Created by writer Christopher Priest and artist Mark Bright in 1994, “Quantum and Woody” was a staple of the Acclaim incarnation of the Valiant Universe. The series followed the grown-up adventures of Eric Henderson and Woodrow Van Chelton, estranged childhood friends who reluctantly reunited following their fathers’ deaths. Adopting the pseudonyms Quantum and…well, Woody, the duo worked to solve the murder mystery and sported metal gauntlets that had to be slammed together every 24 hours, lest their atoms break apart.
On July 10, Valiant Entertainment relaunches “Quantum and Woody” under the guiding hands of writer James Asmus and artist Tom Fowler who, along with with colorist Jordie Bellaire, plan to bring their own brand of humor to the reincarnated fan-favorite characters. While there are a few changes to the title’s premise, including making Quantum and Woody brothers rather than friends, the core concept of “The World’s Worst Superhero Team” remains the same. Fans will see a preview of the series in “Harbinger Wars” #1, and the debut issue features covers by Ryan Sook, Marcos Martin and Andrew Robinson, not to mention a QR Voice Variant Cover featuring the goat.
CBR News spoke with Valiant CEO and Chief Creative Officer Dinesh Shamdasani about what the relaunch means for fans of Priest and Bright’s original series, and to Asmus about his plans for the title, including how his comedy background came into play when pitching for the gig, the humor inherent in the characters, his respect for the original “Quantum and Woody” series and his massive plans for the goat.
CBR News: Dinesh, more than most characters and their creators, “Quantum and Woody” are associated with Priest and Bright, with Priest on record as saying that he’d want to come back to the characters if possible. Did you reach out to either of them during Valiant’s discussion of bringing the series back?
Dinesh Shamdasani: “Quantum and Woody” has an incredible fan base for a reason, and both Chris Priest and Mark Bright are integral to that. We’re huge fans of theirs and have been talking to them for years about a bunch of different projects — most recently one that I’m super excited about. The goal for us, though, was — we were very focused on what James Asmus and Jody LeHeup, who is the editor on “Quantum and Woody,” and Tom Fowler and colorist Jordie Bellaire have been doing on the version of the book joining the new Valiant Universe. Our focus has been there.
We have a couple things up in the air with Chris, and we’re pulling to circle back and solidify them now that we have the new series up and running in a place we’re happy about.
Priest mentioned on his blog that there are a number of unseen issues of “Quantum and Woody” that were never released. Now that Valiant has started to roll out some of the older issues on comiXology and considering this new series has been announced, are there plans to make use of that older, unreleased material?
Shamdasani: You know what, they’re really, really great issues. We’ve all read them in the office and we love them. We’ve thrown around a number of really cool ideas for them. There are a couple issues as well that are in various stages of production. Let me put it this way — I mentioned we were talking to Chris about an exciting project, and it’s very similar to what we’re talking about right now. So yeah, we have big plans for those.
On a separate note, is Valiant looking to revive any other Acclaim-era titles? Is “Quantum and Woody” a jumping-off point to look specifically at that era?
Shamdasani: Best idea wins, man. Look at comiXology and you’ll see we put up a bunch of the Acclaim books. “Trinity Angels” came out recently, “Quantum and Woody” is there and it’s been doing gangbusters in terms of people jumping on. “The Grackle” is up there, “Armed and Dangerous” is another one we love. It’s really about what makes the most sense with the universe and where we’re at with it.
James, first off, it’s incredibly exciting to see “Quantum and Woody” on Valiant’s modern publishing slate. What’s the core concept behind the series and how much does it deviate from the original?
James Asmus: The core concept is definitely the same in our version, which is two wildly mismatched guys who grew up essentially as brothers from different mothers who have now, in the wake of their father’s death, caused a whole world of trouble for themselves. This includes gaining powers they can’t understand or control and bumbling their way into becoming superheroes to bring the people behind their father’s death to justice. It ends up playing like a crazy mash-up between buddy cop comedies and classic street-level superhero action/science-fiction.
How familiar were you with the series before coming on? Were you a fan of the original?
Asmus: I had only seen it a couple times in my youth, but actually picked it up more recently when it was recommended to me based on other stuff I had written. Some people had drawn my attention to it and I tracked down a couple issues and really loved it; the character-based humor rather than cheap gags or poorly-placed one-off jokes, the fact that the humor in this is the same thing that’s driving the story — the conflict between these guys — the odd couple pairing played up against the fact that they have a history together and they actually do love each other. It’s not as easy to walk away from each other despite the fact they are an inch away from strangling the other guy.
While you may not be known exclusively for it in comics, you have a lot of experience in comedy. You’re part of Hey You Millionaires, you’ve written comedic plays, you teach sketch comedy and stand-up. Considering the humor inherent in the original “Quantum and Woody,” how much of that experience came into play for your pitch?
Asmus: I’d like to think it’s a part of why Valiant came to me in the first place, as one of the various writers they gave a shot at trying to tackle or submit something for this book. I had a ball putting it together. Going back and re-reading the original series, I totally get the humor for it. Like I said, it does have great jokes and gags, but so much of it comes from the characters. That is my favorite kind of humor — when it’s really motivated by the neuroses, the flaws and the specificities of who the characters are. I felt like I was able to key into what the original DNA of the book’s humor was and definitely, I tried to modernize it.
