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Midtown Bloggerinos! Raph here, with the final part of our coverage of the return of Valiant comics: an in-person chat with Executive Editor Warren Simons and Assistant Editor Joshua Johns! Read on as we get the scoop on Valiant’s successful launch straight from the source!

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RAPHAEL SOOHOO: So, the first thing I want to cover is the relaunch of Valiant, which happened last year. You guys decided to selectively release/re-release- new titles with new creative teams. What was the thought process behind the specific titles you chose and the order they came out.

WARREN SIMONS: I think we wanted to have an excellent level of diversity in the books we had come out. Our first book we launched in May was X-O Manowar, and then we had Harbinger in June, Bloodshot in July and Archer and Armstrong in August. I feel like each of the books, not only from a creative team perspective, but from a tonal perspective, was sort of something unique. X-O is a sci-fi kind of a book, Archer and Armstrong is a comedy. Harbinger is, to a certain extent, a teen drama, and Bloodshot is an action-adventure book. So, I felt like each of the books represented a different corner of our universe and was tonally unique. And also the creative teams we had involved, I felt each offered something unique and a unique voice for each property. We felt that those were four of our “A-List” characters, we feel like we have probably nine to ten of them. What was your favorite?

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RAPHAEL: Honestly, I don’t know anymore. I started with Archer and Armstrong, based on the recommendation of a friend’s podcast. I picked up the original hardcover, and then slowly, but surely, got to them all.

WARREN: (to Joshua) What was your favorite?

JOSHUA JOHNS: I love them all! It’s a privilege to work on them all. (Laughter) One of the things I think is very cool about our universe and our brand is that EVERYONE has a different favorite. I think that was one of the strengths of the launch is that there was something for everyone. X-O, Bloodshot, Harbinger and Archer & Armstrong, like Warren said, very different tones, but there’s something for everybody in one of those books.

RAPHAEL: Yeah, when you were going through the genres of the books, they’re really well thought out and spread out. I mean, there are some overlapping elements in the books: action, science fiction—

Warren: Sure, sure

RAPHAEL: –but the main focus of each book is a genre that for example, if you don’t like sci-fi, you can skip X-O, you might enjoy the teen drama of Harbinger. Actually, Harbinger I really like because it reminds me of the show “Heroes”, the idea that anybody can be “unlocked” and become a psiot. It’s a power fantasy, everyone wants to be a hero.

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WARREN: Yeah. Joshua Dysart, I think is doing a great job on that book, along with Khari Evans. I think the guys have created archetypes that we haven’t necessarily seen before, which is something charming about the work they’re doing as well.

RAPHAEL: Speaking of the creative teams, you guys have had really, REALLY good talent on board here. You’ve gotten Duane Swiercynski, Fred Van Lente, Robert Venditti, Cary Nord; you’ve had REALLY HUGE talent on these books. How did you go about recruiting them?

WARREN: I had the opportunity to work with many of these guys. I worked as an editor for Marvel from 2002 to 2009. Other guys, I never worked with before, like Robert Venditti, but I read Surrogates and I thought it was smart. I asked him to pitch me on X-O and he did a great job with it. Joshua I’ve never worked with before, but I read Unknown Soldier and I thought it was absolutely brilliant. Duane took over Iron Fist for Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker, I edited that book for Marvel. Fred, I had never worked with either, but I had been fan of his work, his Taskmaster series in particular was very good. I believe Hunter Gorinson, our marketing manager, suggested Fred as a possibility. So it was really just going through a list of different possible candidates. I had a whole bunch of guys pitch on the books, most of them didn’t wind up getting the gigs, but they did create pitches nonetheless. It was really going through the process, trying to figure out who would be a good choice for each particular project: their voices, how they’d handle the characters, what the story was, how easy they were to work with, whether they cursed my name (laughter) multiple times or just once, y’know, stuff like that.

RAPHAEL: Speaking of collaborations and working together. There’s Valiant’s new major crossover event this year: The Harbinger Wars (out on April 3rd), with Harbinger and Bloodshot crossing over. What made you decide to choose these particular characters to cross over?

