A cult-favorite name from Valiant Entertainment's past returns this December: the Visitor. And writing The Visitor is a first-time visitor to the publisher, with a name that precedes him.
Former DC President Paul Levitz makes his Valiant debut with the six-issue series The Visitor with artist MJ Kim. Setting the title in his ow hometown of New York City, Levitz revamps the Visitor and puts him at the center of a mystery of who he is as he carries out an untraceable agenda to clean up the world.
Levitz talked with Newsarama about The Visitor, his connection with New York City, and joining the Valiant Universe.
Newsarama: Paul, who is The Visitor? We know it’s not the former Valiant character that went by that name, but is this character related? If so, why use that name?
Paul Levitz: Well, the series is very much inspired by the original, even if it's not the same character or concept. And it's a good name. As to who he is, that's a question you need to read the series to figure out.
Nrama: I loved the quote you had about this comic, that it would use a “sense of place” unlike a lot of other stories. What do you mean by that? Would you say any stories throughout comic history do us sense of place well?
Levitz: Think about how Ross Andru's Spider-Man was so specifically visually New York. Ross would climb to building rooftops to take photo reference for Spidey's swings. Most of mainstream comics don't use place much, and until Marvel in the 1960s generally avoided it consciously. But it's a great tool in any medium (think of all the movies and TV shows that use NYC as a character...). I think Brooklyn Blood made great use of sense of place.
Nrama: That place is, of course, New York City. What about NYC makes it right for this story? In a bigger sense, why do you think NYC is such a popular choice for comic book stories in the first place?
Levitz: NYC was the place where pretty much all the comics were created for a couple of generations - the newspaper strip wars started here, syndicates and then comic book publishers based here, and before digital transmission or FedEx, that meant most of the talent lived around here. Besides that, NY is an aspirational city... people dream about moving here. Some do happily, some come and turn back quickly, some have uneasier relationships with the city. But it's a magnet in a way that only Hollywood (as opposed to the larger Los Angeles) can rival.
Nrama: From what I've read, you have a long personal history with New York yourself. Can you tell us about that?
Levitz: I'm a lifelong New Yorker - born in Brooklyn when it stopped being cool (the Dodgers left town), started to commute to Manhattan at 13 for school, and have spent time in the heart of the city pretty much every week ever since. I love the city's energy, and its transformative power over people's lives. Come here as an immigrant or an American searching for your destiny, and you won't leave the same.
Nrama: How much of that history is feeding into your work on The Visitor? How much has it fed into your past work, like Legion of Superheroes or Stalker?
Levitz: I'm sure a wise scholar can find New York attitude in any of my work, but I haven't been able to use the literal city until recent years. Both Brooklyn Blood and Doctor Fate took advantage of the city very explicitly, though.
Nrama: You're working with Faith-famous artist M.J. Kim to bring The Visitor to life, and I liked how you said M.J. is "immersing herself" in the exploration of NYC you're doing with this book. Can you flesh out what you mean when you say that?
Levitz: MJ's doing site visits, at least one with me, mostly on her own. She seems determined to get all the visuals right down to details--haven't seen anyone work the detail line like that since George Perez's heyday.
Nrama: Is that where you think M.J.'s work shines the most? In world building?
Levitz: For a young artist, MJ displays enormous areas of skill - her people are expressive, her scenes well-constructed, and you can watch the growth in her page construction as she works. She's not deeply steeped in American superhero and genre comics by her own admission, but she already has significant mastery of the form...I'm really excited to see how develops into a star.
Nrama: Diving back into the story, you said The Visitor would essentially be a mystery. In fact, you said some of your best stories were structurally mysteries. How exactly do you structure a mystery in a comic, and why does it lead to better stories?
Levitz: I don't know if mysteries are 'better' stories, but they're a form I've loved since I was a kid. I think the puzzle aspect of mysteries provides an added intellectual reward, even if you're not trying to solve them before the reveal. A good action thriller is an amusement park ride, jolting the reader this way and that...adding an element of mystery (or in the case of The Visitor, mysteries) is a bonus.
Nrama: What's the central mystery to The Visitor? Is it a question of the titular character's identity?
Levitz: Ah, that would be telling. His identity is one level of the mystery, his motive another, and there are layers of how this fits into the existing Valiant mythology and touches on unrevealed but significant aspects of those mythos.
Nrama: Finally, it seems this story has a lot of your fingerprints on it. It’s set in your hometown, it’s in your preferred structure. Do you consider this a personal story? If so, what will be going through your head when it hits shelves?
Levitz: Any good story is personal to the writer on some level - our world view, our politics, our philosophies are reflected in our work whether we want to do so or not. Any many of the characters in our tales are built out of bits of people from our lives.
What's going through my head? Seeing if the audience(s) we hope to attract show up and enjoy the series. The goal was to have it satisfying for readers new to Valiant, who might try it because they know my work (or MJ's), and also to have it provide pleasant surprises for the Valiant fanbase.
I've not written in this universe before, or exactly for the tone I perceive in the Valiant titles I've read. Ideally, I'd be thrilled if the Valiant readers found me the most interesting new (but rather old) writer they've tried in a while, and if my DC readers enjoy it thoroughly.