This November, Valiant Entertainment reveals the meaning behind the "Unity" teaser in its 2013 Free Comic Book Day issue. However, this isn't the "Unity" longtime Valiant fans might remember.
Originally the name of a line-wide crossover in 1992, the new Valiant's "Unity" is an ongoing series written by Matt Kindt with art by Doug Braithwaite. The series introduces the Valiant Universe's first ever superhero team along the same lines of Marvel's Avengers or DC's Justice League -- but the members of this company aren't as heroic as those mainstream squads. In order to stop X-O Manowar's apparent takeover of Romania, Harbinger Foundation head Toyo Harada assembles his team to stop the man out of time before the situation gets out of hand. Harada, alongside Livewire, Ninjak and Eternal Warrior join forces to combat X-O in his quest to secure Romania for his people.
In order to get a better idea of what "Unity" is all about, CBR News spoke exclusively with series writer Matt Kindt, "X-O Manowar" writer Robert Venditti and Valiant Executive Editor Warren Simons about the current status of the Valiant Universe, the history and significance behind "Unity's" name, how the team members interact with one another and how the current "Homecoming" arc in "X-O Manowar" sets the stage for the new ongoing series. Plus, exclusive art from "Unity" #1 and "X-O Manowar" #16!
CBR News: Warren, this is one of the first steps Valiant has made into a major differentiation from its past books -- "Unity" is a completely new title that's akin to the Valiant Universe's version of the Justice League or Avengers. How did this idea develop and why did editorial feel this was the right time to take this step?
Warren Simons: It developed organically. Not to sound too hokey about it, but the universe took us here. "X-O's" about to reach issue #16 and over the last year and a half, we've been very careful in letting our creators create. At this point in time, the natural evolution of the universe is something occurs that requires these teams to get put together. Matt Kindt absolutely nailed the pitch and did a wonderful job with it. It was really a natural progression of where Rob was taking his story with "X-O."
Matt, this is your first ongoing book with Valiant, although you had the chance to take on "Bloodshot" in issue #0. What about "Unity" appealed to you?
Matt Kindt: I'd been working on "Bloodshot" and I was talking to Warren and he mentioned they were thinking about doing this project. I said, "Yeah, I'd love to do that." Part of it is because I'm getting to write every great Valiant character instead of one book; instead of writing "X-O" or "Harbinger" -- which are already taken over and awesome -- I now get to use them all. In a way, I get to create the best book. [Laughs] It's historic too in that I grew up with these characters. Back in the '90s I was reading Valiant, so I've always loved the universe. Getting to do a team book, which has never happened with the publisher, was something I wanted to be a part of. It's like writing "Justice League" #1, but back in the day "Justice League" #1. It's not a relaunch -- it's something that's never happened and I'm excited about it.
Rob, "Unity" spins out of everything you've been building toward in "X-O." Considering X-O Manowar faced down Ninjak earlier in your series, was this concept always something you had in mind?
Robert Venditti: I wouldn't say it was from my end from day one -- like "Unity" was something I had in my original pitch for "X-O" or anything like that. I had come into this situation when Valiant hired me, that this was going to be my first monthly book. I wouldn't even presume to say, "Hey, you know what I think would be awesome? Right around year one, let's make a super team of all the Valiant heroes and we'll have them fight my character!" [Laughs] I wouldn't reach for those kinds of stars. The first time I heard about "Unity" was during the first writers' retreat we had around September 2012. It was something that seemed so obvious. All the books were really young at that point, "X-O" was in its second arc and none of the other books had finished up their first storylines. When he mentioned it, it was an idea that had never occurred to me but seemed so obvious and genius. Why hadn't Valiant ever had that super-team book? It was something everyone was immediately excited about. When the opportunity came along to have it tie in to what X-O was doing and what was going on in the book organically turn into this launch of "Unity," I was extremely happy about that. It really cements X-O as a character of importance in the Valiant Universe.
Even beyond that, the chance to work with Matt on something excited me. I started out at a warehouse at Top Shelf Productions packing boxes, and when I was there Matt's "Pistol Whip" book was one I was packing up back then. Throughout my entire career, he's been one of the creators I've always really admired -- I enjoy his style and all the comics he's created. The chance to work on a story with him now feels like things have come full circle for me.