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WARREN: As we’ll see in the first issue, it’s something that’s been in the works for probably well over a year at this point. If you read the first issue of Harbinger and the first of Bloodshot, events happen in both those issues that tie directly into this event. What we’re trying to do here primarily is have the individual issues stand alone, so that we don’t need a reader to read all our books to understand anything that’s happening. But by that same token, if you read all of our books, a much wider, larger tapestry is shown to you; a bigger picture is painted. So with Harbinger Wars, as we’ve seen in Bloodshot

(SPOILERS for the Bloodshot series):

Project Rising Spirit, which is sort of this enigmatic organization within the Valiant Universe, has rounded up these Psiot kids. Psiots are the term we use for super powered people in the Valiant Universe. They’re basically people who have the potential to have super powers, but there’s an activation process that has to occur. So when a Psiot is activated, on occasion, if they’re rounded up or captured by Project: Rising Spirit they get taken to this facility. Bloodshot breaks into this facility because he thinks a clue to his identity is in the basement, and when he gets down there, we discover that there’s nothing; there’s no clue to his identity. But there are these super power kids in this Project Rising Spirit basement, and he basically frees them. Who sent him there and why they sent him there, and the end result is something we’ll be exploring in Harbinger Wars. But the basic idea with Bloodshot is that for years and years and years, he’s been a Psiot hunter. If America has Seal Team Six to go take out Al-Qaida, you better believe that the governments of the Valiant Universe have something to take care of superpowered threats, and that something is Bloodshot.

(END SPOILERS)

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RAPHAEL: Going back to the relaunch of the Valiant Universe, I think it’s one of the better relaunches in recent memory; not just because of the quality of the titles, but also the release schedule. With certain other companies, when they do a relaunch or reboot or new #1’s or whatever the case may be, they can be overwhelming, and it can be… DAUNTING to wade through all the new books. With Valiant, you guys decided to do 1 book a month for 4 months. What was the decision behind that process?

WARREN: I think that was a conscious choice. At the time I think Fred Pierce, our publisher and Dinesh Shamdasani, our Chief Creative Officer and CEO, and myself decided on what the rollout schedule would be. I think we wanted to get books out into the marketplace and reintroduce these characters to the readership and not overwhelm. We didn’t want to put 10 books out in the same month, or make it too prohibitive for someone to jump on board. I think that these are some of the most beloved and brilliant characters that have ever been created in our medium, so having the opportunity to revitalize them was an honor. And we wanted to show someone: “Here’s what X-O Manowar is, here’s who he is as a character, his origin, here’s his power set, here’s why he is a compelling character”. So to do that for X-O, Bloodshot, Harbinger and Archer & Armstrong, we tap into the high concepts of the characters and what makes them so great, and really dust them off and show people why they’re so special.

JOSHUA: Yeah I think the slow rollout gave all the readers a chance to really dig into our characters and see what they’re all about, before moving on too fast to everything else. That’s why I think our books connect to our readers so well.

WARREN: And our readers tend to be more intelligent, more handsome, (laughter) stronger, better looking

JOSHUA: INCREDIBLE Basketball players.

RAPHAEL: Right.

WARREN: Basketball, football, baseball players, excellent vocabulary, scored higher on their SAT’s–

JOSHUA: Clean teeth.

WARREN: Very clean teeth. (laughter)

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RAPHAEL: You should see me in a slam dunk contest! So, now that you’ve got the “Core Four”, so to speak, released, you also released Shadowman in late 2012.

WARREN: Yes, with Justin Jordan, the writer of The Strange Talent of Luthor Strode. Exceptionally talented cat, with Patrick Zircher co-writing, who is an excellent talent as well. That was our next release of 2012.

RAPHAEL: So, given that you have not only released 5 new books, but you also reintroduced other characters like Ninjak, what other new releases can we expect in the future?

WARREN: It’s going to be AWESOME. I don’t want to spill too much right now, we’re working on a some covers for our next release, which I don’t want to get into JUST YET, but it’s pretty amazing. We’ve got some other things in the pipeline, hang on, we’ll get there, I don’t want to spoil anything just yet.

JOSHUA: And we have a FANTASTIC Free Comic Book Day [offering], that will give everyone some great looks inside to what the Valiant Universe is, so I would say definitely go and pick that up.

