Earlier today, Valiant Entertainment held its third annual summit where the comics publisher released news of its upcoming slate of new titles, hinted at things to come on the small and silver screen, and introduced new creators to its stable of artists and writers. This is all under the auspices of a new umbrella branding titled "Icons" - a movement to return many of its original characters who were largely on the backburner during 2016, as the publisher introduced some newer series and characters.
Newarama sat down with some of the top brass at Valiant to get the exclusive scoop on the year ahead – and even some peeks into 2018. Joining us for this round table were CEO/CCO , Dinesh Shamdasani; Editor-in-Chief Warren Simons; Vice-President of Marketing and Communications Hunter Gorinson ; and Associate Editor Danny Khazem.
Newsarama: Before we kick things off, I want to start by wading into some … somewhat controversial waters. As I’m sure you’ve heard, there’s been some concern about comic events, series reboots, and whether or not readers are getting burned out on them.
Given that we have some events and new series launches to talk about today, I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit about how Valiant aims to do it right?
Dinesh Shamdasani: Sure, we can talk about how Valiant is doing it better. [Laughs] It’s something we think a lot about. We’re lucky in that we don’t have the same pressures as the Big Two where we don’t have big, conglomerate businesses above us who are chasing after the bottom line. We can make decisions around building our line, which is significantly smaller when compared to Marvel or DC. We publish eight to ten books a month, and we do that for very specific reasons. When you publish 80 titles a month, there’s just not enough talent or time in the day to produce 80 great books. With our books, we can keep the quality high.
We’re also very aware of the time and monetary expenditure of our fans. It gets very difficult to keep up with the cost in time and money, especially when there is reboot after reboot, event after event. It’s nonstop due to the bottom line and ultimately, they’re not get very much consequence in the stories since everything is in constant flux. That’s something we’re quite aware of and focus on.
So, we have a new story coming out in Harbinger: Renegade that we’re calling “Massacre.” We’ll end up killing one of our major characters in order to set the stage for an event in 2018. This will have seismic repercussions in the Valiant Universe, and there will be consequences following on even years from now. If you go back to the first Harbinger series we did, Flamingo dies, and while we could have brought her back and earned a nice sales boost from it, we didn’t bring her back. Consequences needed to remain intact.
We’ll make those eight to ten books, which we just announced during the 2017 Valiant Summit, and bring a little focus back to our “Icons” - those characters whom we took off the shelf to introduce some of our newer characters. Now, it’s back to basics. We started this with the release of X-O Manowar #1, which was one of the biggest releases of all time for an independent publisher, and we’re hoping to replicate that with Bloodshot, Shadowman, and others.
That’s how I think we’re doing it right: Focusing on creating eight to ten of the best possible comics out there.
Warren Simons: I think you summed it up perfectly with consequences. All of our events happen organically. We did that in 4001 A.D. over the course of a year and not shooting in fifteen books to get a quick surge in profits. That’s just not our business model. We can take our time with our comics. We’re conscious of putting a spotlight on our universe in a way that utilizes one or two books versus the whole line. When you spread a story over a whole line, there’s just not enough story to go around. And consumers can pick up on that.
I think the other thing is our creators. We have some of the best artists and writers in the industry. They always really trying to build a book that’s important, that has consequence. We also benefit from a smaller line because it means we don’t have the issues with creators not being able to tell the story that they want to tell because someone else has those characters. That’s why I think because, pound for pound, we have the best events in the industry.
Nrama: You’ve made your case for why you’ve been able to keep the fans energy levels high, but what about the reboot / renumbering issue?
Shamdasani: It’s not a regular part of our business plan for our line. You’ll notice that we’ve kept one universe since we relaunched the Valiant Universe in 2012. I think because others like Marvel, DC, and even Archie, have rebooted their world, we may have the longest running shared universe in comics right now because we haven’t rebooted. I think that’s part of why fans are rejecting what’s coming out and embracing what we’ve been doing.
