This June, writer Joshua Dysart (Unknown Soldier, BPRD) joins the Valiant restart with the return of one of the line's foundational titles, Harbinger. Whereas X-O Manowar gave the original Valiant U its dose of sci-tech (with a dose of savage barbarian action) and Bloodshot was that line's entry into the gun-crazy vigilante mode of stories from the era, Harbingers was their teen outcasts book, pitting a team of young people with psionic powers against the corporate and military reach of businessman Toyo Harada.
Dysart plans to use the conflict between troubled Harbinger lead Peter Chanchek and Harada as the springboard for the new generation of stories, and we spoke with Dysart by e-mail about drawing distinctions between the two characters as well as recreating a major shared universe.
MTV Geek: Tell us a little about your takes on Peter Stanchek and Toyo Harada.
Joshua Dysart: I see them as opposite sides of the same coin. Both possess more power than just about anybody else on the planet… as far as they know. Yet their self-awareness, their discipline and their goals couldn’t be more different. They represent the best and worse of their respective generations. Peter Stanchek is a kid with nothing to his name but these strange hyper-telekinetic abilities that he has very little real control over. He’s run out of family, run out of chances and on run from the law. He uses his powers to get along, but Keeps a low profile to stay out of trouble. Toyo Harada, on the other hand, controls a major international conglomerate that impacts world affairs more deeply than anyone can possibly know. Harada also possesses extraordinary telekinesis and other psionic attributes, but where Peter is ambitionless, Harada is the very paragon of ambition.
Where Peter has nothing, Harada has everything, and where Peter struggles to mute his own powers with drugs, Harada has complete control over his far-reaching abilities. In fact, the very first two scenes of issue one shows both Harada and Peter as young men (Harada being featured in a flashback to the mid-1950’s) and features both of them using their powers to get what they want. The striking difference in scope of the two teen’s drive and enterprise will sum it all up in a matter of pages, I think.
Geek: What’s the major difference between the 90’s incarnation of the characters and what you’re doing with them here?
Dysart: Tone, pacing… the overall voice, that’s all going to be different, of course. I’m certainly not the same kind of writer as Jim Shooter or David Lapham, though I’m a fan of both (Lapham is one of the very best creators working right now, in my opinion). But really the true question should be, “what’s the same about these characters?” A new writer will always bring changes to fit in line with his or her personal sense of storytelling, but what will he hold on to tightly? What does he imagine is the pivot of those characters? It’s important to me that they have the same ultimate traits and motivations as the original. Peter is a kid in over his head who will learn, through some very dire mistakes, how to become a leader. Kris is a strong, young woman who has her freewill betrayed by forces beyond her control, an experience which colors her throughout our series. Harada is a fascinating mixture of tyrant and messiah. Etc. So, hopefully, the very bones of these characters are still in tact when I’m done wringing my hands over them.
Geek: From the solicitation, it seems like pretty early on you’re giving away the game that Harada isn’t as benevolent as he seems. What was the reason for this direction?
Really? Did we do that? I think we mention that there will be conflict between the two, yeah. This brings up a very interesting thing about the marketing of narratives and the difficulty of this one in particular. First off, and there’s no way around this, the fans of the original series already know the broad strokes of the story. All we can do with those readers is shake it up, tell the story in a new and interesting way, tweak out the pacing, introduce unique elements and hope it’s enough to keep them involved. But we have to assure the long-time readers that we’re on point and though Harbinger 2012 may walk and talk a little different than its precursor, it’s still got everything they love in it. So that leaves the new readers. We need to entice new readers with an engaging premise. And let’s face it, the Peter/Harada conflict is the whole gist of the book. There’s no denying that these two are at odds.
This might be a little too “inside baseball”, but the marketing of narratives has always been tricky. You want to surprise your reader with twists of plot, reversals of character and sudden disruptions of pace, but you also have to get them intrigued enough to buy the damn product. Ever watch the original trailer for Alfred Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent? They practically show the entire political assassination right there in the trailer. I hate it. A moment that should have been shocking is ripped out of context to sell movie tickets. So it’s a pragmatic issue. Believe me, if I thought I could just put the covers out by themselves and that would cause the massive stampede to the comic book store that this book is going to need to survive, I would. But pragmatism reigns.
Lastly, on a more story-oriented note, Harada’s benevolence is something that’s going to be a lot more complicated than the solicitation suggests, so hopefully that will complicate things a little.
Geek: Tell us about working with Khari Evans and nailing the redesigns of the characters here. What kind of direction were you looking to go with the look and action of the story?
Dysart: It’s been great working with Khari. The stuff that’s been released, particularly the image of The Bleeding Monk is gorgeous. Khari’s got an exceptional eye for characters. His redesigns of Peter and Joe and Kris are beautiful. We were also lucky enough to have the great Spanish artist and designer David Aja contribute to some initial character redesign. The Harbinger Foundation uniforms were David’s design. We wanted to be able to see that Harada, the founder and leader of the Foundation, is culturally Japanese. So they’re very clean cut and functional.
