The 5,000-Year-Old Man: Robert Venditti Discusses The ‘Personal’ Story Of ‘Wrath of the Eternal Warrior’ [Interview]
In the three-plus years since Valiant Comics once again became a mainstay on comic shop shelves, The Eternal Warrior has emerged as a central character in the Valiant Universe, serving as the anchor for several series and events. Since starring in an eight-issue solo series by writer Greg Pak and artist Robert Gill, Gilad, the immortal protector of the geomancers, has taken on even more significance in the Valiant U.
Wrath of the Eternal Warrior, out next month from writer Robert Venditti and artist Raul Allen, puts the de facto star of Book of Death and The Valiant in a whole new set of circumstances, facing down ancient, terrifying creatures in an "off-world" setting. To find out more about the character's strange new situation, we sat down with Venditti to get the scoop on how this strange environment will affect Gilad, the fallout from Book of Death, and writing a very personal story about a 5,000-year-old character.
ComicsAlliance: I want to start by just asking about the title. “Wrath” is a strong word. In Gilad's appearances in Book of Death, and series prior to that, there’s what I would call a controlled rage to what he does. He’s got a violent streak. He certainly does what needs to be done in fights, but there’s a control to it. Does the word “wrath” mean we’ll be seeing a different side to the character?
Robert Venditti: We are definitely going to be seeing a different side to the character. I wouldn’t take on writing the series if I didn’t think I had something to say that would be different from what we’ve seen historically, you know, all the way back to the original Valiant Universe.
As far is reading into the title and “wrath,” implying he’s going to be some kind of loose cannon or running around with an revenge streak, I would say definitely not. It’s going to be a totally new look at immortality, not just for him but as a concept, and really, what he has to sacrifice in order to keep coming back and fighting for us here, fighting for a better world across the millennia, and why he does that. What drives him? What are the emotions that make him come back and keep doing those sorts of things?
Certainly, there will be moments when he’s angry. No doubt about that. Anger will sometimes drive him, but there are a lot of other things mixed in as well.
CA: One thing that’s very apparent in Book of Death is that the Eternal Warrior is a guy who always has a plan. What we see in issue #2 of Book of Death is him using plans that he’s made way in advance to negate the impact of Unity’s attack. This series is going to put him in a situation that’s a little tougher to plan for. What can you tell us about where the Eternal Warrior is going to find himself in the series?
RV: The place where we’re going to find him post-Book of Death is a place that will be unfamiliar to us as readers. It’s something that we have never seen before, and even more specifically have never seen Eternal Warrior encounter before. But that doesn’t mean that it’s a new place for him. He’s very aware of where he is and what he has to do, so there is an element of strategy, but there’s also an element of just a gauntlet. He knows that the gauntlet is there. It’s his decision to go out and confront it when a lot of other people in his position would just choose to stay home in their nice, soft bed. He’s going to go out and face it anyway.
This is part of what I’m saying about what he voluntarily sacrifices to keep coming back. I think there’s a lot of pessimism in our world. I think people tend to focus on the negatives, but for somebody like the Eternal Warrior, who’s been around for 5,000 years, he would have seen an incredible amount of progress in humanity, and he’d have to be in a lot of ways, an eternal optimist to do what he does and give up what he has to give up. To keep coming back and fighting for us, he has to believe that man is inherently good and we will continue to do better. While the job isn’t done, there is progress that’s happening. I think, frankly, a guy like him would be a little insulted when he hears people talk about how horrible the world is when this guy saw 5,000 years ago and knows how bad it was then.
It all plays into those themes of what we’re talking about. There is going to be an element of strategy, still, to what he does, because it’s not going to be totally unfamiliar to him.
CA: I’ve also seen this new place described as somewhere where things are very old, perhaps even older than the Eternal Warrior is. Is the idea behind that just to give him something to deal with where the story isn’t based on how much more he knows than everybody around him because he’s so much older? This kind of turns the tables on him.
RV: It does, for sure. That’s something we’ll be doing throughout the series. Historically, Eternal Warrior had a main adversary that had been around as long as he had and was able to confront him across the millennia and things like that. We’ll certainly see elements of that in the series as we progress.
In this original story arc, the one we’re launching with, very much so. They’re older than he is, more ancient than he is. It does challenge him, in a lot more ways than him not necessarily being the most experienced person in a given situation. These are, again, conflicts and adversaries that we as readers have never seen him come up against before, and he’s all by himself. There’s nobody else that can help him. There’s nowhere to go for safety. It’s his choice to step out onto this battlefield. He knows what’s at risk and what’s going to happen to him if he loses, but he chooses to do it anyway and endure all this incredible hardship and pain and everything else just so he can come back and fight for us here again.
