It may already be the middle of February, but the vast majority of 2014 is still stretched out before us, a blank unspoiled canvas glistening with hope like freshly fallen snow. It’s a time for new beginnings, and starting today, Valiant Comics is about to embark on one of their biggest, newest beginnings yet: the Valiant First initiative.
Beginning this May, Valiant will add a slew of brand new books starting at #1 to their already impressive slate, creating a wealth of opportunities for readers new and old to enter the Valiant Universe. The onslaught of new titles begins with May’s release of Rai #1, a brand new series from writer Matt Kindt (Mind MGMT, Unity) with fully painted interiors from artist Clayton Crain (X-Force), and continues all the way through September with talented creators like Joshua Dysart, Jen Van Meter, Fred Van Lente, Robert Venditti, Doug Braithwaite, Kano, and many more lending their considerable talents to the project. Don’t expect any New 52-style sensory overload, though; Even with the Valiant First titles, Valiant will still only be putting out around nine books per month, a move which they’re hoping will pay dividends.
Given the mammoth size and scope of Valiant First, we decided to blow it out ourselves, so interspersed with the initial slate of books and their official descriptions, you’ll find exclusive artwork and interviews with Matt Kindt, Valiant CEO Dinesh Shamdasani, and Executive Editor Warren Simons. So, get ready to see what’s coming your way this May:
RAI #1 (May)
Written by Matt Kindt (Unity, Mind MGMT); Art by Clayton Crain (X-Force, Carnage)
A VALIANT FIRST ongoing series! Matt Kindt and Clayton Crain are about to prove that there is nothing else in comics like RAI!
In the far future of 4001 A.D., Japan is a single endless city-state, governed by a benevolent artificial intelligence and policed by an army of just one – the mysterious Rai, spirit guardian of the rising sun. But, soon, a single bullet will shatter the peace it has taken 2,000 years to secure…
To take you deeper into the world of Rai, we caught up with series writer Matt Kindt to give you an idea of what to expect from the brand new sci-fi samurai series.
Nerdist: What has been the best part about sinking your teeth into the Valiant Universe so far?
Matt Kindt: Well, basically getting handed the keys to Valiant’s Ferrari with the Unity series was exciting. It’s nice to just walk into the office and get handed their biggest book. And to their credit they had full confidence in me and let me put my finger prints all over it. But getting to launch Rai is probably my favorite part. I’ve been working on this for quite a while — it’s taken a lot more work than any other title I’ve worked on, because I’m basically being asked to reboot and imagine an entire new world set in the year 4001. So there is a TON of world building that needs to be done. Every aspect needs to be thought out. What is Japan like? What is Earth going to be like? I re-read all of the old Rai comics and there were just a ton of great ideas in there so the hardest part was to figure out what to use and what to focus on. It’s comparatively easy to start a series set in present day on Earth. You don’t have to worry about how the government works or the police or how society conducts itself. The reader brings that knowledge into the book automatically. But with the year 4001 all of that needs to be at least thought about even if it doesn’t make it onto the actual pages. Crime and entertainment and politics need to be figured out ahead of time so the world seems real. It’s not just giant robots and see-through plastic clothes and energy weapons. We have that, but that won’t come off realistically unless the other stuff is figured out as well.
N: A lot can change in 1,987 years. What sort of madness and mayhem can we expect from Rai?
MK: I can’t even begin to describe it. I’ve been working on the background and ideas for this for half a year — just dumping everything I can think of into this. It’s the year 4001, so I was able to really just dream up a LOT of crazy things. Issue 1 is so crammed with information and cool stuff, but that’s probably 1% of what I mapped out. That’s going to be the beauty of this series. It starts out really up close with a simple story and then gradually pulls back and back and back to reveal this large tapestry that’s going to take on a mythical scale. I’ve never written anything like this before. It’s literally epic in scale. And I’ve got to say that in my scripts — they are way more detailed than usual to sort of paint this picture of the future, and Clayton Crain (the artist) took that script and really ran with it. It’s some of the most amazing pages I’ve ever seen. He’s kept the story-telling qualities of comics, but he’s put the detail in there that really makes the world seem real.
N: Also, how much do we need to pay you to get you to do some watercolor variant covers?
MK: Ha! My standard rate will do!
Here’s an exclusive sneak peek at Clayton Crain’s artwork for Rai.
Click to expand the thumbnails below.
ARMOR HUNTERS #1 (June)
Written by Robert Venditti (X-O Manowar, Green Lantern); Art by Doug Braithwaite (Unity, Justice)
A Valiant Universe crossover event! This summer, Earth will be the greatest hunt of all when VALIANT FIRST unleashes the first issue of 2014’s must-read mini-series event!