The action is something that Khari and I will be designing. And it’s important to me that it have a real-world element and that it feels as grounded as possible. So it should be pretty cool. There’s a lot of great visuals in issue one that will let Khari just break loose, but there’s also a lot of dramatic moments showing people just being human. Like most of my stuff, I sort of demand big visuals intercut with subtle, real acting. So it’s not an easy book to draw.
Geek: One of the major ideas behind the first run of Valiant comics was explaining the how and why of superheroes in its universe. To what degree will you be doing the same here?
Dysart: Our intention is to make the Valiant universe even more “cohesive” than it was before. Tighten up the lines that connect each character. One of the things that is tricky with these big shared universes in comics is that their idea space gets so crowded. Magic, technology, aliens and super science all blend together to create this sort of manic universal cosmology that makes the original myth-structures seem freaking anemic. Now, admittedly, that’s part of the fun of comics. I love that an alien, a wizard and a guy in a mech-suit can save the world from a manic real-estate tycoon who is possessed by the spirit of Agamemnon. But now, at Valiant, we have a unique opportunity. This is a true restart. We can cobble this universe together, and define its governing laws, anyway we want. So we can really work out why the universe and its super-powered individuals are the way they are. The task is to keep the what’s fun about these kinds of comics, but just ratchet the reasons for all of these extraordinary powers co-existing into a tighter framework. Does that make sense?
Geek: Along the same lines, what kind of talks have you had with editorial about laying the groundwork for the rest of the universe?
Dysart: Right now Warren Simons (my editor) and I are talking a lot about the connections between Harbinger and Bloodshot. So we’re laying the groundwork for that right out of the gate. But I know it’s important that we all get our books to sing individually before we launch into making them play together.
Geek: What was your first experience with the Valiant universe? Why did it (and why does it) appeal to you?
Dysart: I actually wasn’t a Valiant reader back in the 90’s. Superhero’s and shared universes weren’t something that interested me so much then. To quote Bob Dylan, “I was so much older then. I'm younger than that now.” The closest I ever got to that stuff at the time was in the late 80’s with First Comics, particularly Badger and Nexus. By the time Valiant hit I was a lot more invested in Cerebus, Love and Rockets, Eightball… that sort of thing. So I came to Valiant pretty clean when I was offered this gig last year. The thing that hit me about all the source material, once I started really sitting down to read it, was just how much they riffed on standard industry tropes yet managed to simultaneously be a reinvention of those tropes. It was like Jim Shooter was longing to drag the superhero medium into a more modern mode of thinking. Harbinger owes a lot to X-Men, and yet… now X-Men owes a lot to Harbinger. X-O is such a fresh and hyper take on Tony Stark (what’s more badass… a billionaire alcoholic science geek in an armored flying suit of his own design, or a Roman-era barbarian in an alien armored suit who’s stuck in the modern world and prepared to wage war with everything?). And to top it all off Valiant had all these great creators. Don’t even get started on how much I loved Archer & Armstrong after I first read it last year.
On a side note, I’m really excited to see what everyone does with their respective books. This is a great group of creatives (Robert Venditti/Cary Nord on XO, Duane Swierczynski/Manuel Garcia on Bloodshot and Fred Van Lente/Clayton Henry on Archer and Armstrong) and to be honest I’m hoping I can just keep up with everybody.
Geek: To what degree will you be looking at other harbingers throughout history? We seem to see a little of that in the preview art.
Dysart: Hopefully to a great degree, at least to whatever degree the primary narrative allows and is benefitted for it. I’m a huge history buff and I tend to fetishize research, so I’m ready for it. If I just got hired to write comics that flushed out the back history of the Valiant universe from Homo habilis to the end of the Global Crises of Credit, I’d be happy as a clam.
Geek: Is there a particular character you’re really looking to add to the mix?
Dysart: There are lots, yeah. There’s the standard favorites of course, I’m very excited to get to Pete’s Renegades and start showing the readers my version of those characters. But there’s also my own new psiots (Harbingers) like The Bleeding Monk, who was highlighted in the previews pages that were released, and Darpan, whom you’ve yet to meet… but you will. And a whole host of others.
Geek: What else are you working on?
I’m writing The Dark Crystal: Creation Myths Book 2 [at Archaia] and I’m about halfway done with scripting it. I get to tell the story, (with Alex Sheikman and painter/colorist Lizzy John on art duties) of the cracking of the Crystal a thousand years before the start of the movie.
I’ve also written a four book (each book is 40 pages) political thriller for my good friends at Full Clip Productions called Patrios, and we’re just now trying to get an artist started on it.
The videogame that I worked on, Warp, came out a few months ago, you can download that on X-Box or PS3.
Beyond that I’m just interested in doing my part to make the Valiant Universe as awesome as it can be.
Harbinger #1 will be on sale June 6th. Preview it right here!