
Look, seriously, I think if you try to be “hip” or whatever it’s going to immediately come across as fake and trying too hard. Besides, it’s also going to date your work instantly because the shifting mores of what’s in or out change with every outgoing senior class and every incoming freshman one. I was a teenager once, as we all are (if we’re lucky), and those are some of the most powerful formative experiences of your lives, because you were encountering so many things for the first time -- semi-adult responsibility, sex, drugs, realizing you have to make a future outside your parents’ home … really, you need to tap into everyone’s universal experiences, that’s the best way -- that’s the only way to do it.
Nrama: Let’s look at the setting for this series: Rook, Michigan. It’s the site for a new Kirbytech industrial haven, and it’s described as coming up from a “rags to super-riches” overnight. Why Michigan?
Van Lente: My extended family hails from Michigan (Holland to be exact -- land of the Dutch), so it’s a region of the country I know a lot about. And they’ve tried a lot of social experimenting with emergency managers and such in Detroit and some of the other urban areas. The disastrous side of that is the water crisis in Flint, for example. Rook appears to have had a much more positive outcome…or has it? What dark forces have they harnessed to have such a spectacular result? Or what forces have harnessed them?
Nrama: As a hub of technological innovation, I understand that Rook might also be home to some wild and surreal inventions unlike anything we’ve seen before in the Valiant Universe. What are the inspirations for Rook’s more sci-fi elements – real or imagined – and how will they factor into Generation Zero’s adventures long term?
Van Lente: What’s cool about Rook is that’s a real playground of a setting, with all sorts of amazing stories to be told within it. It is its own self-contained environment, like Riverdale -- if Riverdale was in the Twilight Zone. That may be an even better comparison -- in Rook the Generation Zero kids will have to contend with the terrifying Cornermen, the Riot Gears, the Keys Club and the mysterious big bad, known only as Rasa. It’s going to be an amazing, spooky, exciting ride.
Nrama: You also have Francis Portela handling the art for this book. What about his visual approach made him the right person to pair to this book?
Van Lente: I’ve been working with Francis for a long time, back even to M.O.D.O.K.’s 11, one of my earliest Marvel books. I was thrilled when he came over at Valiant. We had a great time on an arc of Ivar, Timewalker where he blew me away with his tech and character designs, and he’s doing the same on Generation Zero too.
Nrama: Interestingly, I notice that one of the connections Generation Zero has to the Valiant Universe came in form of Faith – one of the two superheroes who worked along side the group of teens during Armor Hunters – someone whom Francis knows quite well. What’s the likelihood we see Faith – or even other members of the Valiant Universe – show up in this first arc?
Van Lente: It’s not very likely, no. Maybe in the future, but right now we’re trying to make sure this book stands on its own.
Nrama: Given the selectivity that Valiant takes when it comes to deciding what will and won’t be given the greenlight, what particular niche and audience are you looking to target with Generation Zero?
Van Lente: Do we really need a niche? The success of a lot of YA series both on the page and on the screen have shown people are into stories about the teen experience regardless of their actual age.
Nrama: How does this series specifically address the needs of your readers?
Van Lente: It seems a bit presumptuous for me to claim I know what my readers need. I’m one of these annoying motherfuckers who considers himself an artist. I write for myself. And if other people find something in my work they think speaks to them, that’s terrific. It lets me pay my rent, for one thing. But this isn’t a self-help tome. This isn’t trying to make someone feel better about themselves. It’s art. It’s poetry. Generation Zero is a dark, modern-day fairy tale that both creates and satisfies a need for itself.