Mixing whistleblowing actions like WikiLeaks with comic books' tried-and-true formula of teenage superhero rebellion, Valiant Entertainment's upcoming title Harbinger Renegades looks to reinvent one of the company's franchise teams for a new generation.
A&A: Adventures of Archer & Armstrong writer Rafer Roberts is teaming with Transmetropolitan artist Darick Robertson for a "grass roots" style superhuman rebellion featuring Faith, some fellow Harbinger recruits from the past, and a couple of new faces.
With Harbinger Renegades scheduled to debut November 16, Newsarama talked with Roberts about team of would-be revolutionaries and how it fits within the Valiant universe.
Newsarama: Rafer, some people know who Valiant's Harbingers are -- but not this new Harbinger Renegades revamp. Can you fill us in?
Rafer Roberts: I’ve been describing the series as “Jack Kirby’s Trainspotting,” which is as good an elevator pitch as any. The longer answer is that Harbinger Renegades is a street-level exploration of heroism in a world beset by tragedy, pessimism, and cynicism, and the relationships of those who know they are fighting a losing battle yet continue to fight on. Over the course of the series, this band of misfits will have to put aside personal issues in order to rescue innocent people caught in the crossfire of a war they did not ask to join. Some of these rescued people, a majority of them potential psiots, will join the Renegades and take part in their battle against the gradual decline of civilization.
Oh, and there’s weird new super-villains and lots of super-heroes on drugs.
Nrama: Is this tied into your A&A: The Adventures of Archer & Armstrong title, or any other Valiant titles for that matter?
Roberts: Valiant is a shared universe, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see the occasional guest star. Hell, Faith is dating Archer so it’s probably only a matter of time before he shows up, right?
That said, Valiant prides itself on creating comics where the reader doesn’t need to read anything else in order to enjoy the comic currently in their hand. So, connections to other series that may exist will be done in such a way to leave both casual and hard-core readers satisfied.
Nrama: Speaking of Faith, she’s front and center in this series - how would you describe her role in Harbinger Renegades?
Roberts: Faith is, and always has been, the best of them all. She is a dreamer, an idealist, always positive, and always looking for the best in humanity. Faith is what we tell ourselves we would be if given superpowers.
Faith will still be living a dual life, working at the news site by day and being a super-hero by night. But the ever-growing levels of violence in the streets is putting a strain on her. She’s tired and she needs help. It’s her optimism and desire to do good that initiates the gang getting back together, and it’s that same optimism that will act as their emotional glue.
Nrama: Can you run-down the team, one by one?
Roberts: First up is Kris, the non-powered member of the group. She is guilt-ridden following the events of the first series and trying to put some sort of life together with her girlfriend, Tamara. She wants nothing to do with getting back into the hero game at first, and when Faith visits her asking for help, Kris’s girlfriend slams the door in her face. Kris’s journey back into heroism, as well as her relationship with Tamara, is one of the most interesting parts of the comic.
Tamara, Kris’ live-in girlfriend, had a not-so-pleasant upbringing. She’s built up a decent enough life for herself, got a crappy job at a coffee shop, and spends most nights either going to punk rock clubs (when she’s feeling low) or going to group therapy (when she’s feeling even lower). It was during one of these therapy sessions that Tamara met Kris. Tamara would prefer that her girlfriend would stay home and out of danger, but also recognizes the sorry state of the world and the need for heroes.
Faith, mentioned before, is the emotional center of the group. She can fly and use a “companion field” to carry others or perform simple acts of telekinesis. She is juggling a secret identity, a career, a life as a super-hero, and a long distance relationship with a new boyfriend. So, yeah, she could use some help.
Torque, the super-strong meathead (and Faith’s ex) has been using his super-powers to make himself a reality TV star. He’s very interesting to me, beyond being a total douche and the embodiment of toxic masculinity. I feel like he’s becoming aware of the shallowness of his life, but he would never admit that.
Peter is the most powerful super-hero on Earth… and a pill-popping junkie trying to outrun his own guilt. He can fly, has telekinesis and telepathy (including the power to control minds), and can activate other potential psiots. His major problems are a lack of self-control and issues turning off his telepathy. It’ll be fun exploring the actions of such a powerful person with such self-destructive tendencies.
Nrama: And what are they up against here?
Roberts: The Renegades will first be going up against a radical anti-establishment group led by a mysterious antagonist. They are recruiting and kidnapping potential psiots in order to build a force strong enough to “tear down the system,” so to speak. They believe that power and super-powers has been in the hands of a few elites for too long, and are seeking to democratize this power.
I’m very interested in villains whose motivations aren’t exactly evil (even if you don’t agree with their politics exactly) but who have taken things too far.
Nrama: From the solicitations, this has a real grass roots superhero vibe to it. What's your inspiration from this - and not just limited to comic books?
Roberts: “Grass roots” is the right phrase. The Renegades are trying to save the world from the bottom up. They’ve already taken on the world’s greatest super villain… and failed. In fact, the argument could be made that they actually made the world worse. Learning from that mistake, they are focusing on battles that they can win. Small victories are still victories.
I mean, no one can punch their way to world peace. No one could ever completely eradicate war (for example), but heroes can help those affected by war. Building homes for refugees or rescuing a hundred kidnapped kids from warlords, those are real impactful victories. That’s all the Renegades are doing. They are rescuing those most in need when most other people are too busy or distracted (or scared) to help.
I take my inspiration from those who volunteer at soup kitchens or who risk their lives marching for civil rights: People who are willing to do a small act of kindness and bravery in order to affect widespread change.
Nrama: You have a unique collaborator in Darick Robertson, who has launched numerous irreverent, subversive titles - and also has an indie background like you. How would you describe your collaboration?
Roberts: I’d describe it as great! I’ve been a fan of Darick’s for many years, so getting a chance to work with him still doesn’t feel completely real. Darick and I are on the same page on so many things, and even if we’re not on the same page, we have a very open line of dialogue to get us there.
And there is definitely a good back and forth. There’s a scene late in issue one of Peter meditating in space. It’s absolutely gorgeous and gives me chills whenever I look at it. That sequence came from Darick reading my loose outline for the issue and pitching me the way he wanted to draw it. There are a few other bits like that, and a few bits yet to come.
But yeah, that space sequence is super cool. And before I forget, Richard Clark’s inks look amazing over Darick’s pencils. Seriously. Go stare at those pages for an hour or so. They are killer. I can’t wait to see them in color!
Nrama: With having Darick translating your script to comic books, have you been tailoring or making certain choices knowing he's on the other end?
Roberts: Yes, and I think that’s an important thing for writers to do no matter who the artist may be. While I am very familiar with Darick’s style, one of the first things I did was reach out and ask if there was anything he really wanted to draw or things that he would rather not.
Obviously the story is what is, but certain choices can be made to play to an artist’s strengths.
One of the things I’m most excited by is Darick’s ability to convey emotion and character body language. He can make conversations between two humans important and emotionally resonant, without it ever feeling like a page of talking heads. That, to me, is just as critical to good comics as being able to draw a dude punching a monster in the face.
That said, we’re also going to have dudes punching monsters because Darick can draw the crap out of that too!
Nrama: Big picture, what are your goals with Harbinger Renegades?
Roberts: First and foremost, we want to tell a good story.
Beyond that, despite our heroes dealing with some pretty heavy stuff, we’re trying to craft a tale of hope. Valiant has always been about “the world outside your window” and right now that world is pretty damn scary. Comics, and super-hero comics in particular, have often served as escapist literature. Growing up, I would often hide away inside a comic to escape my problems. But now that I am older and more cynical, it’s not so easy. The Renegades are the kind of hero, powered or otherwise, that I can believe in. I can write their adventures and escape into their world for a little while.
Yeah, I know that probably sounds weird. All I know is that the world could use heroes like The Renegades right about now.