Resurgent comics publisher Valiant Entertainment took another step towards tying its superhero universe tightly together Sunday at Emerald City Comic Con during its "Harbinger Wars & Beyond" panel. Valiant Marketing & Communications Manager man Hunter Gorrison emceed the Seattle gathering that also included CEO Dinesh Shamdasani, Publisher Fred Pierce and artists Stefano Gaudiano and Barry Kitson.
"We're making a concerted effort each month of the year to put something new and exciting into comic shops," Gorrison said kicking off the gathering that included little hard news but a lot of new art from the "Harbinger Wars" event story.
But first up for discussion was Valiant's launch title as artist Cary Nord returns to "X-O Manowar" #11. The issue tells the origin of the Manowar armor in storybook-esque pages inked by the artist himself.
"We didn't want to tell an invasion story -- we've seen them all before," said Shamdasani of the "Planet Death" arc that hits high gear in the issue. "It's an invasion story where we invade them. The opening is beautiful. Cary did a great job with it. We introduce a new race into the Valiant Universe, and it's a race that will have a big impact."
The "Harbinger Wars" crossover begins in April in "Harbinger" #11, "Bloodshot" #10 and the eponymous four-part series. Each of the three series will run a four-issue arc with a specific focus in the story. That way, the panel explained, readers who chose to only follow one ongoing title or another through the event won't feel they're missing key moments with their preferred characters, although the 12 issues all together will tell a cumulative tale.
The "Harbinger Wars" mini co-written by regular series writers Duane Swierczynski and Joshua Dysart will feature covers by Lewis Larossa while painter Clayton Crain is doing the interiors. The comic features "the kids [impacted by the Harbinger program] escaping from Project Rising Spirit -- it's the first time we'll see them in action," Shamdasani explained. There will be 30 to 40 new characters in this cohort of Harbinger-affected who exist outside the core team of Joshua Dysart's ongoing series, including a strike team made of 10 and 12-year-olds who Shamdasani promised would be surprising to people. The publisher has since released a teaser revealing that the '90s Valiant characters "The H.A.R.D. Corps" will debut as part of the storyline."
Joshua Dysart's issues of "Harbinger" will be split between Khari Evans' modern day pages of the teen team and Trevor Hairsine's flashback sequences which tell the story of past battles in the Harbinger Wars led by Toyo Harada in the 1960s. "You guys are going to have fun reading the original Harbinger War...which will inform what happens in the present day." Shamdasani described the story as being remisicent of the "Solar" series that led the original Valiant in the '90s.
Evans' pages to "Harbinger" #11 show how the kids from the core "Harbinger" series get recruited into the conflict -- a shocking battle sequence where Bloodshot tears through a number of them to motivate select members of the team to travel to Vegas where the breakout has happened.
"Bloodshot" #10 welcomes new artist Barry Kitson to the series where the main character "goes into Project Rising Spirit to find out who he was, but what he finds is this group of kids. He's their boogeyman. He doesn't remember it, but he's the reason they're all there," Shamdasani explained.
Gaudiano said he's trying to reign in his thick, brushy style while inking Kitson to keep closer to the artist's clean lines. Kitson himself explained, "I didn't know much about the Valiant line until I went to the Valiant panel in New York, and I found the excitement everybody had for the book very energizing...It's a little bit of a departure for me. I've normally been very tasteful in my work over the years, and this is going to give me an opportunity to be much more gory than I normally do. It's a chance to go over the top and get really wild. I want to draw him as a convincingly fit fighting machine rather than an over-muscled superhero type because that's how I think he would be."
The artist started with the publisher on a one-off in "Harbinger" #7. "It was my first time working with Josh, which was great...I'm going to be returning to 'Harbinger' after the crossover for a full arc."
Kitson recalled that he came to the company because of Editor Warren Simons, who worked with him at Marvel Comics on Matt Fraction's "The Order" -- a series the artist called "a critically acclaimed book that no one bought." He said he was excited to work with a line of books that are very readable and stand alone rather than always tying into some larger event or universe.
