This April, Dynamite Entertainment continues to expand the "Voltron" universe by exploring the origins of the legendary Voltron Force. Written by ongoing "Voltron" scribe Brandon Thomas with interior art by Craig Cermak, "Voltron: Year One" delves into the inner workings of Space Explorer Squadron #686 led by Commander Sven -- an integral part of the team before it became Voltron Force. Serving as a prequel to the fan-favorite animated series, "Voltron: Year One" also explores the early relationships between Squadron #686 that continue to develop in Thomas' ongoing "Voltron" book.
Thomas took some time to speak with CBR News about Dynamite's upcoming prequel series, Commander Sven as a protagonist, the foes Space Explorer Squadron #686 will face and the eventual discovery of the robot lions.
CBR News: Brandon, give us the skinny on "Voltron: Year One." When does it take place and how does it set the stage for the animated "Voltron" canon as well as your ongoing series?
Brandon Thomas: These are the adventures of Space Explorer Squadron #686 immediately before they were sent after Voltron on Arus. [This was] a time when they handled things like intergalactic rescue operations, political assassinations, prisoner extraction, protection details, corporate espionage, etc., as they helped keep the Earth safe from any and every threat imaginable. The series starts with one of these types of cookie-cutter missions, something they've done dozens of times before, but not everything is as it seems and soon the dominos begin to fall, and #686 finds themselves in the middle of a war on several fronts.
One of the primary goals with this series, other than the big Sven focus, is to provide a more explicit justification for why this particular team of Space Explorers [was] sent after the Defender of the Universe. What appeared to be simple chance will prove anything but -- and we'll learn that it was no accident they pulled that particular assignment. Without saying too much, something Sven does in this series costs him almost everything and the question naturally becomes: did the Galaxy Alliance send them all to Arus because they hoped they'd succeed, or because they knew they would fail...?
I'm glad you brought up Commander Sven. It looks like we'll get to see most of the Voltron Force when they were Space Explorer Squadron #686 in this series, but before we get to them, let's talk about Commander Sven. Who is he and how does he fit in to the group that becomes Voltron force?
When the series begins, Sven is leading SES #686 and leadership is proving a slightly uncomfortable fit for him. He's a little older than his teammates and though his team has never once failed a mission, Sven is convinced it's only a matter of time before he screws up and gets everyone killed. This overwhelming sensation of inadequacy and doubt is something he struggles with throughout this story, and the choices he makes during it changes both the course of his own life, and the path of a couple of his young charges. We know that when the team is sent after Voltron, Keith is in the lead, and this series will tell the story of how that all came about.
After beginning your "Voltron" ongoing series for Dynamite, how valuable did you find the experience of going back to the Voltron Force's inception?
I think that "Year One" #1 will be a better first issue than "Voltron" #1 was, simply because I've learned something new with every script I've turned in. I also think that I've built up a small amount of goodwill with my editors and the licensors over the last few months, which has allowed them to feel more comfortable about me continuing to expand the universe and myself in slightly new directions. Working on two different ends of the original animated series allows me to set up a few things in this prequel series that'll resonate even more in the main book, and fill in some of those critical gaps. What happens in "Year One" with Sven, or with Keith and Lance's relationship, is already (or will soon be) on display in the main title.
I think both of them will be unique enough to offer a different experience depending what time frame readers are more interested in -- but for those that do want to read both, I think they'll find connections and events that stitch things together in a way that makes sense and ultimately is enjoyable. This book is filled with a cast of great characters, and in some cases what makes them great in Year One makes them great in the main book, but for some of them, that's not the case at all and there should be definite signs of character growth and/or regression for a number of them.
You mentioned a few of the relationships you'll explore within "Year One" in the press release -- were there any you were particularly looking forward to exploring?
On top of the heavy Sven focus, I'm having a lot of fun with Lance and Keith and their never-ending rivalry. Like two brothers that never quite see eye-to-eye about anything, playing both of their personalities off each other has been great fun and something that happens between them in this mini sets the tone for their relationship. [It] really informs how they interact with each other even in the main book. Despite their frequent disagreements and occasional squabbles, they are still very close friends and would jump in front of a bullet for each other.
Will readers get to see any of Princess Allura during "Year One?" What about the combined Voltron unit?
Not in the first storyline, but if we have the opportunity to continue forward, we're planning something of a modern retelling of that fateful initial encounter between this group of Space Explorers and Voltron, and she'd play a very large role in that story. Ditto for the actual Voltron unit, but the "origins" of the robot lions and the revelation about their true architects is something that'll be dealt with fully in the main Voltron series.
While this seems like more of a developmental journey for the characters, tell us about the main adversary the Space Explorer Squadron faces in their quest to find Voltron?
There will be a number of "foes" for our group, some of them obvious and the others not so much. These hidden adversaries are the ones that'll prove the most dangerous for them going forward and I'm having a lot of fun digging into the economic and political realities of Earth having discovered a larger universe. How some people on Earth have taken advantage of this for personal and political gain is a big thing that's addressed throughout the stories, and some of the fallout from that directly impacts the mandate and influence of the Space Explorers.
When war, politics and money mix, things become very grey and open to interpretation. We'll learn that some folks have a very narrow view of exactly what the Explorers need to be doing with their valuable time, while others are much more flexible. That's vague I know, but there isn't one primary villain in the same way that King Zarkon functions in the present day series. The threats #686 faces here are a lot less overt and thereby much more difficult to expose and neutralize.
Why do you feel the origin of Voltron Force deserves a deeper look?
Early on we made the decision to only treat the original animated series as official canon, so "Year One" allows us to explore the time period before while the main "Voltron" series deals with what happens afterwards. The larger goal with both books is to fill in some blanks and contribute some additional layers to aspects of the mythology that were left a little more open than others, which definitely includes that block of time before the squad was sent after Voltron.
And it helps me expand on what was always one of my primary goals with all of this -- to cast the Voltron Force as a formidable and accomplished group of soldiers, explorers, and adventurers. Making the words "Space Explorer" mean something, so that the pilots are not strictly defined by their famous robot lions. "Year One" is really the perfect canvas for that because, when the series starts, Voltron is on the horizon and that thing we all know is coming. But how and why that even came about is a story that really interested me and I think it'll be of great interest to a lot of the fans out there as well.
As a writer, what has been the biggest challenge you've come across in exploring the origin story of Voltron Force?
Probably the biggest challenge is that I'm consciously trying to write this book a little differently than the main "Voltron" series. When I pitched for that, I wrote up this incredibly detailed walkthrough of what I imagined would be my first 20 issues on the book, and everything is very closely tied together and moving towards a bigger, more expansive story that will hopefully pay off all the smaller developments and twists and turns things take along the way.
"Year One" is much smaller in scope and is really aimed at Sven and his approach to leading his squad of young heroes. It's that and the series of events and decisions, some good, some bad, that leads to his squad being given the mission to retrieve Voltron from Arus.
I'll also be taking a few different things out of my writer's bag of tricks, so you'll see things like internal captioning and a general ban on flashbacks, etc. -- just so both series have a slightly different feel and that I'm continuing to expand myself as a writer. The last thing I want right now is for a discernible formula or feel to show up in all my scripts and doing stuff like this is just a little way to help keep me sharp.