Simons: When I came to Valiant a couple years ago, it was clear there were areas I wanted to build in and one of them was a team book. But we were also very conscious about not dropping it in for the sake of doing so -- it had to make sense organically and work for where the universe was going. Plus, we had to have the right creative team. As for all the titles we've launched, it's very important the story and creative team came first. Those elements were something we wanted to put together rather than just saying, "Hey, we need a super team, let's get it going!" We felt like this was a great opportunity with the story Rob was telling to create this stuff. When we spoke with Matt about it, he was super excited and he put together a great idea. That's how "Unity" came together.
Matt, you're the new writer on the block for Valiant, and Rob, you launched the premiere book of the new Valiant in May 2012. "Unity" is the latest series -- something completely new -- while "X-O Manowar" represents so much about the publisher's past. From a writing standpoint, how have the two of you collaborated to play on that theme of old versus new?
Venditti: Yeah, as I like to say and remind the Valiant writers all the time, I am the writer with the most seniority at Valiant. I think I beat Josh Dysart by 20 days. [Laughs]
The whole idea of old versus new -- obviously, it's a huge component of the core concept of "X-O." It's this great mash-up of historical and science fiction, old versus new and all these kind of things. For me, having not read the original Valiant back in the day, I read all of it as I was starting to write "X-O," but it's not as though I was a fan of it when I was a kid. I tried to come to it with a fresh perspective. In terms of linking things back to the new, aside from sticking to the core concept, it's more for me trying to find elements of the original series and repurpose them. With a lot of the storylines that are coming up, people might say, "Oh, this has hints of other story lines or this character has hints of that other character," but not really repeating that stuff in any way. It makes use of the things I can make use of, and repurposing it and updating it for a modern audience.
Kindt: As far as collaborating, me being the new guy coming in, it's fun and interesting. I came in and everybody had already established themselves. Rob on "X-O" is the King of X-O Nation over there, and I'm the new guy. For me, fiction and reality overlap a little. I'm coming up with a team in this first arc -- it's Unity versus X-O. It's me versus Rob. It's like, "Okay, Rob, here's what I'm going to do with my team, and this is how we're going to take X-O out." I just treated X-O like a bad guy, and Rob -- much as I love you Rob -- I said, "Try and beat that." To me, it was almost like a game Rob and I had to play. I said, "If I do this, what is X-O going to do?" and he would say, "If I do that, what's Unity going to do?" It seems real to me. We go back and forth -- I don't think I've written anything like that. It isn't just collaborating to come up with a story, it's like you're playing a game, which is fun.
What's happening in the Valiant Universe leading up to "Unity" and how does what Robert's doing in "X-O Manowar" set the stage for the formation of Unity?
Simons: After our "Planet Death" arc in "X-O," Aric goes to Loam and discovers there are descendants from his bloodline. He thought his entire culture was dead, that he's alone in the universe and a man out of time from 400 AD forward to 2013. Now he rescues all these Visigoths from their alien captors and comes back to Earth -- he heads directly to Romania and tries to take over the country. He comes head to head with enormous problems where you just can't operate anymore. That's one of the brilliant things about Rob's arc and an element he's kept in every arc of the book -- Aric's a guy whose culture is alien to the modern world. His people live by the sword, they die by the sword. They think because you walk into a country, it's yours.
Venditti: Aric is a fifth century Visigoth and his people were kicked out of their ancestral land in Dacia -- which is modern-day Romania -- by the Huns. This happened when Aric was an infant, so he has no memory of it. He's always grown up with his parents and the Visigoths around him mythologizing this homeland they had been run out of and they all hope to go back to someday. We know from history that never really happened, but Aric doesn't have the benefit of knowing or living that history. When he comes back from the Vine home world with all these human slaves he's freed from captivity for generations -- their ancestors go back to 1600 years just like he does -- he lands with their ship in Romania and claims it as Dacia, the land he feels he's entitled to. That's what sets everything off.
It's a fine line to walk because Aric is a character who's doing some things that might be questionable, but as long as I feel like I stay true to the ethics of the time he comes from, he's still very heroic in his own way. When it comes down to it, he's just trying to give his own people a homeland.