Elswhere in the Valiant line, May's "Archer & Armstrong" #0 will hit by Fred Van Lente and Clayton Henry. Van Lente wrote the script months ago and was waiting to reveal it when it made sense for the core series. The issue is a version of the epic of Gilgamesh as told by Armstrong. It will feature the first full appearance of all three immoral brothers together in a sort of throwback to Barry Windsor Smith's "Three Musketeers" story from the original "A&A" series and Valiant's "Eternal Warrior" title. The panel called it an origin for the series as a whole but also a lead-in to what happens in #10 and beyond.
Lee Garbett and Roberto De Le Torre will join co-writer/artist Patrick Zircher on "Shadowman." The panelists revealed a new big villain in the story, but they would not explain who he is or what his purpose is. Still, the skeleton-like character was promised to be a huge player moving forward for "Shadowman" and the whole line. Co-writer Justin Jordan has been focusing his efforts on the series' #0 issue which is the origin of Master Darque -- a story never before told in any Valiant comic.
When the floor opened up to fan questions, a reader asked about the future of new titles with the possibilities of Ninjak and Eternal Warrior ongoings. "The original challenge we had at this time last year was for a company that's been dormant for ten years, how do you let retailers know how much to order?" Pierce said, saying the second big challenge was convincing today's readers that the books would feel new. Moving forward into the company's second year, the challenge is maintaining the growth they've already had. Pierce said he didn't want to force people to buy ten or eleven titles all at once, but now that five series are established, they're hoping that they can build the line out a little more in a way that doesn't break the bank of fans.
"Part of what happens with the next story we do is that we know eventually we'll do more of the classic Valiant titles," he said, admitting that Ninjak and Eternal Warrior would return, as well as Rai. For now, however, new series will only come together when they get a pitch from creators who know how to make those characters work. "What's going to be the next best story?" is the question the company asks itself with each new opportunity.
Another fan asked after any movie project updates. "There's a lot of work being done on the movie side. We're a very comic-focused company, which is why we don't discuss this often...but we have the utmost confidence that we'll get there. We have a lot happening that hasn't been announced," Shamdasani said. The company is funding their own development right now because the infusion of cash from former Marvel CEO Peter Cuneo and others has given them the leeway to do certain things outside the standard studio system. "Frankly, we have the resources to do it, and it grants us creative control."
The CEO reiterated that writers Neal Moritz and Jeff Wadlow of "Kick-Ass 2" are working on a "Bloodshot" script which the company is discussing with Sony. Meanwhile, J. Michael Straczynski is working on a "Shadowman" screenplay for the company.
Asked the perennial question of the characters like Solar and Turok and why they can't be a part of the line, Pierce answered, "From our perspective, I didn't want the Classic Media stuff. I thought the original Valiant stuff without that hung together a lot better."
A fan who collects Valiant variants wanted to know what was next on that front. "We have another QR cover coming. It is a talking cover, and we can't announce what the book is about, but we can say it's a cover of a goat," Shamdasani said. Longtime readers of the Valiant line will presume this is a reference to "Quantum & Woody" whose original madcap superhero adventures recently returned for sale via comiXology. Pierce said Neal Adams' Continuity Studios would be working on that cover soon. Shamdasani then said that the company wants to make variants special and not do too many of them. According to the panel, the QR covers work because they allow fans to get deeper into the characters.
The Marko Djurdjevic variant for "X-O" #12 presented a new way for artists to interpret the Vine, Gaudiano explained, and he felt bringing in outside artists to contribute to variant helped up the staff artist's creative game.
Finally, Shamdasani said the U.S. Luge team who partnered with Valiant for Olympic uniform designs based on the Manowar armor originally wanted to work with Marvel, but Valiant convinced them that Marvel wouldn't be interested because they wanted to do it so badly. The deal goes for two years, and Valiant is planning on doing more special promotions and giveaways across the summer towards Comic-Con International in San Diego.