Now in regards to renumbering, it’s not a decision we take lightly. When we put X-O Manowar back on the shelves with a new #1, that’s a huge decision for us that was years in the making. When Robert Venditti was writing the series, we all worked together to find just the right end point. That way, this new #1 would be built off the old but provide readers with a completely new viewpoint for the character. And we’re doing that again with Ninja-K. The numbering is used really only to create an opportunity for us to tap into something in a clear way that we couldn’t do in the initial runs to accentuate the story in the same way that television will do that from one season to the next.
Nrama: Now, let’s talk about "Icons" – your “marching orders” for the upcoming year. Is this a new series or more of a way to identify the “thematic connection” between your upcoming series and events?
Hunter Gorinson: It’s definitely much more along the lines of being a thematic connection. A lot of time was spent diversifying the purview of the stories we could tell and we have some great new series that came out of it that enriched the line’s dimensions. At the same time, we have capped ourselves to eight to 10 books, so now it’s time to bring them back in 2017.
Shamdasani: We want to send a message the long-time Valiant fans that this is a return to their favorite iconic heroes. On the other hand, we’ve also been getting great feedback from the retailers, who keep telling us how Valiant is one of the best publishers putting out comics in the business and they want to know where new readers can jump in. This year will provide a bunch of new jumping-on points for these readers to meet our biggest characters and get started with Valiant.
Nrama: You’ve mentioned that you’re bringing back the “big guns” of the Valiant Universe after spending a good deal of 2016 introducing some newer story concepts as seen in Britannia, Savage, and Stalinverse to name a few.
Last month, we saw the return of your mainstay title and hero, X-O Manowar, but this time, we have Matt Kindt on writing duties after Robert Venditti’s extended 50+ issue run. Why was this series the one to provide the opening salvo?
Gorinson: Well, I think the answer’s a pretty obvious one: When it comes to all of the characters that readers have come to know and love, it’s X-O Manowar whom they cry out for the most. Make no mistake, we chose this character to relaunch the publishing line back in 2012 for a reason, and that first volume really set the template for the kind of books we could and would create as a publisher.
The minute people picked up that issue, it set a very high watermark for us and the tone for the sort of books readers could expect.
Shamdasani: The new #1, like the first one, is a balls-to-the-wall comic full of action about a man out of his place and time. The inventiveness of Matt Kindt and the detail of Tomas Giorello just set the book apart from the rest, and it serves notice to the industry by saying “Hey. Look at who we are now. Look at what we’re going to keep on doing into 2017.”
Simons: It’s twofold. First, he’s a great, iconic character and extraordinarily fun. Matt did amazing work on this script and plans for the entire year. And a year from now? It will get even crazier. When you add Tomas’ pages into the picture, well, he’s doing what I consider to be some of the best work in the industry right now. Just beautiful. We have amazing artists working for us, and I see Doug Braithwaite, Trevor Hairsine, Clayton Crain, Tomas, or Darick Robertson just to name a few, and a feel lucky. Our books are not the same without the artists working on them. They are beyond important to our company and our stories.
Nrama: I mentioned this before how Valiant took some decidedly different directions in 2016 – one of which was notably the historical horror mini-series, Britannia. I understand you have some news to share about this series for later this month.
Simons: For X-O Manowar #1’s launch day, we all went out to bunch of retailers in California, and I was out in San Jose talking to one of the retailers there who told me they could not keep Britannia on the shelves. Across the whole series, it sold out ten times. Ten times. We feel really excited about the new series coming out with a new character involved. Peter Milligan did a really bang-up job on it, which features slaughter in the streets of Rome.
Nrama: Okay, I know you’re going to tell me a little more than just that…
Simons: Well, we have the god Apollo, roaming around on Earth killing the upper-crust of Rome, and Antonius Axia – the world’s first “detectioner,” which is basically a detective hundreds of years before proper psychology even knew what a subconscious was – is trying to figure out exactly what’s happening. And this brings him before the gladiatrix – she’s a woman who exists in the arena and despite the numerous attempts to see her killed, she continues to survive. Nothing seems to be able to kill her. And it begins to spread amongst the upper class of Roman society that she could become a real problem, which is where this story picks up.
