2022 is about "putting fans first with each and every comic" and exploring "deeper into the iconic Valiant shared universe," according to publisher Valiant Entertainment.
Ahead of the first release of a trio of new launches that make up the Year of Valiant, Newsarama had the chance to put those promises to the test and speak with some of the creators charged with carrying it out. Our conversation included writer Cullen Bunn of July's Book of Shadows, artist Liam Sharp and writers Michael W. Conrad and Becky Cloonan of November's X-O Manowar: Unconquered, and writer Jon Davis-Hunt and artist Deniz Camp of September's Bloodshot: Unleashed.
First up, we spoke to Book of Shadows' Bunn. The "supernatural event" series features the formation of a new Valiant team - Shadowman, Punk Mambo, Eternal Warrior, Doctor Mirage, and a "classified" character that come together to battle the evil Exarch Fane, a wielder of dark powers and a serious threat to the supernatural side of Valiant.
Grant DeArmitt for Newsarama: Cullen, ever since your run on Shadowman began in 2021, you've been injecting a healthy dose of horror into the Valiant universe. Can you tell fans of this horror how you're working it into Book of Shadows? What's scariest about this comic?
Cullen Bunn: Book of Shadows is definitely a slightly different "flavor" of horror, which is really what I've been going for since I started Shadowman. In this series, we're dealing with a new villain, someone who is seemingly unstoppable. And his arrival brings about wholesale destruction and slaughter. His goals go beyond conquering the world. And they go beyond destruction of the world. But it's not even the villain who brings the most horror to this story. It is the titular artifact… dare I say character… of the series.
Nrama: Speaking of characters, Valiant has said that a "classified character" will make an appearance in this book. Can you give us a hint as to who that might be?
Bunn: No hints for you! It's too big of a spoiler! Not for this series, necessarily, but definitely for another book! That said, the "classified character" will be revealed in Shadowman #8! This will be a new character, someone you haven't seen before, and they may very well be more powerful and dangerous than Punk Mambo, Shadowman, Dr. Mirage, and the Eternal Warrior combined!
Nrama: How about Exarch Fane? Can you tell readers what to expect from this enigmatic new villain?
Bunn: I have written a number of characters in my time who were just a delight to write. I didn't expect Exarch Fane to be one of them when I first started planning the character, but he certainly is! He is a scene-stealing, scene-chewing megalomaniac! Exarch Fane comes from another dimension, one not too different from the Deadside, and he has met some of our heroes before. He is also in possession of a number of immensely powerful artifacts and a horde of monsters. But what sets Exarch Fane apart, I think, is that he is a fellow of mercy. He is offering our heroes an out, but it is cruel indeed.
Next, we move on to X-O Manowar: Unconquered, which will see Valiant's flagship character caught in the midst of a "cosmic battle." To get a better sense of what that epic confrontation will look like, we spoke to artist Liam Sharp and writers Michael W. Conrad and Becky Cloonan.
Nrama: Liam, you co-created one of the most memorable sci-fi epics in recent comic history with The Green Lantern. How does your work on that series affect or feed into X-O Manowar?
Liam Sharp: Thank you! And it's a nice segue into X-O from The Green Lantern in a few ways - almost in reverse oddly! In the series with Grant Morrison we ended with a Lantern whose vast, cosmic background found him trying to find some peace on a simpler world stuck in the bronze age. There's some nice symmetry in that, thinking about it! Here, we're taking a barbarian and giving him cosmic powers! But also, artistically I want to carry on that creative journey with a painted digital style that can give me a rich pallet in terms of visualizing this alien environment. It's the world… well really, universe-building that I think I love the most. I want it to feel battered and lived in and huge...
Nrama: It sounds huge, and so do the battles within it. Without spoiling anything, tell us about the "cosmic battle" that we're told Aric of Dacia will find himself in. Is it between characters we've met before?
Sharp: [laughs]! I can't possibly tell you that! But there are... connections with Aric's history, certainly. It's going to be meaty and elaborate! And as you just mentioned - cosmic!
Nrama: X-O Manowar is consistently one of Valiant's most popular books. Becky and Michael, how do you think modern readers will most identify with a soldier from the fifth century CE? In the same vein, how does the average comic fan identify with a person of almost godlike power?
Michael W. Conrad: A "man out of time" is always compelling, but we have this impression that the human mind has changed so much since then when in reality, it hasn't. What has changed, and we see this all the time day to day, in ourselves and others, is how we engage with others, and the huge impact technology has had on our cognition.
Ancient people were better than modern folks at a number of things, their survival necessitated a kind of thinking that most of us no longer have to access regularly. Aric lived during a particularly turbulent time, a life defined by hardship and strife. The ways in which he deals with threats, contemporary notions of right and wrong. Even his core values will be interesting to explore in juxtaposition to those of our times.
Modern readers are ready for this because their interest will be in how we accomplish showing this disparity without leaning on tired old tropes and hacky humor about how dumb ancient people were. On the contrary, we'll show how vital Aric's operating system is to piloting the most dangerous weapon in the universe.
Becky Cloonan: Aric's struggle in the fifth century is a very real, very modern one! The Visigoths found themselves displaced after being driven out of their land, only to find themselves refugees on unfriendly Roman territory. It was a humanitarian crisis on a massive scale, a tragedy that is still, sadly, very common in the world today.
Conrad: I've heard it said that when a character is too powerful it strips the drama of the story, nothing is a threat. In the case of X-O Manowar, we're confronted with a super powerful element, the armor, but encased within that suit is a complex person. Aric has been doing this for a while, but we seek to explore and further define his motivations and reveal a beautiful, wounded person; someone coping with trauma and trying to use that immense power in a way that he believes he should.
As for viable threats, we have many. While X-O is arguably the single strongest being in the Valiant Universe, we have ideas that could challenge, or even change that. Valiant has put a great amount of trust in us to do right by their flagship character, and to my mind, that means taking some chances.
Cloonan: While the X-O suit is a big part of who Aric is, it does not define him - he came to the armor as a fully realized (if maybe a little damaged) person. I think anyone can relate to the burden of responsibility, and the stress that results from it. Aric feels this pressure but on a massive scale. How much power can one person wield while still maintaining their humanity? Can you endeavor to define yourself apart from it? At what point does duty become an albatross around your neck?
Nrama: This series is said to both embrace Aric's history and take him in a new direction. What is the key to striking that balance?
Cloonan: I'm a big fan of history, especially the harrowing, widely undocumented period after the fall of Rome - so naturally when X-O Manowar was in front of us, the obvious thing was to dig through Aric's past for a key to his future. Being a Visigoth has been so important to his character, and it's very exciting to bring that element of him front and center in a way that feels new and moves his story forward.
We've also gone a little bonkers with world-building, which has been a ridiculous amount of fun. I can't wait to see how Liam brings it all to light - I'm giddy just at the thought!
Conrad: I've been reading X-O Manowar, essentially, since the beginning. I've been on the same ride many readers have, loving most of it, while other stories weren't exactly for me. The character kept me around, even when I felt like Aric was being portrayed in a way that didn't entirely click for me, I would find the stuff I loved and focus on those bits. Now, I hope to shine a bright light on those elements I love, while not treading on old ground.
In researching X-O, we believe we've found a whole world of ideas to explore. We kicked around some wild ideas with our editor Rob Levin, and for this first story arc we've struck a really good balance. We seek to reinvigorate and enhance X-O rather than reinvent. We want to elevate the character without negating the incredible legacy of stories that came before.
Unconquered is a love letter to the character, but also to the fans who have kept everyone's favorite Visigoth in the mix for 30-plus years. Come November, Becky, myself, and Liam are going to take you on a really incredible, violent, and surreal journey. Unconquered is everything you love about comics.
And finally, we caught up with Jon Davis-Hunt and Deniz Camp, who are writing and drawing Bloodshot: Unleashed, respectively. Following the film adaptation starring Vin Diesel, the character of Bloodshot enters a new era of Valiant storytelling not just because of the new threats he'll be facing, but because Unleashed will be the first Valiant comic aimed at mature readers.