A relentless and surgical strike team from the farthest reaches of space – sworn to exterminate the X-O Manowar armor and all like it – have found finally their last target. They will hunt. They will trap. They will kill. And they will rid the universe of the X-O Manowar’s incalculable destructive power…even if it means taking the Earth with it.
In the tradition of the universe-changing HARBINGER WARS, Valiant’s biggest heroes launch into the summer’s blockbuster 18-issue crossover event right here in ARMOR HUNTERS #1 – and then take the fight to the world’s first full-scale cosmic threat with new arcs of UNITY and X-O MANOWAR beginning in June, and ARMOR HUNTERS: BLOODSHOT and ARMOR HUNTERS: HARBINGER beginning in July!
Launching a brand new series is a Herculean feat unto itself; to launch 6 in 6 months seems Sisyphean. Still, the fine folks at Valiant don’t seem phased by the tall order in front of them. Rather, they are excited to unleash a whole new wave of comics on their readers. To give you a better sense of where the Valiant First initiative came from, what readers can expect, and the challenges involved from a publishing perspective, I spoke with Valiant CEO/Chief Creative Officer Dinesh Shamdasani and Executive Editor Warren Simons.
Nerdist: What is the impetus behind Valiant First? What’s the biggest challenge in launching six/seven new titles?
Dinesh Shamdasani: Valiant First really grew out of what we’d been hearing from fans. We’d go to conventions, talk to them in stores, read their letters, and time after time they would all tell us the same thing. They’d tell us they were so excited by books and our stories that when they went to get their comics, the Valiant books would be the ones they picked up first. That when they sat down to read, they’d read Valiant first. Valiant First is, more than anything, about giving readers a new, clear way to jump into Valiant Comics every month this year, and about making sure that new issue #1 is the best comic they’ve read that month!
It’s really pretty crazy what we’re doing. We’ve had the most successful new publisher launch in decades, but here we are rebuilding almost everything from the ground up. I think most people, in our shoes, wouldn’t touch a thing. They’d stick with what’s working. But we see a great opportunity to take our storytelling to the next level in 2014, and show what we can really do. That’s what we’re focused on with Valiant First, and Rai kicking it off in May is exactly the right book to lead the way. Rai is going to blow people away. Everyone who’s already seen Clayton Crain’s incredible art is head over heels in love with it, and you can’t help but get excited by the premise of a energy sword wielding future samurai warrior who single-handily protects an entire nation from giant robot attacks. But it’s Matt Kindt’s story that’s going to really set the book apart. He’s doing such incredible work on the book. Take a look at how great his first arc on Unity is, and you’ll see what an exceptional creative talent he is. His vision for the future, for instance, is like nothing you’ve seen before. Absolutely crazy stuff. He’s taking full advantage of the fact that Rai isn’t set in the near future but 2,000 years in the future. Far beyond anything we can predict.
Warren Simons: Our goal with Valiant First is to continue to tell the best character-driven, action packed stories in the industry while evolving our universe and keeping the titles accessible to new readers. We’ve got several titles coming up that really take the Valiant Universe in directions its never gone before that we are all totally stoked about. The biggest challenge is really one we’ve set ourselves, because we’re taking the whole playbook and throwing it out. We’re shaking up the status quo and doing what we’ve set out to do from the beginning: we’re innovating, taking risks and telling great stories. We’ re going to show readers things they’ve never seen before, each groundbreaking and a Valiant first.
ARMOR HUNTERS: BLOODSHOT #1 (July)
Written by Joe Harris (The X-Files: Season 10); Art by Trevor Hairsine (X-Men: Deadly Genesis)
The most dangerous weapon in the Valiant Universe has come in from the cold. With Earth under siege by the Armor Hunters, Bloodshot is the only thing standing between the destruction of the extraterrestrial intelligence agency known as MERO and the liberation of one of the Armor Hunters’ own.
Nerdist: Obviously, this is partially designed to bring new readers into the fold. What about these Valiant First titles makes them stand apart in an increasingly crowded comics market?
Dinesh Shamdasani: We’re focused on making the quality of our stories the factor that sets us apart. And that’s no easy task in today’s market. There’s an incredibly high bar being set by every publisher. But we’re determined to set one even higher, and not just with one title or one issue a week but with every issue of every title we put out. So that readers can feel confident that when they pick up a Valiant comic, at any point in the story, they’re going to get a great experience. And managing the quality of each issue is is one of the reasons we’re continuing to keep our publishing line small. Even with all the exciting new Valiant First titles, you won’t see us cross 10 titles a month.
We’re starting to develop a reputation as exciting storytellers, and we’re planning on continuing to nurture that reputation with every release. Dare I say it, with Valiant First we hope to exceed it. We’ll be taking even more risks this year. I’m incredibly excited about The Death-Defying Dr. Mirage. It’s full of epic action and high adventure but it’s also, really just an old school, stuff of legends, love story. It’s one we’ve been itching to tell for a while now and I can’t wait for people to read it.
