It's 'all hands on deck' for Valiant's summer event 4001 A.D., and that includes the returning Shadowman.
While the Eternal Warrior seeks to resurrect a gigantic form of the X-O Armor and Bloodshot completes his final mission, Rafer Roberts and Jody Hauser join forces in 4001 A.D.: Shadowman #1 with veteran Valiant artist Robert Gil, to tell the story of how Shadowman enters into the world of 4001 A.D. and what the future holds for the resident supernatural superhero.
In advance of the issue's release July 6, Newsarama spoke with Roberts about expanding his Valiant resume beyond just A&A: The Adventures of Archer & Armstrong and bringing about Shadowman's far-flung future.
Newsarama: Rafer, generally speaking you are fairly new to the Valiant bullpen. How’s your first year been so far? Anything in particular stand out compared to your previous publishing experiences?
Rafer Roberts: I’ve been having a blast! I mean, that’s been the case even before I started writing for Valiant, back when I was drawing some back-up stories in the various anniversary issues. It feels more like I’m back in school, hanging out with my friends and making comics than an actual job. Plus, the fans have been very welcoming and incredibly supportive of what I acknowledge are the untraditional superhero comics we’re making.
A majority of my previous comics were self-published or small press, so the biggest difference is in having a support staff and actual budget. It’s very freeing as a traditional DIY creator to have other people take care of the production and marketing side of things allowing me to concentrate on the story itself. And, of course, I’ve learned a ton by working with Valiant’s editors (the first time I’ve ever worked with editors to this extent). I feel like in the relative short time I’ve been writing for Valiant that, with my editors’ guidance, I’ve leveled up in my writing.
Nrama: Valiant seems to enjoy keeping not only a tight-knit group of titles under its wing, but it also leans towards growing a similarly focused group of creators. As a part of the next wave of Valiant storytellers, what characters are you most anxious to sink your teeth into next and why?
Roberts: As of this interview I’ve just started writing Harbinger Renegades and am looking forward to exploring those kids’ lives and relationships over the long haul. You’ve got Peter, the unstable Omega-level psiot with addiction issues; Torque, the super-strong walking metaphor of toxic masculinity; Kris, the idealistic normal girl who thought she could go up against a god; and Faith, who is able to see the good in a very negative world. These kids tried to save the world and failed hard. They’ve gone their separate ways to lick their wounds, but are going to come back together in order to try again. It’s a fun challenge exploring the mindset and headbutting of people who are both compelled to do good, but who suffered the last time they tried. Plus, it’s got Darick Robertson drawing it, who I have been a fan of for a long time. I’m already enjoying working with him and very much looking to reading the result of our collaboration.
And, while I’ve been writing it for a little while now, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention A&A: The Adventures of Archer and Armstrong. Their relationship is such an interesting and complex one that I feel like we’ve only just scratched the surface with them. Also, the incredibly talented art teams that I get to work with – including David Lafuente, Ryan Winn, Brian Reber, Dave Lanphear, Mike Norton and Allen Passalaqua – make me feel like the luckiest boy in the world.
Nrama: Let’s talk Shadowman. What is it about this character you like the most? What are the story arcs – past or present – that stand out most to you?
Roberts: I’m going to admit right now that my desire to write a Shadowman comic was second to getting the opportunity to work with Jody. Getting a chance to work with Jody onthisparticular book was just icing on the cake.
From a purely writer-ly standpoint, you get a lot of freedom to do weird things in a Shadowman comic. He’s got a great voodoo magic-based power source, an entire dimension of demons and monsters to contend with, and supernatural villains to fight. He also has one of the coolest designs of any superhero around. Now, this particular comic takes place far in the future with a different Shadowman, but I think Jody and I were able to take what makes the present day character great and represent it in an interesting way.
I’m friends with Justin Jordan who relaunched Shadowman, so his run was one of the first modern Valiant things I read. I’m also a fan of monkeys and smart-ass side characters, so I have a feeling I would have enjoyed his run even if I wasn’t predisposed to do so.
Nrama: What was the thinking behind bringing you and Jody together to this title, which stars a rather different character from the casts you’ve been working with so far? Why do you suppose this one-shot needed two writers to tackle it?
Roberts: To be honest, I don’t really remember the exact thought process. It kind of just happened. During the Valiant writers’ retreat last December, during the discussion of what possibilities for 4001 A.D. stories there could be, Jody brought up the idea of doing something with the supernatural side of the Valiant Universe. I liked that idea and asked her if she’d be willing to let me write it with her. We figured out maybe 60% of the story during that weekend and hammered it out its final form over the next few weeks.
And, as you pointed out, it gave us both a chance to write a comic different than what we had been doing for Valiant thus far. I personally enjoy writing many different genres and stretching my creative limbs, and 4001 A.D.: Shadowman gave us both a chance to break away from type…or, at least, the type that Valiant fans knew us for.
Speaking for myself, one of my favorite things working for Valiant is all the collaboration. I can and do make comics where I am the sole creator, but as I said before, working with all of these fantastic writers and artists is one of the main reasons I stuck around. 4001 A.D.: Shadowman is that cranked up to eleven. It’s very much all of our voices blended together in a strange and delicious comic book smoothie.
Nrama: You’re also going to be working alongside Robert Gill, who is one of Valiant’s veteran artists. What are some of the things you’ve learned working with him on this issue?
Roberts: The man loves replying to emails with animated gifs! He’s also incredibly fast and insanely talented. Every strange and unique thing Jody and I asked him to draw, he knocked out of the ballpark. Listen, this is a big strange story with various monsters and demons and prehistoric beasts. Robert kicked serious ass and made, in my humble opinion, a really good book into an incredible one.
Nrama: What about working alongside Robert has you most excited from this issue?
Roberts: There were a few scenes we wrote that I was most excited to see the art on, though it’s difficult to describe them without giving too much away. Maybe “the dodo page,” which turned out freakin’ amazing.
His characterization of Shadowman was also a revelation. Under Robert’s expert illustrative talents, Shadowman is someone who I would love to have on my side during a fight.
Nrama: How intertwined will 4001 A.D.: Shadowman #1 be in relation to the struggle playing out between Rai and Father?
Roberts: It’s intertwined, but not so much that you need to read anything else to understand what is going on. 4001 A.D.: Shadowman takes place at the same time of Rai’s attack on New Japan, and is impacted – figuratively and literally – by Father dumping entire sections of the sky country back down to Earth.
Basically, it’s about two cities and their uneasy peace. Sanctuary, the last outpost left on Earth following a failed invasion from the Deadside, and Gethsemane, the human city built outside the dead city taking advantage of the dead’s protective magic. A demagogue has risen in Gethsemane and has convinced the living to attack the dead city and steal the magic for their own. What follows is a Heavy Metal/EC Comics style adventure featuring demons, a giant Shadowman, and ice age beasts from the sky all within some dystopian future.
Nrama: Another characteristic of Valiant’s summer cross-over events is that they often serve as launching points for new series or events. What hints can you give us regarding the future of Shadowman and the Deadside in the aftermath of 4001 A.D.?
Roberts: While this issue is a self-contained one-off, Jody and I have purposely left the door open for further adventures. Whether we or other creators are able to tell those stories is up to the readers. If the demand is there, then perhaps she will return again someday like a giant dark and supernatural Frosty the Snowman. The world of 4001 A.D., and more specifically the part of the world inhabited by Shadowman, is filled with potential. Hopefully we’ll be able to explore it further one day.