Speaking of great artists, Juan Jose Ryp turned out such a strong book, and we were really excited to see him bring all of this together again.
Nrama: Likewise, you’re leaning even more into the realm of fantasy with the upcoming series, Rapture as we move into May. While we spoke with Matt Kindt about this title before, perhaps you can you share with us how this fits into the greater “Icons” movement?
Shamdasani: Rapture is the first showing of a greater plan that we have in mind for Shadowman. It takes place in the Deadside where Magpie and Shadowman encounter these two warring armies led by an ancient barbarian and someone else who has something a connection to the Shadowman mythology – something we’ll be keeping a little bit under our hats for now. But this is something we’re setting up to be a really cool self-contained story that will lead to a major Shadowman relaunch in 2018.
Gorinson: Right – March 28, 2018 we’ll be doing with Shadowman what we just did with X-O Manowar.
Shamdasani: X-O Manowar #1 was huge – far more so than what’s being reported. I think I’ve seen 60,000 issues being the official number, which is grossly underreported. The actual numbers were 90,000 copies – a huge win for us. Therefore, we’re planting our flag in the fourth weekend of March and doing an equally large campaign for the Shadowman campaign. We want to build a ton of great comics, know what we’re doing, and then put together a massive marketing campaign to get people really excited about what we’ve already planned. There’s no guesswork or hoping things come together as we’re launching when we already have the books behind us. And next year? Big Shadowman launch.
Nrama: Moving into June, you’ll be releasing your next big launch with Secret Weapons, which will serve as a vehicle for Livewire – the once member of Unity. What cued you off to 2017 being the right time for Livewire to move center stage?
Simons: She’s always been a key character for us from Unity and Harbinger, Livewire’s simply one of our favorites. And then we got an awesome story from Eric Heisserer, who’s been nominated for an Academy Award for Arrival and he’s also working on the Bloodshot and Harbinger screenplays. He came up with this idea of Secret Weapons, which is a team of cast-off heroes who were not deemed powerful enough by Toyo Harada to utilize. I don’t want to spoil too many details here, but it’s a great chance to not only introduce us to the origin stories of some other great character, but also drill down into the psyche of Livewire and the debts she’s accrued while working in the service of Harada and what she has to do to set that straight. It’s a real redemption story for her. Raul Allen has done great work before, but he’s stepped in and killed it on the art. Beautiful work between himself and Patricia Martin, who’s handling art.
Shamdasani: I will say one thing and that’s that it feels much like the time just before we launched Faith and she took off. I’m not sure there are very many characters in comics like her – smart, complicated, and proactive. It’s no surprise the creators who get to work with her grow to love her. There was one sequence in the Harbinger screenplay that we had to cut, but it was a great thing because Eric couldn’t stop scratching that itch. As a result, Secret Weapons was born. Now that she has this incredible platform, the rest of the world is going to get to fall in love with her, too.
And there will be a pre-order edition available with eight-pages of exclusive material from both Eric and Raul. Just order all four books before the deadline on April 27 and you’ll get this edition. It’s a book we really believe in.
Nrama: In addition to having Valiant mainstay, Raul Allen, on art duties with Patricia Martin, you’re also introducing a new writer to your stable of creators – Eric Heisserer. Do you find that bringing in writers from outside comics, particularly television and film is affecting the narrative direction at Valiant?
Simons: It’s a great question, Forrest. Fortunately, the creators we have are some of the most collaborative. We don’t work with jerks nor do we deal with egomaniacs. You have to love comics to work here. Eric has come on board, and it’s funny because we were just talking at WonderCon, and he’s a machine for great ideas. He just started tossing some ideas out there that were amazing. He loves feedback and different opinions on structuring the story – from myself and other editors to Raul and other writers.
In short, it hasn’t really affected the way we’re telling stories here at Valiant because these creators are all coming at this from a similar love of the characters and storytelling in general. We have a shared universe and pay attention to and collaborate with one another. In our writers’ room, people are coming together to support one another – not come after one another. Now, I’ve been in some of those, and they’re not exactly the most pleasant experiences in the world.
