Complex Futures: Robert Venditti And Matt Kindt On ‘Armor Hunters’ And ‘Rai’ At Valiant [Interview]
This summer, Valiant Comics is releasing a whole bunch of new number-one issues in their Valiant First initiative, but dig down into it and you’ll see that quite a few of those books all tie into the same crossover: Armor Hunters.
The first issue of the Armor Hunters series by Robert Venditti and Doug Braithwaite hits stands in June, and it’ll have big ramifications for the Valiant universe. To that end, we spoke with Venditti and Matt Kindt, whose superhero team book Unity will tie into Armor Hunters and who is also writing the new Valiant series Rai, which debuts in late April, about the big event and more stuff coming from the publisher.
ComicsAlliance: Rob this is really your version of XO Manowar–it’s your baby. Matt, you’ve been doing a lot of work with the character, Aric, on Unity as well. How much of you guys work together to talk about where the character is going and Rob, do you feel any ownership of XO – or do you feel OK ceding some of the ownership over to Matt?
Robert Venditti: I don’t feel like I own the character. I’m invested the character in the sense I created a lot of the new continuity and things like that. The whole reason for coming in and working for a company like Valiant from the beginning, one of the biggest attractions, for me, was being able to add to and sort of build a mythology and universe from the ground up. So, I love the idea of XO going into other books and other characters other people have worked on coming into my book. It’s a good group of writers and I’ve known Matt for a very long time. To me, that’s one of the most fun parts of the job.
Matt Kindt: I was a fan first. I was fan of the books in the ‘90s. I didn’t know Valiant came back because I’m in the comic industry but I don’t really read a lot of comics. I don’t pay too much attention to what’s going on. My brother called me up, and he’s like, “Hey, Valiant is back.” I was like, they are? Me and him were both fans back in the day. The first thing I did was download a bunch of XO, and was like, hey Rob is writing this! [laughs] I think I vaguely knew you were writing it. But then it was like, oh, I’m friends with Rob.
I like all the stuff my friends do, but I don’t know if I like it because I’m friends with them or if it’s good. But I was like, oh, Rob’s writing it. I’ll read it. I couldn’t believe it. It was awesome, so great. And then I don’t know how many – at what point Valiant asked me to do something, then getting XO in Unity was my number one priority because he’s so awesome. Rob did such a good job bringing it back, I feel no ownership over those characters. I feel like I’m borrowing this guy that has been created. He’s doing to do what he would do based on what Rob has done. It’s part of the fun of collaborating, taking a character and trying to keep it true to what the other guy is doing with it.
CA: In both Unity and and in the ongoing XO Manowar series, you’re setting the table for Armor Hunters, doing some prelude stuff. What kind of collaboration are you doing to get ready for that? How do you get ready to tell this big unified event story?
RV: A lot of conference calls a lot emails. We actually met for a writers’ retreat in New York. Valiant had us up there last year, around October. We talked about a lot of this stuff then. Warren Simons, the executive editor of Valiant, he’s really good about getting us all to coordinate things. We’ve known each other for a long time, so for us, exchanging ideas, talk about things, find out what each other needs because they’re part of the story, it’s a really easy process. It’s something we’ve done once before with the Unity story. Matt was taking the lead on that and XO was tying of into it. We did a lot of coordinating there. It’s pretty problem free.
MK: You have to give a lot of credit to Valiant, and Warren and everybody. I think collaborations like this take some traffic controlling: making sure everybody’s on the same page, creating an environment where we can all work together in a fun way, which we did. I remember flying to New York, Rob, and thinking it was going to be a crossover. But then when they brought it up, they asked, who wants to be involved and how does it make sense? If you don’t want to be involved, and it doesn’t make sense, then don’t be involved in it.
And I was like, this sounds awesome. All of a sudden it wasn’t about creating this thing, a marketing thing, it was almost like you’re kids again. Hey, what if this happened? What if we did this? Then Rob, when we were doing that, it was funny because I definitely thought I took the lead on Unity and you were sort of reacting in XO, and now it’s sort of the opposite. I’m sort of reacting to what you’re doing. In a way it almost felt like role-playing, Oh, you’re going to do this? Well this is what my guy is going to do. Then we sort of go back and forth. It’s not as dry as, “Here’s what I need to do.” To me it’s a little more exciting than that. Part of it is because we know each other.
