It's The Lord of the Rings meets the Valiant Universe in the publisher's own words, as the four-part Rapture kicks off May 29.
Matt Kindt and CAFU are taking Ninjak and other Valiant heroes into Shadowman's realm, the Deadside. This story sees two major armies squaring off with one not just looking to escape the land of the dead, but to make its way into the heavenly reams in what the publisher hopes will be its most epic storyline yet.
Being only weeks away, Newsarama spoke with Kindt for insight into what he has planned for this year’s summer event as he brings the Valiant Universe to the edge of war once again.
Newsarama: Matt, this isn’t the first time you’ve paired off Ninjak with Shadowman to venture forth into the Deadside. What has you bringing us back to the land of the dead yet again?
Matt Kindt: The fact that Ninjak hates magic and the Deadside so much...that’s what makes me want to keep sending him back there. It’s like chocolate and peanut butter - utterly different ingredients - but they go so well together! Except...imagine that chocolate hates peanut butter! And peanut butter wants to kill chocolate...or something like that. Ninjak’s skillset is all about tactics and concrete skills, while Shadowman has a sort of nebulous skill set...let’s face it - he’s a dark magic wild card, and his past record of success is pretty checkered. He’s the perfect foil for Ninjak.
I also really loved CAFU’s take on Ninjak in the silent issue that we did in Ninjak #22. Just by the way he put all the action together and sold that story, I think he’s really coming into his own as an artist. Between the work he did with Ninjak and the amazing world-building he did in Rai last year, CAFU made himself the ideal artist to work on a story set in the Deadside, which is going to rely on a lot of world building in some very odd locations, and with some very diverse and non-earthly characters. We have demons without wings trapped in giant trees, an ancient barbarian, and some pretty sketchy villains that literally have a “kill word.”
Nrama: We’re also seeing some other characters returning as well with Tama, the young geomancer from the future whom readers may recall from the The Valiant and the Book of Death events from two years ago. How does she figure into this story?
Kindt: Well, first and foremost, she’s showing up because I love this character. Jeff Lemire and I created her with the specific idea of circling back around to her one day and making her into a really beloved character. It’s just taken this long for my schedule to allow it, and for the right story to come along.
She first showed up in The Valiant and came to earth with this crazy Book of Death that prophesized all of these horrible events and predicted the death of almost everyone. So, Tama’s carrying this book around and trying to constantly stop these apocalyptic fires all over the place. She’s like the early-warning system for the Valiant Universe, and she’s going to be constantly trying to rally the troops when they’re needed most. She’s also a plucky kid that’s smart and in love with adventure. She’s a kind of supernatural Nancy Drew. I love her so much, and honestly, I think I could write one-hundred issues worth of her stories.
So, Tama has been adventuring in the Deadside, and she’s stumbled onto a plot by an ancient force that, simply put, wants to find heaven - or at least the flipside to the “Deadside” that we’ve seen in the past. The idea being that if there’s a Deadside…then there must be a “Liveside.” It’s not an altogether villainous plot - but the consequences of finding and breaching the Liveside could prove lethal to Earth as we know it. So, Tama heads back to Earth and calls in all her favors…tapping Ninjak, Shadowman, and Punk Mambo via MI-6.
Nrama: Between time-traveling geomancers and alternate dimensions, you have to admit it can get a little tricky for readers to navigate at times. For clarity’s sake, how does your story fit into the general “timeline” of the Valiant Universe?
Kindt: This is all happening in real time. So, whatever else is happening when this book comes out - that’s when it happens. I try to treat these event stories an expansion of the universe we’re all familiar with if we’ve been reading Valiant titles, but also written in a way where you can just pick it up and get a good, solid story. You want a fun epic fantasy set in a magical realm of dead and dying things... with an adolescent adventurer as the instigator and protagonist? This is your book. But if you love Shadowman and have wondered when or how he’s coming back? This book will hit that button as well.
All of the stories I do are character-driven first, so I think they’re always a good jumping-on point. You’ll never feel lost, but you will get the sense that these characters dwell in a really lived-in world, that is much wider in scope than what you can see in any one or two issues. That’s the beauty of a shared universe like this. You get a great story, but the shared universe aspect really gives it so much more depth – even if it’s not literally on the page. You can sense that in the background and the way the characters relate to one another.
Nrama: The solicit also mentions that we will see two armies going head-to-head: One led by the malevolent Babel – a “primeval force” whose aim is to “breach ‘Heaven’ no matter the cost” – the “Liveside” that you mentioned before. I’m assuming this is a new villain for the Valiant Universe. What can you tell us about … it? I’m assuming it’s an “it?”
Kindt: It is definitely an...it. But I think that implies that it’s a monster. It’s not. It’s a being that’s been around for a long time, and actually has some decent motivation. It’s not villainous in the true sense of that word. I think a lot of me really identifies with Babel’s motivation. If there’s a Deadside and we can see that and go there...then why can’t we see the flipside of that – an “Aliveside” – what’s keeping us from seeing that and hanging out there? Not just for the characters, but as readers. Why don’t we see that side of things? That’s what I want to see! And as the writer of this book – I’m kind of rooting for Babel to get there. Unfortunately, there’s some pretty awful side-effects if it succeeds...but still. Who doesn’t want to see an “Aliveside?!”
Nrama: Then on the other side of the battlefield, we’re told that the second army is led by an old, gray-haired warrior. Might this be the Eternal Warrior making his presence known? If not, who are we looking at here?
Kindt: He’s not the Eternal Warrior. This is a new character I’ve been wanting to get to for a while. Rex the Razer is his name...and after this, I’m hoping that there is a massive outcry for him to get his own book and I can write that. He’s a grizzled old barbarian in the Deadside that has done a lot of bad things, and now finds himself the king of his realm, while also finding that he wants to maybe start doing some good.
Nrama: The name also brings to mind the New Testament notion of the rapture, where the faithful will be miraculously teleported from earth and brought to heaven. What aspects of the biblical story can we expect to see factoring into Rapture?
Kindt: I think any time you start dealing with an afterlife in stories, it brings up a lot of really great philosophical questions. If you’re going to buy this idea as a reader that we’ve got this Deadside - or a place that characters go to when they die – it begs the question...what’s the flipside of that coin?
I was writing all this really dark stuff with these twisted characters, and I got to thinking - why is this always the case? Not just in the Deadside or in the Valiant Universe, but just comics in general. We always get to see the dark places, like the underworld and that kind of thing. But we rarely, if ever, get to see the flipside. If there’s a hell...then there should be a heaven, right? If there’s a Deadside, then there should be an ”Aliveside.”
Maybe it’s just me being a positive person in real life, but I’d kind of like to see that positive side in comics. My father was a preacher while I was growing up, so I’m very familiar with both old and new testaments. And I’ve had a lot of great philosophical discussions with my dad, from childhood until just yesterday. So, it really seemed like a natural fit for what I wanted to do with this story.
Nrama: As a final question, it seems that most of the events and series that star some of Valiant’s primary heroes tend to move forward in a deliberate fashion towards a specific end. What is the end game for you - for whatever you can share - with Rapture? Where do you see the heroes - and villains - ending up once you’ve wrapped up this story? Given the comparisons being made to this as a “Tolkien-esque journey,” I have to imagine we’re looking at some significant challenges to the status quo of the Valiant Universe, no?
Kindt: Definitely. I think we’re going to see the re-emergence of Shadowman as a major player going forward, and I think the world is going to fall in love with Tama, the Geomancer and demand that she get her own young-adult adventure series.