Fans of Valiant Entertainment have faced a disheartening shortage of their favorite titles due to COVID-19, but some good news is coming in 2021- the return of Harbinger.
Peter Stanchek -a.k.a. the Harbinger - is arguably the flagship character of Valiant, and will be returning for a new ongoing series in 2021 by writers Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly, artist Robbi Rodriguez, and colorist Rico Renzi.
Just days after the series' announcement, Valiant senior editor Heather Antos spoke with Newsarama to talk about the book, the development process, and how the book reflects what's going on (and what's to come) at the publisher in the coming year.
Newsarama: Starting off, was it always Valiant's plan to release The Harbinger in 2021? Did COVID-19 change the plans Valiant had for this book, and if so, how?
Heather Antos: As much as I would love to say that this was all part of a grand scheme... it was not. Originally the goal was to have The Harbinger #1 released for summer 2020... but I think we all know how that went. *shakes fist at COVID-19*
Nrama: So it was announced a few weeks back, and Valiant fans seem to be excited. How do you think the reception has been?
Antos: Oh my goodness, I won't lie - I was incredibly anxious about the announcement! The Harbinger and Peter Stancheck are two of the most beloved characters and legacies in the Valiant fandom - Not to mention having to follow-up Joshua Dysart's incredible Harbinger saga (seriously, if you haven't read Life and Death of Toyo Harada, stop reading this interview and go pick it up now!). If the fact that Paramount announced the film, and the pressure from the fans isn't enough... the pressure we're putting on ourselves certainly is!
Having that been said, I couldn't ask for a better creative team. Jackson, Collin, Robbi, and Rico are all hardcore classic Valiant fans - and the modern energy and voices that they are bringing to Peter's legacy is extremely exciting. I can't wait for y'all to see it for yourselves!
Nrama: In the announcement, The Harbinger's co-writer Jackson Lanzing said it was "unapologetic in its politics." What does he mean by that?
Antos: I don't want to speak for Jackson or Collin and put words in their mouths, but the truth of the matter is Harbinger has always been a bit of a political book. I mean, Peter and his Renegades are a bit anarchist, really - the system isn't working for the people, and they are fighting it. 2021's The Harbinger is no different.
Whether it's Peter fighting his own wrongdoings from his past - both figuratively and literally - or fighting the broken system that villainized him from the very beginning, how can a book like The Harbinger not be unapologetic in its politics?
Nrama: The titular Harbinger, Peter Stanchek, is a character with decades of comic history under his belt. Can you talk about what it takes, as an editor, to handle a story with so much legacy?
Antos: Well it starts with a lot of reading, I can guarantee that much! I knew I was going to be overseeing the continuation of Harbinger and Peter Stanchek's story in Fall 2019 and so I immediately pulled every single trade from the Valiant library following his (and Toyo's) story since 2012. Needless to say, that kept me busy for a good while.
It's so important to me to fully understand the heart of the characters, their story, and their purpose within the Valiant Universe so I can help the creative team figure out where they want to go next - and that's key; it's not about what I want for the characters, but rather what the characters themselves want. You can call me a comic book medium, I guess [laughs].
In all seriousness, though, it's understanding these characters' core values and tenets that is the most crucial for continuing any longstanding legacy like Harbinger's - and making sure each of the collaborators on board have the same respect in mind, too.
Nrama: And on the flip side of that, how are you trying to make The Harbinger (or for that matter, all future Valiant titles you work on) attract new readers? Maybe even readers new to comic books themselves?
Antos: That's the big challenge, isn't it? Finding that happy balance between continuing the story of a character and legacy that longstanding fans will love, but also bringing in something fresh and new that will attract someone who's never even heard of Harbinger, let alone Peter Stanchek.
With The Harbinger, Valiant got really lucky with connecting with such outstanding talent like Jackson Lanzing, Collin Kelly, Robbi Rodriguez, and Rico Renzi - all of whom have such dedicated fanbases on their own. Jackson and Collin's work really speaks to their own classic fandom, but also their voices as writers are so bright and youthful and modern. Mixing with Robbi & Rico's visuals... The Harbinger is about as modern as a Valiant comics can be!
Nrama: Speaking of the future, I've read that this book is a "harbinger" (heyo!) of things to come at Valiant. Is that true, and if so, what does it mean?
Antos: Well if I told you what that meant now then you'd have no reason to read it when it comes out, would you? [laughs]
Honestly, I think that 2021 is really going to bring a shift to the Valiant Universe with the stories coming out. From X-O Manowar to Shadowman, Ninjak to The Harbinger, each of the characters are stepping up and stepping out to come together and face their own past and legacies in order to move forward as the true heroes of the Valiant Universe. And I don't know about you, but that sounds very exciting to me!
Nrama: How do you, in your role as a senior editor, most affect that future? What are you most excited to do for it?
Antos: As a Senior editor, not only is it my job to make sure the day-to-day editorial tasks are accomplished - making sure pages are turned in, creators are paid, and books to go print - but it's also my job to literally brainstorm Valiant's future and make it happen. It's scary and exciting all at once!
In comics, literally anything is possible - it's all about combing through those endless possibilities and figuring out what makes the most sense, when, with whom, etc, etc, etc. I think the most exciting part of the process is when something that, just a few months ago, was literally a one-sentence email pitch to a creator gets announced as a series... and seeing the reaction. There's nothing like it!
Nrama: DMG recently announced some structural changes at Valiant Entertainment; how did those changes affect production of this book? Moreover, how will they affect the comics division of Valiant in general?
Antos: 2020 and the pandemic there-in brought about many changes industry-wide - from how we connect with fans and creators without conventions to publishing books in a socially-distanced and curbside pick-up only landscape. Because of this, we had to shift our release strategy so as to not only make sure our publishing plan made the most sense for the current comics environment while still offering fans a consistent dose of the stories and characters they love. And so... The Harbinger got bumped from a summer 2020 release into 2021!
Nrama: Did the fact that a Harbinger movie is on the way from Paramount affect the production of this book at all?
Antos: Not directly, no. But just the mere thought that Peter Stanchek, Harbinger, Psiots, and more are about to be brought to a silver screen and become a more household name is incredibly exciting!
This book may very well be the first introduction into comics, Valiant, as well as the Harbinger-family for new casual readers and it's so important to us that we not only live up to the hype, but also do Peter's legacy justice. Suffice it to say, the pressure is on!
Nrama: And finally, while we're on the subject, can you tell us anything about the Harbinger movie? Will it focus on Peter Stanchek or the OG Harbinger team?
Antos: Tell you what, if you have psiot abilities I'll let you read my mind... ;)