WARREN: Who edited that issue?

JOSHUA: The TEAM edited that issue! (laughter)

RAPHAEL: Can we also expect more stuff like Harbinger Wars? I saw in the latest issue (issue 10) of Archer and Armstrong, that the 1% happens to casually mentions the Vine (X-O Manowar villains). Can we see more of that interaction?

WARREN: I think we shall definitely. That’s part of what makes a shared universe so much fun; you have the opportunity to build and work with these characters. What happens in Book A affects Book B, and what happens in Book B affects Book A. I think as long as we don’t use continuity as a crutch, we’ll be in good shape. I think the problem that affects our medium particularly, is when books are developed and created for the sole purpose of working to tell stories that exist in other books, and that’s when it becomes dangerous: when you don’t have a high concept that could stand on it’s own. I think when that happens, it becomes a barrier to new readers, which is ultimately problematic across the board and for young Josh Johns who can’t walk over and pick up a copy of a book and get into it.

JOSHUA: I’m trying to break into so many titles! (laughter)

RAPHAEL: Now that you mention that, the Valiant relaunch reminds me of Marvel in the Silver Age in a sense. (Marvel took a huge chance and created superheroes that were emotional and conflicted, unlike the established heroes of the time, and have since become an entertainment empire on the back of this, as well as the connectedness of the Marvel Universe, which was on display in Marvel’s The Avengers, the third highest grossing movie of all time.)

WARREN: That’s extremely flattering. We greatly appreciate it. Hopefully we’ll be able to come somewhere near the genius of those extraordinary creators and extraordinary characters.

RAPHAEL: I definitely believe in what you guys are doing here. Not only are the books really good, but there’s a tightly controlled universe, there is a sense that there’s an investment in these characters. I’m not saying other companies aren’t invested in their own characters, but there is a certain level of interest in this particular set of characters. These stories are being told for these characters, that is why these books exist. There is no cross-promotion, like you said before (about books being made for just continuity), it is so specific, that you can’t help but really enjoy the stories.

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WARREN: I think part of it is testament to the great creators who are up here originally, whether it was Jim Shooter, Barry Windsor-Smith, David Lapham or Joe Quesada; a lot of the extraordinary work that those guys put into building the [initial version of the] characters, to make them really compelling archetypes that we hadn’t really saw before. It’s also a testament to our current creative teams, and worthy colleagues we have [in the office]: whether it’s our sales manager Atom! Freeman or marketing manager Hunter Gorinson or associate editor Jody LeHeup or Chief Creative Office Dinesh. Everyone works super long hours to make these books as good as possible. We appreciate the praise and our extremely handsome, intelligent, amazing fans! As well as the extraordinary retailers who have supported us, who we can’t thank enough. They’re the backbone of our industry, and retailer support is absolutely critical and vital, and we can’t thank you enough.

RAPHAEL: On a final note, you were talking about the creators who brought Valiant to where it is. Some of them may not be available to come back, given their positions at other companies, but have there been any plans to bring back the original creators?

WARREN: We’ve reached out to many. Some have said yes, some have said no, but we’ll have more stuff coming up soon. We had in our first Bloodshot hardcover, Kevin VanHook involved [with the process]. Fred Pierce, who is our publisher, also was at the original Valiant, has helped in reaching out to the creators.

JOSHUA: Also for X-O Manowar #11, Planet Death, (currently available) Bart Sears did a beautiful wraparound cover. He’s been fantastic to work with, so look for good things from him.

WARREN: We think the world of Bart!

And that wraps up my lengthy interview with some of Valiant’s brain trust. If I have been very glowing in my reviews, it’s because I enjoy quality comic work when I see it. A very special thanks to Hunter Gorinson, who gave me all of this access for these pieces as well as going on numerous conversations about the direction of Valiant. While it’s nice to see that the guys behind the scenes are great people who want to produce good comics, it’s the quality of the comics themselves that makes them stand out. If you haven’t read any of the five ongoing series, please at least read one of them. They cover a broad spectrum of storytelling genre, and I hope my reviews of them have been helpful to you. Harbinger Wars is out April 3rd, and you might want to check that out as well! Thanks for reading, until next time—

-        Raph

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