Simons: In "Unity," we have Toyo Harada who is a child of the bomb. His powers were activated because he's a product of Hiroshima in 1945. His goal is to do anything to prevent another nuclear disaster from happening -- by any means necessary. When he sees Aric going head-to-head with Romania and the Russian Navy, he understands we're three minutes to midnight. When "X-O" got here naturally, when evolution took us here, when Rob's great storyline took us here, we thought this would be a great opportunity to explore the story in greater depth.
The thing I love about this book and what Matt's doing with it is these are not necessarily good people. These are hard men and hard women. Putting them in a room together is a dangerous proposition. It's not like they're waiting in a high-rise for the Valiant phone to ring to tell them who to go take care of next. This is a tough group of cats Matt put together.
Kindt: Ninjak is one of those characters, as well as Eternal Warrior, Livewire and Harada, who actually gets into it. That's the core team. Harada's basically creating the team and it's like, how do you get all these crazy personalities together in one room and fight together against somebody? A lot of the story is him manipulating things, and by manipulating these different characters, he's going to get to know what makes them tick. How do you get Ninjak to fight for you? It's going to be a lot of fun. Watching those characters bounce off each other's going to be great.
The fun thing about Harada is he's kind of a villain, but I'm trying to use him in a way where there's more sides to him. He does bad things, but he's doing bad things for a good reason a lot of the time. That's interesting to me. There's a lot of grey areas in all the Valiant Universe, so showing these characters, there's no clear line between good and evil. To me, it's fun to show X-O, who is a hero in his book, as a villain in my book. That's fun to play with.
Matt, getting back to the core cast of "Unity," these four characters are certainly unique -- all of them are used to working alone to get the job done. How does a team dynamic play with the alpha personalities that you've taken on?
Kindt: The key to working with those alpha dogs is to make them think they're all alpha dogs. [Laughs] That's what Harada is going to do. They're not going to necessarily know right away they are working together -- that's part of his master plan. There's no way you're going to get everyone to buy in and say, "Yeah, let's do it," or everybody puts their hands in the circle and says, "Go team." That isn't going to happen. He has to use his powers and predict things that are going to happen and how people are going to behave and use that to his advantage to get these people in the same room before they realize what's going on. The team is being thrown together in a way where they don't realize they're on a team. Hopefully, after they're put together, they'll work together -- or maybe they can't. Or maybe they can work together, but they have to get rid of a guy.
Valiant fans obviously know "Unity" as the company-wise crossover published in 1992, so that name clearly has some major significance to Valiant. Why choose the name "Unity" to launch this book as opposed to publishing a similar crossover event?
Simons: I just think it's perfect for a team name and for what the universe is about. It's perfect for what this team has to do. It fit like a glove and it's a part of our history. It's as natural to me as "Harbinger" or "Shadowman" or "Bloodshot." It's a part of what makes our universe so great. As opposed to doing it with a similar story to the original incarnation of the book, I felt like it really helped service what we were doing with this team book for the first arc and beyond.
Matt, you're working with Doug Braithwaite on "Unity." As an artist yourself, what do you think makes Doug's art such a good fit for the superhero story you've got in mind?
Kindt: Look at everything he's done! I'm a huge fan of his. Warren was like, "I think we have a good artist," and I said, "Who is it?" He said, "I don't want to tell you until it's a sure thing because I don't want to get your hopes up." I'm glad he didn't because if it hadn't happened, I would have been bummed. I love everything Doug's done. I went back and looked at "Earth X" and "Justice" and it was amazing. I got really excited about it. He brings a realism to "Unity" I think is great -- there's a reality there that a lot of other superhero books don't have. His style's perfect for that and it grounds everything, making it real. He's awesome at drawing. Thank God I don't have to draw it!
Simons: [Laughs] I love the artistic insight, Matt. "I think he's awesome at drawing!" [Laughs]
Kindt: I don't know what else to say! He can tell a story with pictures!
Rob, you also reunite with "X-O" launch artist Cary Nord. From both a creative and editorial perspective, how important was it to make sure Cary was the artist to bring this arc to life?