RV: Truth be told, and I’ve never said this before, but Matt and I, a lot of our creative process is LARPing. We actually get together and live action role play. [laughs] It’s a little outside the bounds, but it works for us.
CA: That’s going to end up on a Wikipedia page somewhere and you’re going to regret it.
MK: You look so good in that Livewire suit.
CA: To the story content of Armor Hunters. The first issue doesn’t read all that differently, at least to start, from the current solo XO title. XO Manowar is really at the center of this. It doesn’t necessarily have a crossover feel just yet. Was that something that was very intentional, to set it up as a slow burn? Did you want to set the table for XO Manowar first before other characters and other parts of the Valiant universe starting coming into it?
RV: Yeah, that’s exactly right. XO Manowar is the central character in the sense that he’s the inciting incident into the crossover. That issue comes out before any of the other tie-in issues, so it really sort of establishes that. As other issues fold in, I think you’ll start to feel more of the crossover nature of it. I do want to say, one of the things we’ve all worked really hard on and Warren has done a great job coordinating, is making the standalone Armor Hunters series and each of the tie in series, Unity, XO, Harbinger, Bloodshot, all of those series. They all stand independently as well. You can read everything or you can read one individual chunk and still have everything you need to follow the story that happens in that one individual series. We’ve worked hard to maintain that and like I said, with that first issue, you haven’t gotten to the point yet where other characters are brought in because it’s really just an inciting incident.
CA: Speaking of that inciting incident, there is a very huge thing that happens at the end of Armor Hunters #1. I assume that will be the thing that brings everybody else in. It feels like the publishing schedule has been timed out to really deal with the implications of that. We’ve got a few Armor Hunters tie-in books that are going to be dealing with these ramifications.
Without giving spoilers, what was your thinking as far as this inciting incident that happens? There’s a lot of mystery.
RV: It was just trying to look at these Armor Hunters tactically. What would their process would be if they were veterans at what they do and had been doing it for a very long time? What would their process be for hunting down these armors, which are as you’ve seen throughout the series very powerful weapons, in some ways, even indestructible? How would they go about doing that, traveling from world to world? It’s really just trying to follow that and trying to get inside their heads and do what they would do. I think one of the things about the series, and one I hope people will see, is the Hunters, while they’re quote-unquote the villains of the crossover, they’re also sympathetic in their own way. They have a very concrete goal that in their eyes they’re very justified in doing what they do. It’s the needs of the few versus the needs of the many. They’re following the needs of many. So, it is a big moment.
I think once it happens people will see how this becomes a story that is going to entail all the other heroes in the Valiant universe. Doug [Braithwaite, Armor Hunters artist] did such an amazing job putting it on the page. At this point we’ve been working on it for it so long, I’m just looking forward to having it out there on the stands so people can read it.
CA: I think it’s interesting you put quotes on the word “villain.” One thing that seems fairly consistent throughout Valiant as a line, is this idea that characters can switch sides at any time.
Sometimes characters that are good can suddenly go bad, or vice versa. That ties back into Unity, Matt. XO Manowar was the villain of the first arc of Unity until other things came to light. Is that an operating ethos of Valiant that the bad guys don’t always have to be bad? Does that make for more interesting stories?
MK: I don’t think it’s ever been vocalized. I hadn’t really thought about it. I think the reason why that happens, I think the Valiant universe and the thing that sets it apart from other superhero universes, it’s almost grounded in reality a little more. Like, well we’re going to introduce this guy in this armor, what would really happen? What would it really be like and what would he do? How are people really going to react? I think when you make a universe that’s like that you are going to see both sides. Harada’s a villain, Harada’s not. I think that is what makes it interesting. It’s more real to me. That’s what I think has always attracted me to the characters and the universe was that idea. What’s going on in the real world is complex. Stuff in the Ukraine is complicated. Getting to actually get that level of reality into a superhero book to me is makes it fun to write them.
