What is "Unity" in the new Valiant universe? I'd hoped to get some clues to that in my chat with Valiant CCO Dinesh Shamdasani, Executive Editor Warren Simons, Editor Jody LeHeup.
Besides staying mum on the shape of the new "Unity" (Erica Pierce forever), we did talk about how the universe currently looks, as the publisher continues to reintroduce titles from the VH1 era, including a new "Eternal Warrior" series, while playing out storylines like the ongoing "Harbinger Wars" between "Harbingers" and "Bloodshot," and gaining new creative teams like Christos Gage and Joshua Dysart on “Bloodshot and the HARD Corps.” We discussed diversity among the upcoming titles, and while they shared a collection of exclusive covers from artists Rian Hughes, Dave Johnson, and Dave Bullock for a handful of the Summer of Valiant variants making their ways to shelves in the coming months.
At the start of our conversation, Simons launches almost immediately into his spiel, rattling off the new creative teams for the coming months: Matt Kindt on a “Bloodshot” #0 issue with art by Chris Carlson and “Eternal Warrior” #1 with Greg Pak and Trevor Hairsine which will begin to form some of the building blocks of the history of the Valiant universe in what Simons describes as "character-driven, action-oriented stories."
That tendency to look back while forging ahead in their stories is something of a hallmark of the new Valiant universe: with the exception of maybe “Shadow Man,” the majority of titles are structured around a split between events in the present and flashbacks to the sometimes far-flung past, a way of establishing the complicate and heavily-connected history of the Valiant. Go through and re-read “Archer & Armstrong” or “Harbingers” and see how reliant each series is on developing its characters and fleshing out their stories by illuminating sometimes ancient history.
The publisher is big on its shared universe, much like the original Valiant was, bringing in a team of freelancers who liberally share characters across titles. Villains like the One Percent pop up in both "Shadow Man" and "Archer & Armstrong" while Gilad the Eternal Warrior earns a guest spot in "X-O Manowar." What's interesting to learn is that there's no Bendis-like architect to the Valiant universe--Simons is keen on describing it as a collaboration between the editors and the freelancers.
It's clear that the new Valiant is trying to carve out its own identity while still honoring the past. To that end, up to this point there haven't been any title announcements that didn't have an antecedent in the VH1. Shamdasani, who was instrumental in bringing Valiant back last year, says that they're taking advantage of a deep bench of characters while spinning them out in new directions. He points to the upcoming team-up between Bloodshot and the members of the HARD Corps as well as the threads that will lead to their version of Unity at the end of 2013.
Bloodshot #0 cover by Dave Bullock
When I call "Unity" an event, Shamdasani is quick to correct me, cautioning that Valiant hasn't called whatever their new Unity is as an event (or even who the players or stakes are). "Where do you get the notion that this is an event," he asks me. "That's such an interesting label to put on 'Unity.'" I counter that when you say the word "Unity" in the context of the Valiant universe, you expect something sprawling or epic.The original line-wide miniseries saw the heroes across all titles battling the cosmic-powered Mothergod AKA Erica Pierce, a woman who was bent on reshaping time and space to her whims. Their unwillingness to call "Unity" an event makes me think they'll be releasing a standalone title, with Shamdasani hinting that its timing--which launched around 21 years ago this summer--is important somehow.
Besides "Eternal Warrior," James Asmus and Tom Fowler are taking the reins of a new "Quantum and Woody" series in July, giving us a new take on brothers Eric and Woody Henderson, screwups who somehow bungle their way into fighting crime.
Quantum and Woody #2 cover by Ryan Sook
LeHup, the editor on that book has to fend off lots of playful ribbing during the interview about including the infamous Goat from the series in just about everything in the line (he rattled off a bunch of matchups where Goat would come out on top including a face-off against Aric from "X-O Manowar"). On a sincere note, LeHup has nothing but praise for Asmus and goes so far as to describe artist Tom Fowler as "a master of his craft."
So when will we see a book with a female lead? Or other minorites besides "Shadow Man" hero Jack Boniface? Right now, Valiant editorial is still rolling out books with names bearing titles from the original Valiant Universe, but Simons says they're cognizant that theirs can't be a white male-centric universe. "But it's also really important to grow that stuff organically and to make sure that we're not putting something out there to put something out there," Simons tells me, "because that stuff tends not to survive."
Quantum and Woody #2 variant by Rian Hughes
Shamdasani adds that since the launch last spring of the new Valiant universe, the editors have been in active discussion about new female protagonists and "expanding the diversity in the universe." "We'll get there," he says, "it'll just take a little time. We can't do that before we have the 'Eternal Warrior,' we can't do that before we have 'Quantum and Woody.' We need to have all of the major pieces on the board, first." He points to Darpan in "Harbingers," an Indian child who he describes as a way to increase the diversity of the universe.
Simons says they want to roll new titles out bearing classic Valiant names "intelligently" without overwhelming the reader in an already crowded superhero marketplace. "We weren't able to get the Eternal Warrior until now, and that's one of my favorite characters from the day I walked into the door here almost two years ago." He says that they're trying to be careful of "replicating archetypes." But Shamdasani says characters like the Bleeding Monk and members of the One Percent will offer opportunities for new books and stories in 2013 and beyond.
Bloodshot and HARD Corps #14 cover by JG Jones
Oh, and you might want to keep an eye on on one-time unsuspecting cultist Archer over in "Archer & Armstrong." "I think the one to look out for to the end of the year is going to be Archer," Shamdasani says. "I think people will be doing themselves a disservice if they don't pay attention to what's going on with Archer," with Simons adding that an upcoming storyline will have huge implications for the character.