At some point in our lives, we have to face down our inner demons … but for at least one hero in the Valiant Universe, it’s better to embrace those demons and make them your own!
On March 28, Andy Diggle makes his Valiant Entertainment debut byjoiningwith artist Stephen Segovia on the Shadowman relaunch – a series that the publisher claims will be “the most ambitious and fearsome Shadowman tale ever told.” Although readers will need to wait another two months to see for themselves, Newsarama spoke with Diggle to discuss what he has in store for Valiant’s resident Voodoo Warrior in not just the first arc but for the next two years ahead along with unpacking his first experience at Valiant.
Newsarama: Andy, I believe this run on Shadowman will be your first official venture with Valiant Entertainment. What about this publisher first piqued your interest? Were you a fan before the relaunch or was it something about the newly-minted line of books that first grabbed your interest as a reader and/or creator?
Andy Diggle: I'd been talking with Valiant Editor-in-Chief Warren Simons off and on for a few years now, looking for a gap in my schedule that would fit with the perfect title. It was Warren who brought me onto Daredevil at Marvel, and he's put together some incredible creative teams at Valiant. It's flattering to be asked to join them - especially with the amazing Stephen Segovia on the launch arc. I've found Valiant books to be smart, fun and accessible, with a real dedication to forward planning and long-form storytelling, which hasn't always been my experience elsewhere. So, when they offered me the chance to bring back Shadowman, I didn't hesitate.
Nrama: Did it scratch a particular “itch” for you?
Diggle: I'm happiest writing two kinds of books: gritty action like James Bond and The Losers, and supernatural horror like Hellblazer and Swamp Thing. Shadowman lives at the intersection of those two genres, so I feel very much at home in this world. I'm having a lot of fun with it.
Nrama: As I’m sure you’ve noticed, Valiant tends to invest heavily in their creative talent. From writers like Matt Kindt, Rob Venditti, and Jody Houser to artists like Doug Braithwaite, Tomas Giorello and Brian Reber, people who come to Valiant tend to stay at Valiant for a long time. What does this mean for you as a newer creator?
Diggle: I think it speaks volumes about how well Valiant treat their creators, and as things stand, I'm very happy to stay for the long haul. They've been incredibly supportive, open-minded and collaborative.
Nrama: What sort of advice have your fellow creators at Valiant given you moving forward with your title?
Diggle: Matt Kindt was just finishing up Rapture as I was planning the first two years of Shadowman's return. At the time, Jack Boniface was still in his sinister Magpie alter-ego, so we talked about Jack's motivations, and his relationship with the father he killed. Matt was very supportive and collaborative, and helped set up what I had planned for Jack's return. Again, it's that kind of cooperation that makes a shared universe work. We're all pulling in the same direction. So, I'm grateful to Matt for that.
Nrama: I understand this new series will take readers deep into the mythology of Shadowman and its titular character. What specific areas do you focus on most as this series kicks off?
Diggle: Voodoo is the key to the character. Shadowman is a voodoo hero. So that's one element I'm keen to dig into and explore further. Jack Boniface is an ordinary guy bound to a shadow loa - an angry, ancient spirit - that gives him extraordinary powers, but also represents a burden he has to carry.
Voodoo has been badly misrepresented by Hollywood over the years, so many people have quite a skewed and, frankly, rather racist idea of how it works. It's not all curses and voodoo dolls. Voodoo is a folk religion created by African slaves; it's baked into the fabric of American history. There's a transactional element to it; it's practical and goal-oriented. A loa acts as a sort of intermediary between humanity and Heaven, which is supposed to remain out of reach to the living. That's something we've already caught a glimpse of in Rapture.
Nrama: And that’s Shadowman’s connection to the supernatural? This loa?
Diggle: So, the question is, what exactly is the loa that inhabits Jack? What are its motives, its intentions, its history? Why was is exiled by the voodoo pantheon? Why does Baron Samedi - the major loa of sex, death and rebirth - reside in the Deadside while the rest of the pantheon have withdrawn to the far-off Voodoo Lands? There's this whole shadow world of mysteries and connections sort of hiding under the surface of what we've seen in previous Shadowman stories, and I'm interested in burrowing down into that; flipping over the rocks of the supernatural universe and seeing what crawls out. Jack is going to explore that world, gradually make sense of it, and ultimately come to a deeper understanding of his role as Shadowman - and in the process, unlock new powers he never even dreamed he could access.
But as weird as it's going to get, it's important to me that the real-world stuff stays grounded. You need that contrast, like an anchor to give weight and relevance to the supernatural. When we first met Jack back in 2012, he was this fresh-faced, upbeat guy with no idea what fate had in store for him. Since then he's been through the absolute wringer. He was bound to this angry loa, and discovered he's part of a family legacy stretching back to 1865. He travelled to the Deadside, confronted his own father - who had skipped out on being the previous Shadowman - and killed him. Jack went bad, and was transformed by his arch-enemy Master Darque into Magpie - a sort of supernatural Terminator. In Rapture, we finally saw Jack shake off that evil influence and become a force for good again. So, it's like he's been through the stages of grief - denial, anger, bargaining, depression - and now he's finally reaching acceptance. That's where we're picking him up in 2018. He's finally made his peace with being Shadowman, but he still has to carry that burden of guilt for all the selfish and irresponsible things he did. We're not hand-waving away his past. It's about moving forward, becoming a better man.
Nrama: So, how exactly do you plan on structuring Shadowman? Since the X-O Manowar relaunch, the team has taken a more episodic approach to their character and his narrative. Do you plan to approach this series in a similar manner? What benefits would you say there are to doing so?