Venditti: Working with Cary is amazing. Having him back on is something we're really excited about. I feel like Warren has put together a great team for "X-O," whether it's Moose Baumann handling the colors, Dave Sharpe on letters, Stefano Gaudiano coming in and doing some of the inking or the art rotating back and forth between Cary and Lee Garbett. Lee's creating great stuff on this pre-"Unity" arc, "Homecoming," we're doing right now. He just turned in some pages for issue #17 which are some of my favorite pages of the series so far. I feel very fortunate to be working with the guys I'm working with.
Matt, Rob, you're both indy comics guys that have risen to prominence in mainstream superhero comics fairly recently -- what has the experience been like in crafting a new direction for an entire superhero universe?
Venditti: It's interesting where your career can take you sometimes. It's not anything I ever anticipated doing, mostly because I never thought I'd be able to do it. I didn't start reading comics until very late in life, so I didn't have -- and I still don't have -- a lot of familiarity with characters, whether they be Valiant or DC or any of those kinds of things. The chance to be able to do that -- these opportunities don't come along very often. When Warren reached out to me with the chance to work for Valiant, the idea that I could be part of the launch of a company from the very beginning and be there for the early planning stage and help develop the characters, modernize them with this group of guys like Josh Dysart, Fred Van Lente, Duane Swierczynski and now Matt Kindt -- to be able to work with that crew is something I feel extraordinarily fortunate to be able to do. It's something I'll always be able to look back on and be proud of, because that team of writers, editors and artists we've got here have been here since the ground floor.
Kindt: It's been fantastic. I'm super excited. When Warren asked me to do it, I said, "Yes, I'll do it" and I kept waiting for them to say they got someone else who gave a better pitch. I was worried. I was like, "Please let me do this!" It's been great and honestly, I've been impressed. I know Warren said it, but they weren't going to launch this book unless there was a good story. They've been kicking around the idea before I got here. When Warren mentioned it to me and I was like, "Well, I'll take a stab at it," the understanding the whole time was if I turned in a pitch and it wasn't good enough, they weren't going to do it. The book wasn't going to happen. It wasn't "Here's a book, we need someone to write it." It was, "Here's an idea, what would it look like if you did it?" That's exciting to me. I didn't feel like -- there's a little more tension there in that if I didn't do it well enough, it wasn't going to happen, or if it did happen, it might be a year from now with somebody else.
Coming from indy comics? I don't know. I always felt like the thing that really makes my other stuff indy is my art style. That's the difference. I love genre, I love detective, I love mystery, I love superheroes, I love science fiction. Just getting to play with superheroes -- to me it's like science fiction. Honestly, the Valiant Universe is more science fiction than it is superhero. It makes me nervous if I think about it or get a question like that -- it's like, "Well, this is going to be a big flagship book and it's never been done before." I try not to think about that because being nervous when you're writing is not a good thing. I haven't been, and to Warren's credit, I've never worked so closely with an editor like this where it's been fun -- the collaboration and bouncing of ideas back and forth. If anybody thinks about the story more than me, it's going to be Warren. If anything, he's made me a better writer for it.
Simons: I sent Matt $1000 before this interview, with a thousand after.
Simons: It's great to have Matt onboard. We have a lot of really great creators and artists up here. It's a huge initiative for us and we want to make sure the story is great. Matt's been an absolute dream to work with. I love his writing, I love his work. I read his stuff -- "MIND MGMT" is absolutely genius. I think it's most important to find writers who understand story and dialogue. He might be operating in an indy world because of his art style, but Matt understands this stuff and his craft.
Warren, Valiant is coming off its first major crossover with "Harbinger Wars." Now, it seems as though there are corners of the Valiant Universe starting to form with "Unity"/"X-O Manowar." From an editorial standpoint, are these books designed to carve out another section of the VU in the same way "Harbinger" and "Bloodshot" are connected?
Simons: The first thing I came up with when looking at the larger universe and talking about how the books were going to interact was "Harbinger" and "Bloodshot" moving towards each other. But I think one of the great things about the universe, as Matt said, is these guys aren't all friends. At points, the books are moving in lock-step, but at other times they'll be moving diametrically in opposite positions. So, I don't think it's about having a corner of the universe with a specific set of books. I'm excited for the next arc of "Unity." I don't think anything's getting segmented away from anything else just yet.
Valiant's "Unity" #1 goes on sale in November