I think all of it speaks to exactly how heroic he is as a character.
CA: One thing that the top-tier solo Valiant books — Bloodshot, Ninjak, X-O Manowar — all do is strive to be action/superhero stories while also digging into the backstory of a character. They’re often character studies. From what I can tell, this series will do that too. The Eternal Warrior has such a long history. I’m curious how you’re going to structure that. How will you pepper his history into the main, present-day plot?
RV: It’s got a larger cast, but let’s not forget the work Josh Dysart’s doing on Imperium, either. It’s fantastic, amazing stuff that I think gets exactly to what you’re talking about where they are adventure stories, but they are very character-focused and they are saying something about the world we live in. I’m certainly going to try for that with Eternal Warrior. That’s definitely the goal. It’s by far the most challenging story I’ve ever written. It’s very personal in a lot of ways as far as the themes running through it.
But yeah, you are correct in terms of his history. To me, that’s one of the great assets of him as a character. You can lean on all these different times and historical eras, do costumes and different looks for the character that all make sense for story-related reasons and things like that.
Much like I did in X-O Manowar in the first issue, you might not have known it at the time, but there were 15 or 20 plotlines introduced in that first issue, some of which are still coming around today. I knew that. I knew what those plotlines were. That’s very much going to be the case with this first issue as well. There are going to be a lot of characters you’re going to meet and a lot of plotlines that are going to be put in motion, and readers may not realize, but they’re all going to continue to bear fruit going very far into the series.
It’s all part of the master plan, to weave the historical aspect of the character in with the modern-day stories in a way that feels right for the story and isn’t shoehorned in.
CA: Do you feel like the Eternal Warrior, by virtue of the fact that he’s so old and he sometimes seems to be holding back and not showing his full ability, is a character that’s hard to approach as someone a reader could relate to? Has that been a challenge for you, to get the reader into the Eternal Warrior’s mindset?
RV: It is. That’s a challenge with any character. To go back to what I was saying before, as far as this being one of the most personal stories I’ve written in terms of themes, that’s challenging, too. As with all writing, it’s all inherently autobiographical, in the sense that if you’re doing it right, all the characters, all the elements in the story come from your own influences and experiences. Ultimately, that’s what makes my Eternal Warrior different from anybody else’s Eternal Warrior.
It is challenging to try to find those things and bring them into a story that you feel is honest but not preachy or melodramatic. I just wrote one of the issues and there was an opening scene in there where there was a moment I probably can’t get into because of spoilers, but it was a moment that you don’t really think anything of when it happens in the opening pages, but then when it comes back around later on in the story and Gilad and talking to another character, it was stuff that was drawn very much from my own life experiences.
That stuff can be very hard to write sometimes. It can be taxing. But hopefully that’s what makes the stories good and that stuff comes across to the reader, they get that sort of emotion out of it. Even if you’ve never been an Eternal Warrior in a strange land fighting against a gauntlet of enemies, you can still relate to those aspects the make him very human. That’s how you get readers involved.
CA: I was wondering if, by letting slip that this is autobiographical, you were admitting that your were, in fact, an immortal soldier.
RV: [laughs] No, I’m neither immortal nor a soldier. I write comic books. I have a friend, one of my oldest friends — we talk every day just about. He’s a fireman, and another one of my really good friends is a police officer. They tell me about the things they encounter in their jobs. Some of it is very difficult stuff to endure, and I write comic books, you know what I mean? I admire people with those professions a lot, and what they’re able to do, because I sit down and I make that stuff up. It’s easy in contrast to the realities of it. So I’m definitely not eternal, and I’m certainly no warrior.
CA: Let me ask how this series will end up tying into stuff you’ve been setting up for months if not years in X-O Manowar, Matt Kindt has picked it up in Unity, he and Jeff Lemire in The Valiant, and now you’re doing Book of Death, which has the Eternal Warrior as a focus. What can you say about how that character has evolved over time and how this version of the Eternal Warrior may differ from what we saw in his earliest appearances?
RV: His first appearance — well, I guess his actual first appearance was in X-O Manowar #1, but if you’re talking about Archer and Armstrong, and his first arc there, that was Eternal Warrior in a much more adversarial role, against the stars of that book. This is obviously going to be much different from that because we were experiencing that story from Archer and Armstrong’s point of view, and we’re experiencing this one from the Eternal Warrior’s point of view.