Diggle: I've plotted out the first two years as a series of short arcs, all building into one overarching story. I'm a structure freak, and one of the things I've loved about working at Valiant is they don't just allow, but insist on careful long-term story planning. That's a gift for a writer, knowing you won't have to wreck your story structure to make room for some sudden unplanned crossover. It's like having a safety net. You can sow seeds; set up story elements in the early issues that might not pay off until months or even years ahead - but it's all planned, it's all leading somewhere. Everything connects. That's what a shared universe should be. I love it.
Nrama: We’ve had opportunities to see numerous corners of the supernatural world of the Valiant Universe from the Shadowman, Doctor Mirage, and Punk Mambo through The Book of Death and Rapture mini-series just to name a few. What else is there left for readers to explore?
Diggle: The supernatural world of the Valiant Universe is infinitely more vast than the real world... and it's not like we've even exhausted the possibilities of the real world yet. There are literally no limits to where we can go and what we can do.
Nrama: You’re not the first writer to tackle this character, as Justin Jordan last steered the series in 2012. As we move forward into 2018, who is Shadowman to you? What makes him tick?
Diggle: I think guilt is a more interesting motivation than blind duty or revenge. Justin Jordan and Peter Milligan showed Jack trying to reject and escape this fate he never asked for. Now that he's facing up to the responsibility of being Shadowman, it's about trying to fix what's broken, making right the mistakes of his past, and ultimately finding some kind of equilibrium. But the only way out is through. The world is full of monsters, and they aren't going to punch themselves in the face.
Nrama: Of course, a hero is only as interesting as his or her villainous counterpart. Who do you think are the best kinds of villains for Shadowman? Obviously, Master Darque has to factor into the discussion, but is there anyone else?
Diggle: Shadowman was created by Sandria Darque to destroy her brother Nicodemo, so Jack's story is innately entwined with theirs, and I will be digging into that twisted relationship. At the same time, there's a danger of over-using Darque, so I'm keeping that card up my sleeve for now. As for other villains, I think Baron Samedi has been under-used, and I'm having a lot of fun building him up into a major player in the first arc. He's become a mercurial trickster whose motivations aren't immediately apparent, and that's always a lot of fun to write. Jack's usual solution to problems is just to punch them. That won't get him very far with Samedi, who acts as a sort of gatekeeper to the wider supernatural universe that Jack will have to explore.
Nrama: Were there any specific editorial guidelines you were given as you prepared to layout this epic story?
Diggle: Honestly, they pretty much gave me carte blanche. It was great! I could have gone for a radical reinvention or rebooted from scratch with a whole new character, but I kind of wanted to save Jack from all the awful things that had happened to him, and all the terrible choices he made as a result. I can see how events have turned him into the man he is now, and I can see where he might end up in the future if only he takes the right path. So, the new series is Jack taking his first steps onto that path - which is of course filled with twists and turns, hardship and heartache, monsters and maniacs.
Nrama: Given that each arc will take advantage of a different artistic team, do you find this affects the way in which you tell the story? If so, in what ways?
Diggle: Each arc has a slightly different mood or tone. Our first arc lays the foundation for what's to come, so I wanted to re-establish all the core elements up front - Jack, Alyssa, New Orleans, voodoo, monsters and the Deadside - and Stephen Segovia is doing an extraordinary job of bringing it all to life. Future arcs embrace different styles, from gritty noir to superhero action to weird horror. It always helps to know in advance which artist will be drawing a given story, so you can play to their strengths. When they're having fun, and drawing what they love, you can feel it on the page. It's not my job to dictate to artists; it's my job to inspire them.
Nrama: Likewise, many new Valiant creators end up getting the opportunity at some point to bring other “toys” from different “toy chests” into their stories. Are there any characters out there who you want to bring into your run with Shadowman? What about these characters makes them both appealing to you but also a natural fit with Jack and his journey?
Diggle: I am bringing in some familiar faces, but only when it makes sense in the context of the story, never just for the sake of having a crossover. Ideally, I'd prefer it to come as a surprise, but as Shadowman deals with the world of the dead there's an obvious overlap with Doctor Mirage's area of expertise. Shadowman has mostly be confined to New Orleans or the Deadside in the past, and hasn't had a huge amount of interaction with the wider Valiant Universe - at least until Rapture. Now we've seen him as a guest/prisoner of MI6, and standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Ninjak and Tama the Geomancer. He's on their radar now.
One of the things I wanted to do was build up Shadowman into more of a player on the world stage, interacting with the big hitters, but with his own unique supernatural portfolio. But that's something you have to build towards organically. I want to re-establish him on his home turf before I go on to make him a fish out of water.
Nrama: Final question and this one goes out to your long-time fans – what are you delivering to your readers in Shadowman that they haven’t gotten anywhere else in your previous stories? How are they seeing you push past your previous boundaries as a creator?
Diggle: Over the years I've been as guilty as anyone of writing the straight white male as the "default human," and one of the things that appealed to me about Shadowman was the chance to write black heroes. In past issues, we've seen quite a few white characters explaining voodoo lore to black people, which never quite sat right with me. Shadowman is a voodoo hero and voodoo was created by, and for, black people.
So, it's been several years since Dox died, Punk Mambo left, and Jack disappeared into the Deadside, and during that time Alyssa Myles has been left to defend New Orleans against supernatural threats all by herself. I saw that as an opportunity to level her up, making her a strong, independent voodoo mambo in her own right, fighting the good fight. The student has become the master. Alyssa has quickly become one of my favorite characters I've ever written. She's great.