RV: I think that in comics in general you see a lot of making heroes anti-heroes. I think what a lot of us try to do, and one of Valiant’s ideas– which, like Matt just said, haven’t been vocalized–but you can almost make the villains into anti-villains. Instead of making the heroes darker, make the villains lighter. Make them all sympathetic, give them motives that are relatable and understandable to the reader. If they don’t agree with their methods they can at least sort of see where they’re coming from. I think if you look at that first Unity crossover that Matt and I did, you would read XO Manowar, where he was the hero of his book and Unity was the villain, then if you read Unity, Unity was the heroes and XO was the villain. It’s the same exact story, but hopefully completely believable when you see it from two separate perspectives and see those characters flip flop like that. It’s part of the fun of writing, part of the challenge of doing it. I think the story is richer because of it.
CA: Matt, what you just said about Valiant existing in a real world leads me to ask about Rai. Because Rai takes place in such a fantastical world in a lot of ways. I had the opportunity to check out that first issue, and it’s so different from everything else that Valiant is putting out right now.
I know a lot of it comes from the original Rai series from the 90s, like the setting in 4001. I’m curious if there was a discussion about how crazy, out there or sci-fi you could go with the series as far as, there’s so much mythology that goes into that book. I know you had even drawn a map of 4001 Japan. You’re really creating a world here.
MK: Honestly, I put more work into that the first four issues of that than anything I’ve ever done. I think when they asked me to do it, I thought it would be fun. The future, and sci-fi. Then I realized how much work it is because one of the things, in a universe that’s based in that reality, it’s like, OK, we’ll just skip to the year 4000. That needs to make sense. It can’t be just like, let’s make this crazy and just do stuff for the heck of it. Everything that’s in there is for a reason. I wrote so much that no one will ever see that’s just backstory explaining how we got to this point so I can show this crazy thing that seems off the wall, but there’s a reason why it’s what way. There’s so much work I had to do before anything that I could show you. I had to figure out those 2000 years and what happened, which was a lot of work. While it’s going to be crazy in the year 4000, with lots of things happening, it’s still going to be grounded in a weird reality.
It’s almost like, I don’t know. I’m trying to walk that line between hard sci-fi, Arthur C. Clarke, and something crazier, like fantasy sci-fi. Somewhere in the middle. Leaning more towards Arthur C. Clarke, Where there’s a reason for this, this is why these things happen. While it seems crazy at first, as the series unfolds stuff will make more sense. It’s hard to explain.
CA: Even with the far future setting, the original Rai series had loose ties at least to the Valiant universe as a whole, particularly to Bloodshot. I wonder what sorts of ties and I don’t want you to give anything way, but are there plans to tie your Rai into the Valiant universe, even though at this point it seems pretty far removed from it?
MK: There’s a huge document that details everything. I had an idea for how every part of the current Valiant universe sort of distancing from what Rai is doing now. But the way the series is structured, is I wanted to start really close. Youre zoomed in on Rai and this kid, and you see what life is like and we’re slowly going to pull back. Every issue you pull back even more and you see a litle more. Every story arc, you pull back and see a little more. Eventually you’ll see how Rai fits into Japan and how Japan fits into the Earth and then how all the Valiant universe and their characters has a ripple effect into their lives and present day effects what we’re seeing in the year 4000. It’s a slow pull back, but eventually you’ll see everything over time.
CA: Bloodshot will be joining the Unity team very soon in issue 8, I believe. Is the idea of Unity to eventually get every Valiant character into that book?
MK: No, the way I do the series is there are three core characters, Eternal Warrior, Ninjak and Livewire. Then they’ll be a rotating fourth. What I like about that is, we have that core group and then the extra person that comes in will do something cool. It’s someone cool you can meet, if you never read Valiant, it’s well, here’s what Bloodshot is about you tend to see who that character is. Also, having a different personality injected into the Unity format, we’ll get to see our main characters differently too. Bloodshot is going to bring out a lot of different things than we’ve seen before in the other characters. The arc after that is going to be even better I think. There’ll be a character you’ve never expected joining Unity. I think it’s a fun way to reveal the personalities of those three main guys.
CA: Before we wrap up, anything you want to add?
RV: Just check out Manowar #23 and #24 which is the prelude that sets the stage for what comes after. Also the XO 25th anniversary issue. We have a big chunk dedicated to the Armor Hunters team. It’s going to be cool character designs that Clayton Crain did. He did such great jobs of putting those characters on the page. One of the things I’m most excited about is how unique the team is, the different characters and things.
MK: Those characters look awesome. Clayton did a great job, he’s doing the art on Rai, too. Check that out.