Nrama: Jon, Bloodshot Unleashed is billed as Bloodshot's first mature readers' series. What does that mean, besides R-Rated gore and language?
Jon Davis-Hunt: From a visual perspective, the mature rating really lets us ramp up the visceral and kinetic elements of the action scenes. It has allowed us to be really creative, not simply to ‘shock' the reader, but more to choreograph moments and set-pieces that you simply couldn't normally do in a book. Deniz and I have had great fun trying to think up things we can do to Bloodshot (poor guy) to take advantage of that, and (hopefully) it gives readers something they haven't seen before.
Tonally though, I think the mature rating also works in the quieter, character moments. We get to see how some pretty horrific stuff affects both Bloodshot and the many foes (and allies) he encounters. Deniz has written the book with lots of moments that pack some considerable punch, physically and emotionally.
Nrama: Tell us about designing the antagonists of this series. They seem to be super-soldiers in a similar vein to Bloodshot himself, did you take inspiration from his design to create them?
Davis-Hunt: When I worked on the Shadowman relaunch, I was really trying (along with Cullen Bunn) to design a superhero that was firmly set in a world of horror. With Bloodshot, it's the same kind of thing, but with the horror elements substituted for a gritty, militaristic world. I've really tried to lean into that and create antagonists where the design elements are based on contemporary military weapons and equipment.
Deniz has come up with some fantastic concepts for the foes. In many cases, they kind of riff on some of the more absurd concepts from the 80s and 90s. We've tried to take those and apply a sort of contemporary, practical twist to them. That in turn has led to some really interesting action sequences against a wide range of bad guys. I can't say too much about the new characters because "spoilers," but we've got some really cool moments in there.
We also wanted to try and get as much action into each issue as possible, without sacrificing any of the character work, so I've tried to come up with a kind of ‘condensed' approach to the action scenes, with high panel pages and multiple action beats on each page. I'm a big fan of European comics where panel counts can traditionally be far higher and by borrowing some of those elements and combining them with the more R-rated action for this Bloodshot run, I think it gives the book a really unique feel, and visual quality, which I hope the fans will enjoy. It's certainly been a total blast to work on.
Nrama: Deniz, what is Bloodshot up to at the beginning of this series? We know he's going to be hunting down some living weapons, but where do we find him before that?
Deniz Camp: Bloodshot's in a pretty low place when the series starts off. Like many of us, he's been through a lot lately and it's taken a toll. He's got this complicated relationship with violence; there's a part of him that wants nothing more than a little peace, a quiet life in the woods with his family. But he was literally made for war. Destruction and death are woven into the warp and weft of him. It's really only in a fight that he feels at peace.
That leaves him conflicted and confused, like a lot of soldiers coming back from war.
Nrama: We're told that Bloodshot is going to wrestle with eliminating or redeeming these killers. What does redemption look like to him, and what makes him want to offer it?
Camp: Each "spent shell" has a different story and different motivations, and Bloodshot will deal with them each differently. Some of them are totally irredeemable monsters, others have a lot of remorse for what they did, and still others were imprisoned for refusing to go far enough. All of them are potentially dangerous out in the world, even if they don't mean to be.
I think in all of them, though, Bloodshot sees himself. The best villains/antagonists are distorted reflections and "what ifs...?" of the protagonist, and that's true here. In trying to help them, he's really trying to help himself.
They're also an attempt to expand Bloodshot's rogues' gallery a bit. Every issue will feature a new living weapon. Jon, Helen Davis-Hunt [co-designer], Jordie [Bellaire, colorist], Rob [Levin, executive editor], Audrey [Meeker, assistant editor] and I are all working together to create a diverse array of antagonists, each with distinctive looks, strange powers, and rich psychologies. Through them, we'll wrestle some of the ideas at the core of Bloodshot's character. I use the term "wrestle" very intentionally because it's going to get violent.
Valiant is one of the publishers Newsarama lists in our best non-Marvel, non-DC superhero universes. But where does it land? And who else is on the list?