I think he is a changed man. I think he’s always evolving and always changing. That’s one of his great assets. I think he’s very aware of that about himself. He wouldn’t have been very effective if he’d gone through this 5,000 years and was still the same person he always was, but I also think there are elements about him where he has retained certain things about himself that go back a very, very long time. He knows when to jettison his history and when he doesn’t.
If you look at his axe — it’s an analogy I bring up a lot — he’s got this axe. We look at it, and traditionally the way he’s used it has always been as a weapon, but it’s actually a very versatile tool. We’ve seen some of that in Book of Death, where you can use it to start a fire, you can use it to build a shelter, you can crack an egg on it and fry it, you can polish it up and use it as a signal mirror. You can do a million different things with the axe. Even the way he fights with it, he doesn’t just use the blade. He uses the curved upper and lower halves as a grabbing weapon.
We in the modern day look at an axe and just see a blade, and he looks at it and sees so much more, and that’s because of that history. He knows not to jettison that knowledge. He knows that an axe is a way more useful implement than a gun is. So he hasn’t abandoned his axe in favor of a machine gun or whatever.
I think that’s his greatest asset, looking at this expansive history and knowing that there are certainly things where you need to go with the modern day, but there are also things where you need to retain a more traditional, historical knowledge a lot of us in the modern day have forgotten about. If you put an axe and a gun on a table, we’ll take the gun, and then we’ll be trying to figure out how to start a fire, have a signal mirror, fry an egg, build a shelter and everything else. That’s one of the things I find really compelling about him as a character.
CA: What about the information that he’s learning from the title book in Book of Death? Is that going to give a different tenor to his actions in this new series?
RV: Definitely. Of course, first of all, if he gets his wish by the end of Book of Death — and we don’t know that he’s going to — but if he does, and he’s successful in his mission, the reason Tama was sent back to the modern day, then he’s going to maybe change some elements of that so some of those things don’t ever happen.
But that doesn’t mean all of them aren’t ever going to happen. As a matter of fact, I know that a lot of them are absolutely going to happen, and a lot of them are in motion as we speak. He does have a certain knowledge of that, but I would also say it’s somewhat limited. Limited in the sense that he doesn’t know how much of it is going to hold true, but also limited in the sense that he’s been very focused throughout Book of Death on solving this one particular — he doesn’t have time to have Tama flip through the book and just read him stories about the future.
They’re all focused very much on this one singular goal, of stopping what the Book of the Geomancers refers to as The Corrupted One, who will bring the death of the Valiant Universe. That’s been his focus. Everything we’ve seen him learn about in the series has been focused on that. It’s a very mission-specific knowledge that he has at this point.
The Geomancer, Tama, or whoever Tama’s successor is, will continue to factor in heavily to the Eternal Warrior’s mythology and we’ll see those characters come back again, but he’s not able to read the book on his own. He’ll always been at the mercy of whoever the current Geomancer is when it comes to being able to discuss what’s in those pages.
CA: What are some other big draws for Wrath of the Eternal Warrior? We haven’t mentioned Raul Allen, the artist on the series, yet.
RV: That’s just what I was about to say. Aside from me being really excited about the story, I can’t say enough about Raul Allen and what it’s been like working with him so far. I’ve never really had an experience like it. The way he approaches the pages, the way he constructs them, it’s almost like each individual page is an art piece that works in and of itself. When combined with 21 other art pieces, it tells a story.
It’s really extraordinary to see the design — and not just character design; page design, layouts, pacing, all the things he’s bringing to the story. It’s a very emotional story, not an easy story for an artist to do in terms of executing all these complex emotions. I find myself looking over the art and wondering if I even need any dialogue. He’s communicating it all so well. It’s just been a great experience so far.
He’s done a little bit of work for Valiant — Bloodshot Reborn #5, Ninjak #6 — so we’ve seen his work before in some other titles, but he’s really bringing out all the stops here. I feel very fortunate to be able to work with him. I think people are going to be really excited about what he does with the book.
CA: Complex emotions and some crazy-looking monsters, from what I understand. He’s bringing those to the table.
RV: Very much so, and so much more as well. The setting, like I said, the pacing. So much unbelievable stuff. I’ve never seen work like it, honestly. That’s one of the great things about working at Valiant. All the artists I’ve been able to work with — Doug Braithwaite, Robert Gill, Cary Nord, Lee Garbett, Raul Allen, I could keep going — they are all such singular voices. They bring so much to the story. It’s great for me to be in a position to know that Raul is going to be the artist and I know what kind of work he’s going to be turning in, so I can try to script the stories in ways that leave him openings to do the things he does really well, and just get out of his way and let him do them.
Wrath of the Eternal Warrior #1 is on sale November 18. Check out an unlettered preview below: