Four years after resurrecting its comic book line, Valiant Entertainment plans to make a leap to the small screen, with a six-episode original web series titled Ninjak vs. the Valiant Universe, directed by Bat in the Sun’s Aaron and Sean Schoenke.
Starring Michael Rowe as the titular MI-6 agent, Ninjak vs. the Valiant Universe will feature Ninjak being forced to steal a valuable item from his employers, resulting in the super-team known as Unity being activated to bring him in.
The series will also feature a rotating cast of guest stars from across Valiant’s publishing lineup, including Power Rangers alum Jason David Frank as Bloodshot, Lucha Underground wrestler John Morrison as the Eternal Warrior, Kevin Porter as Armstrong, Derek Theler as X-O Manowar, Damian Portier as Shadowman, Ciera Foster as Livewire, and Chantelle Barry as the villainess Roku. The series is expected to be released online Winter 2017.
“We wanted people who were legitimate actors, but who looked like they walked off the page,” said Valiant CEO and Chief Creative Officer Dinesh Shamdasani, who likened the project to Marvel and DC’s TV properties on Netflix and the CW during a set visit in Los Angeles in September. “We wanted to be very careful of how we represented these characters.”
With such a wide range of genres across Valiant’s properties, Shamdasani said that Ninjak vs. the Valiant Universe would reflect these various tones, with Bloodshot’s chapter having the character stabbed in the cheek with a knife and having his hand blown off, X-O Manowar having a hard sci-fi angle, while Archer and Armstrong would be “almost vaudeville.”
Director Aaron Schoenke said he and his father were approached by Valiant after the success of their web series, Super Power Beat Down, and that they were attracted to the complexity of Valiant’s characters.
“They’re not stereotypical cookie-cutter people,” he said, adding that characterization and story was key to getting audience members fully invested in action sequences. “This is our opportunity to show there are different kinds of superheroes out there.”
Ninjak vs. the Valiant Universe has also recruited talent from other genre divisions, including stunt coordinators from Daredevil and Rush Hour, as well as costume designers from Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The series itself boasts more than a dozen locations just for its first episode, and filming has taken Valiant to the same stages where Steven Spielberg filmed Jurassic Park: The Lost World.
Playing the titular Ninjak, Rowe said he “dug in so hard” to make the character his own, researching much of Valiant’s catalog to learn about Colin King.
“He says everything people think and don’t say - he’s got the right amount of sense of humor, he’s got that kind of asshole quality that I find very attractive in a character,” Rowe said. “He’s an amalgamation, if Batman and Bruce Lee and James Bond had a baby with MacGyver and the Fonz. He’s a cool dude who works well under pressure.”
When asked how his character might react to fighting the combined forces of Unity, Rowe said, “he would be just the center of a tornado for an attack. He organizes it by separating pieces of the group, and he has different parts of his own fighting style that he thinks would match up the best. It’s kind of a one-at-a-time kind of thing, so he’s running to separate the pack and find them at places where he’s two steps ahead of them already.”
Focusing on Bloodshot in particular, he said that Ninjak sees the character as a powerful but manageable threat.
“They respect each other, but one thinks they have the other’s number,” he said. “They’ve never had a chance to figure out which one would win in a fight, so they’re kind of relishing the moment, sort of saying ‘I’ve been thinking a lot about how to take you out, and now we’ll see who’s the better man.’”
Meanwhile, Frank and Morrison, who have worked with the Schoenkes previously on Super Power Beat Down, were deeply enthusiastic about their characters and the project.
“What I liked about Bloodshot was he was a cool, popular character... he’s like Wolverine. He heals, he’s got so many powers, he’s fed by nanites… I read almost everything they had about him,” Frank said, praising Jeff Lemire’s Bloodshot Reborn series. “Making a PG-13 Bloodshot isn’t going to work,” he said. “I’m hoping that the hardcore Bloodshot and Valiant people are excited about it.”
Frank added that Bloodshot’s look was also such a departure visually, providing him a liberating alternative from his all-ages work on the Power Rangers franchise, particularly the way the Schoenkes had his eyes glow in post-production.
“It was cool to be able to transform, to hide myself - once I was in that suit, I was Bloodshot,” Frank said. “I can get stabbed, I can get shot, because it’s not me, not Tommy the Power Ranger guy. It takes a long time to get into and a long time to get out of, but it’s all worth it. It’s very complex, it looks great.”
“I feel like [the Eternal Warrior] is interesting because he’s a badass guy, but he has that intelligence of a genius, because he’s been around forever,” Morrison said. “A lot of times, he’s kind of a militant Buddhist... there’s a lot of discovery about the character. He’s trying to suss out who’s good and who’s bad, and drawing upon this wealth of experience.”
“[Eternal Warrior]’s a master of every martial art that’s ever been done - that basically gives me free reign to play with a lot of different stuff, and you have to be constantly creative with how you can use the environment,” he added, explaining that he likened the Warrior’s fighting style to escrima, two-headed European broadswords and samurai flourishes and twists. “It’s very much in line with what I want to do, which is create dope action content.”
Shamdasani added that Valiant would be launching a brand-new division called Valiant Digital to support further content in addition to this web series, such as television, video games and film. For Ninjak vs. the Valiant Universe he said that the company’s rationale was in part to bring a greater public awareness to their cast of characters via the online sphere, similar to how Marvel and DC animation was a gateway to new readers via networks a generation ago.
“We’re a small independent company, so we can be aggressive,” Shamdasani said, adding that Valiant was continuing to field offers from other studios and production companies in Hollywood for additional film and television ventures. “Our goal is to have the companies who were too slow to see the potential see this and say, ‘Finally, someone’s done it.”