Shamdasani: There are plenty of other television and movie writers who’ve approached us, and we’ve had to turn them down. We’re very protective of the environment, which is why you see a small group of really passionate and dedicated creators here. That’s why we don’t chase the “flavor of the month” names.
Simons: We don’t want creators who don’t care what they work on no matter how big their names. We want the stories within the Valiant Universe to keep to that high level of quality we mentioned before.
Danny Khazem: It’s been phenomenal working with the likes of Quantum and Woody’s Daniel Kibblesmith. He’s a true comics geek and he’s incredibly collaborative. He understands that it’s a team medium. We’re building this stuff together and making something fun. It’s comics – you have to have fun.
Nrama: Of course, one of Valiant’s most popular characters has been Faith Herbert.
It sounds like you’re moving Faith out of traditional canon and continuity and letting her fly in an alternate timeline. Why was this important for you?
Shamdasani: Oh, ye of little faith …
Simons: This is actually going to be the first crossover that will have every single character in the Valiant Universe. Jody Houser came up with a story angle that will include multiple timelines that will incorporate characters from the past, present, and future of Valiant.
Here’s a quick overview of what you can expect: There’s going to be this malevolent A.I. that is traveling through time, changing events, and rewriting history. Neela Sethi, the Timewalker, shows up seeking Faith’s help in addressing the massive problems this A.I. is creating in the timeline. There’s this one great line where Neela asks her, “Do you know Adolf Hitler?” and Faith simply replies “No.” That’s where we start.
We have these characters gathering up other heroes like Rai, the Eternal Emperor, Ninjak, the Harbinger kids, Bloodshot, and more to take out this A.I., which only grows stronger as it consumes more. Jody’s really come to the table with a great story and fantastic framing sequence. Every time we shift in the timeline, a new artist will come in to underscore that change from a visual perspective.
Gorinson: I’ve got to jump in here and just that this is absolutely the story that I’ve been waiting for years for Valiant to be able to tell, and it couldn’t have happened without the efforts of the team behind Faith to bring it to light. It’s a wonderful team that’s helped build out Faith’s status quo over the past year, developing her supporting cast, and just making her viable solo hero who can take out legitimate threats on her own. Moreover, this is where we really get to see Faith’s potential rocket forward into an Infinity Gauntlet sort of event where she will encounter every single power player in the Valiant Universe across all time.
Shamdasani: Our fans have been crying out to us to bring together the 4001 universe and the past and present timelines. Unlike Marvel and DC, we have a timeline that is just massive and spans the entirety of human history. And they haven’t connected yet. Now, we will see Rai come together with Ninjak along with 4th Century Eternal Warrior and the 40th Century Eternal Warrior all coming together in this book. For Faith fans, it’s also going to be a chance to enter into the broader Valiant Universe. It’s going to be a helluva ride!
Nrama: That brings us to August…but rumor is that you’ve “classified” your plans for August? Why is that? What are you keeping from readers?
Shamdasani: We don’t want to put everything out there, but it is something the fans have been demanding a long time. It’s a character – he, she, or it – that has been asked for and we have big plans ahead. You’ll have to wait and see.
Nrama: I’m going on the record by saying my bets are on Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, but we’ll have to wait and see.
Shamdasani: Fine, I’ll tell you: It’s Uzzi the Clown from Bloodshot #s 34 and 36 from the original series in 1996. We’re going all the way. [Laughs]
Simons: It’s all he talks about anymore…
Nrama: [Laughs] Okay, okay. You’re not telling. In that case, let’s take a look at September.
Two years ago this week, we covered the release of Jeff Lemire and Mico Suayan’s Bloodshot Reborn. This September sees the dynamic duo returning alongside Lewis LaRosa for a new chapter in the life of Valiant’s favorite nanite-fueled hero.
Given your recent interest in deviating from your “typical” timeline and moving into alternative realities – something Bloodshot has done already - can we expect more of the same to take place with Bloodshot? How so?