Warren Simons: We’ll have new faces you haven’t seen before and we’ll be showing familiar faces in new ways. We’ve shown a glimpse of it before, but in Rai you’ll see the Valiant Universe of the 41st century, and seeing what it means to be a superhero in a world that’s been completely transformed by the march of time and progress. Matt has taken this title and gone with it in directions that we never would have expected, and it’s going to be tremendous. And we’ll be following up on the heels of that with Armor Hunters, and Robert Venditti taking Aric and showing that when he stole the armor he set in motion some things that he never intended. We’re also opening up a new side of our universe, one that taps into the existing stories while also completely reinventing them. It’s super ambitious and exciting for us upstairs at Valiant HQ, and I can’t wait to see the response.
ARMOR HUNTERS: HARBINGER #1 (July)
Written by Joshua Dysart (Harbinger Wars); Art by Robert Gill (Batgirl)
Because you demanded it! Out of the ashes of Harbinger Wars, the volatile psiot strike force known as Generation Zero step into their very first adventure – and right into the crosshairs of the Armor Hunters!
Nerdist: Many of your series have begun to cross over and bleed in to one another, to spectacular results. Will these new Valiant First titles take place in the primary Valiant Universe or will some be stand-alones?
Dinesh Shamdasani: One of the things that our fans get most excited about is the larger tapestry that we’re weaving with the books. If you’re reading all the Valiant titles you see intricacies that aren’t apparent individually. You may find yourself learning that the villain in Unity is actually the hero of his own story, and that when you see his actions through the lens of his experiences you come to understand, possibly even accept his choices. But while those deepening character complexities can be incredibly engaging, each title is first and foremost painstakingly built as a stand alone story. Each story we tell needs to not only be accessible to new readers but be exciting to them as well. We stay away from telling the kinds of insular stories that are only about past stories we’ve told. You can jump onto any Valiant title, any Valiant new arc, any Valiant zero issue without knowing anything about Valiant.
Armor Hunters is a great example! While we’re absolutely going to blow the minds of everyone who has already been reading X-O Manowar with the Armor Hunters crossover – and I mean literally, they won’t know what hit them when they find out the true origins of the X-O Manowar armor – we’re working even harder to make sure that Armor Hunters is as mind blowing an experience to readers who have no idea who any of the characters are. As long as you love giant Jack Kirby-inspired death robots, of course.
Warren Simons: Seeing what happens when two completely different characters from different books come together, team up and fight, not necessarily in that order, is one of the real joys of working in a shared superhero universe. And it’s something we’ve had a real blast with in Unity and Harbinger Wars and are looking forward to doing on a really larger scale with Armor Hunters, our first universe wide event. But like all of our books, our Valiant First titles will be a part of our universe but built to stand on their own.
THE DELINQUENTS #1 (August)
Written by Fred Van Lente (Marvel Zombies) & James Asmus (Thief of Thieves); Art by Kano (Gotham Central)
It’s the world’s worst team-up when Archer & Armstrong meet Quantum and Woody! We apologize in advance for what can only be described as a swashbuckling, conspiracy-smashing, partner-trading, goat-fueled race across the USA!
Nerdist: Matt Kindt seems to be leading the charge for you guys with Bloodshot, Unity, and now Rai. I’m a huge Kindt fan myself, but what excites you guys about Kindt as a writer?
Warren Simons: Matt Kindt is a brilliant writer and an absolutely awesome guy to work with. And as you can tell from Mind MGMT and Unity, he’s an idea machine. When I read Mind MGMT, it absolutely blew me away. When we asked Matt to pitch for Unity and Rai, what he turned in, the directions he took these characters in, was like nothing we’d seen. Having him and the exceptionally talented Robert Venditti working together is a real treat, and the teams are pulling out all the stops for Valiant First.
Dinesh Shamdasani: To be completely honest, I’m not entirely familiar with this MATT Kindt fellow. Warren seems to like him well enough I guess. His brother JEFF Kindt on the other hand – LOVE his work. There’s a talent! Read everything he’s ever done.
You know, we tried to get him to come over and write something for us…but, well, he said no. Must be busy.
THE DEATH-DEFYING DR. MIRAGE #1 (September)
Written by Jen Van Meter (Hopeless Savages); Art by Roberto de la Torre (Daredevil)
World-renowned parapsychologist Dr. Mirage and her husband Hwen were madly, deeply, stuff-of-legends in love – until the day a tragic accident stole Hwen away. Now, Dr, Mirage will have to use every ounce of her training and talents in the mystic arts to do the one thing Hwen taught her never to do – journey across the realms of Deadside and bring her love back to the land of the living.
That’s all she wrote, folks. Well, at least until May, that is. What do you make of this news? Which Valiant First title are you most excited for? Sound off in the comments below or tell me on Twitter.