Simons: Well, yes. Jeff’s put together an amazing story here. He’s really one of the best freelancers out there when it comes to plotting. I’ll sit there and talk to him on a Friday, and then on Monday, I’ll talk to him again and he’ll have the entire issue plotted out. On this particular, story he’s put together an amazing couple of arcs, which introduces Bloodshot’s daughter. As we discovered in the last series, Bloodshot fell in love with a woman, Magic, and they ran away together. In the #0 issue, we find out she’s pregnant, and we open years into the future where Jessie is being hunted. Magic comes in, kills some of the assailants, and tells her daughter they need to find her daddy; however, the young girl doesn’t believe she’ll ever see him again.
Then we fast-forward to the present day and this is where we begin to explore what Bloodshot did to cause him to go away. What did Ray do?
This series will see Jeff creating a lot of villains for us. The last series saw a lot of villains who were more governmental or secret organizations. This time, we’re eventually going to see – in the second arc – Bloodshot go into the Deadside. He has to go for a reason that I don’t want to go into, but he takes Bloodhound and fight his way through the Deadside to capture different things along the way. There are some big plans here, and thanks to Mico and Lewis, it will blow you away.
Shamdasani: I think that once awards season rolls around, this is going to be one of those books people are looking at and talking about as one of the very best. Jeff’s got a heartwarming and moving story while still violent as all hell. Between opening with Rampage and the Scarred Man in the first arc and then moving him off into the Deadside in the second arc, it’s going to be awesome.
Nrama: Coming off of the “Stalinverse” story in Divinity III, Matt Kindt and Trevor Hairsine have another 4-issue mini-series in store for readers in November that’s will serve as a sort of fourth chapter to their Divinity stories. What can you tell us about this next installment?
Gorinson:I would actually say it’s not a fourth chapter at all. It’s a completely new thing where we breach into some unexplored territory of the Valiant Universe through Divinity. From what I know, it’s going to be unlike anything else we’ve seen the heroes tackle before.
Shamdasani: We’re still working out the tagline, but we’re thinking of going with “The Frasier to Divinity’s Cheers.” [Laughs] We certainly use and need characters from Divinity I, II, and III to build off, but Eternity isn’t a person, it’s a thing. Once we reveal what it is, people will get excited. But, this will give us an opportunity to construct a completely new universe that sits adjacent to the Valiant Universe. It’s totally within continuity with significant consequences for everyone, but an entirely different tone to it.
The matrix behind what we do at Valiant is that what we do is grounded on science fiction. We don’t have a lot of big fantasy elements or non-sci-fi ideas. Everything gets looked at through a sci-fi lens. And this give us that chance to explore this other realm – something we’ve had plans to do before we ever launched Divinity I.
Gorinson: I think what you’re going to discover in the Eternity side of the universe will enhance Divinity’s importance, but it will be distinct with its own unique potential. Matt and Trevor are doing a tremendous job on the massive amount of work that they’ve been putting into this world.
Khazem: Warren deserves some credit, too, for casting Matt and Trevor onto Divinity from the onset, as they’ve gone on to develop this really organic relationship over the course of the different books – the latter two of the three of which I’ve had the pleasure to work on with them. Getting to see them work together in the process of world building is really something incredible. And Eternity will be something like you’ve never seen.
Simons: Thank, Danny. Your $20 is in the mail. [Laughs]
Shamdasani: But Hunter brings up a good point here. It’s not Divinity IV. That said, you also can’t have Eternity without Divinity. When you have a big, epic-level character like a Thor or Superman who is all knowing, you need to find the right place for them, and this is it. That’s the kind of storytelling we’ll have here.
Nrama: We have another series to announce that will hit shelves comes in November as well, and this will star Ninjak. Beyond a new series for a popular character, you have something special in store particularly related to the creative team. Who’ve you brought on board, and what are they going to deliver that the Valiant Universe and its fans haven’t seen to date?
Khazem: For Ninja-K, we’ve brought on Christos Gage, who’s worked with us in the past.
Gorinson:Right. He helped with Bloodshot & H.A.R.D Corps with Joshua Dysart, and they did a great job building up that part of the Harbinger world.
Khazem: When we bring a character back, it’s like we said – we’re going to be examining Ninjak through a completely new lens. The first series that Matt Kindt did took a more supernatural approach to the character, but now Christos will be taking a deeper look at the MI-6’s ninja program and leaning more into the spy aspect of the character. It’s some deep legacy stuff.
Shamdasani: It goes back to your first question regarding re-numbering and how it can be done right. It’s not just a new issue continuing the same old status quo. This is an entirely new creative team with an entirely new viewpoint on the character and his world. This is how you can create entry points for new readers while allowing long-time fans see a favorite character slide into some new areas.
And we’re taking a full 40 pages to delve into the world of the ninja program and see this come together with MI-6.
Simons: Christos did a really wonderful job on fleshing out the ninja program, describing the first ninja, Ninja-A, and why he came to the U.K. in the first place during World War I when Britain and Japan were allies – and how those bonds frayed over time. Tomas Giorello will be launching this with us, as we just mentioned during the Summit, and he’s the person to take this to the next level. It’ll be another iconic launch with X-O Manowar and Bloodshot.
Nrama: And the train is not stopping yet, folks. Recently, we heard that Valiant Entertainment would be getting into the business of television with Quantum and Woody, which will be produced by the Russo Brothers of Captain America fame. Naturally, the discussion eventually turns to bringing these movie and TV fans over to the comics.
So, with a television series on the horizon, what plans do you have in store for newsstands come December for Quantum and Woody?
Khazem: Quantum and Woody have been off the table for a little while now, and when we look to bring characters back, we need to make sure it’s the best possible story to reintroduce them. This is something that Daniel Kibblesmith will be delivering. He’s a great person to work with and really has a keen sense of humor making him the right fit for this series.
Shamdasani: The premise behind Quantum and Woody is pretty fantastic. You have two adoptive brothers are estranged, meet at their father’s funeral, and then go onto investigate his death where they discover these amazing, technologically-enhanced gauntlets that allow to have super-heroic powers. The downside, however, is they need to clang their gauntlets together or else these powers will cause them to de-materialize – so the brothers can never be far apart no matter how far apart their personalities may be. It’s a sci-fi take on the trope of the characters who are cuffed together.
And Daniel’s done a great job of translating this mystery behind the father’s death into his story where Woody’s dad’s not really dead. Quantum knows this, and when Woody finds out? The rifts grows even deeper, and we’re left wondering why would one brother leave the other out. Fortunately, Daniel has a great sense of humor, so you never go long without some sort of hilarity ensuing.
And circling back to your past question regarding bringing television and film fans being brought into the comics, it’s worth noting that the Russo Brothers, who are producing Quantum and Woody are huge comic book fans. The writers of the show are comic book fans. One of the things we all wanted to make sure each wanted to do was ensure this was something that had the same characterization and kookiness from the comics would be there without copying it. But given the nature of our television contracts, we can’t really go too much further into detail than that.
But we can assure people that we will be educating viewers that if you like what you’re seeing on the small screen, you can find more in the comics.
Nrama: We’ve covered a lot of ground looking at the year ahead for Valiant Entertainment, between events and new series as well as shifting into the world of television. Maybe this is getting a bit of ahead of ourselves, but any hints about where you think Valiant will be going once 2017 wraps and we begin shifting into 2018? We’ve spoken about Shadowman, but can you give us some sneak peeks into Harbinger Wars 2?
Gorinson: Cattle prods will be used if you tell too much, guys!
Simons: Violent? Check. Earth shattering? Check. Cheers? Ninjak versus Cheers. Check. I’d really like to see a Ninjak/Cheers crossover. Page 1, everyone’s sitting at the bar. Page 2? Everyone’s dead. [Laughs]
But in all seriousness, Harbinger Wars 2 is something we’ve been building towards for at least six months, and it’s going to have a profound impact on our universe. There’s hype, and people say that all the time. But this will create a definite fracturing in the Valiant Universe.
Shamdasani: You know we’ve never done a sequel in the traditional sense. For us to do a sequel of one of our most beloved stories is not something we took lightly. I feel like we have a defining story for Valiant’s history and we feel incredibly confident about it.