There are a few things that play a bit dated, but you can see what that is. Frankly, for me personally, I’m thrilled to be working on a book that lets me cut loose with that part of my brain, running wild with it. Certainly superhero comics that we love have a degree of bizarre to them, whether it’s the powers or the villainous plots, and to me, adding a little humor into that allows you to crank things up a bit more and get more unexpected or wilder. I think it helps for people who aren’t crazy into superheroes. The humor helps bring you along in the way that humor in “Ghostbusters” brings in people who wouldn’t otherwise watch a movie about ghosts. I hope that people who read comics but aren’t into superheroes might actually see this as a friendly, welcoming, wild and entertaining version of it.
One of the aspects that you mentioned was reconciling the superhero elements inherent in comics with humor and bringing it out more to reach a new audience. What has it been like for you to do that? It’s not really something you’ve had a major opportunity to do in your mainstream comics work thus far.
Asmus: I’ve certainly always tried to inject a degree of humor into the comics I write, which is partially because it makes sense to me about how I deal with the world; I tend to put that on my characters. I definitely feel humor is another piece of the entertainment value I can deliver to the audience. Especially in a book like this, I think — like I was saying — when much of the humor comes from who the characters are, it’s not really difficult to reconcile having it in there because it’s a part of their motivation.
I would say the difference is when the character is the joke rather than when they tell jokes, it’s actually very easy to include it in the story. If you’re in a life-and-death situation and your character has to constantly crack one-liners, that’s difficult to do. In the case of Woody, that’s the type of person he is, but if you’re trying to write a book where everyone makes jokes in the face of death, it seems disingenuous. In this case, to have humor come out of how intense but sometimes bumbling Quantum can be in the face of a ridiculous situation, he becomes the joke because something around him is silly. If they are in a life-or-death scenario with a goat, the absurdity rings true to us as readers — we can laugh at it, even though it’s the most dire consequence for the characters. In that way, when it comes to character motivation, having them play it straight and care about these life-or-death situations that on the outside have an element of comedy or absurdity doesn’t upset the story; it just enhances both sides of it. The characters get to really invest in the stakes and it gets sillier and more dangerous to the readers.
I’ve gotten the chance to look at some of the art by Tom Fowler, which is pretty slick. One of the story devices from the original series that still seems to be in play is the all-black panels that served as “Pulp Fiction”-like title cards for different sections of the book. What was the impetus to go ahead and keep that structure?
Asmus: I really liked those in the original as another stylistic identifier, one of many things that made this book truly unique. I’m a fan of that and wanted to keep it. There’s a lot of stuff I truly love about the original that I wanted to keep inherent in the DNA of what we were doing. Obviously, we’re starting fresh. We’re telling the story in a new way, in a wholly-contemporary sensibility, but there’s a lot of really great aspects and ideas to what Priest had done that I’d be a fool to not take advantage of. That’s just one of those cool, unique signifiers for the book.
Now that you’ve had the opportunity to see Tom’s pages, what about his work do you think is best suited to the story that you hope to tell?
Asmus: His art is incredibly expressive. He has all the cool energy, great stylistic action that you want from a sci-fi/action superhero comic book. Going beyond that, he does an incredible job of delivering the emotion, nuance and the specificity of the characters. That’s always the number one thing I hope for in audiences that I work with — people who can sell the acting of the character. When I script things, every panel tends to have emotional direction for the characters and there’s a depressing number of artists out there who do great work but draw every character with a closed-mouth or static face. Tom is on the opposite end of that spectrum. His characters are so alive and human. That really lets them sell the character’s comedy, but also the pathos or the horror. Every other emotion we’re going to run these guys through without losing any of the badass dynamics of the action sequences.
This obviously isn’t the first duo you’ve written; you’ve had experience writing “Captain America and Bucky” for Marvel — do you see Quantum and Woody as a cohesive team or are they — to use the phrase from the original series — the world’s worst superhero team?
Asmus: [Laughs] Well, I think their relationship is definitely a unique one. The joy of the series will be watching them go from being totally disparate and at each other’s throats to seeing how — and if — they can come together to work as a functioning superhero duo. These guys have a shared past, but they really don’t have an easy relationship. That’s where so much of the fun comes in for me as a writer. It is joyfully specific and I love that it’s not some sort of echo of some other characters that already exist out there in someone else’s universe. Quantum and Woody really feel distinct. They have a tight-knit, very defined relationship, which makes every scenario you put them into rich with possibilities and banter in ways these two can just play and explode off each other in different directions. From a writing standpoint, it’s thrilling to have this much to work with in their relationship. It’s more fun than if they were a well-established team in terms of working together. It’s the problems inherent in their relationship that make it exciting.
One of the strengths of the Valiant relaunch titles is their ability to stand alone while still being a clear part of a greater whole. For something like “Quantum and Woody,” which has a somewhat disparate tone, how have you worked to make sure that it still works within the framework of the Valiant Universe?
Asmus: I wanted to make sure the story’s set entirely in the “real world.” All of the Valiant Universe as it pans out is really grounded. You can truly see it’s not some obtuse, inaccessible fantasy world. It feels very textured and grounded in a way similar to our world. That’s definitely the setting things spring out from. I just have an opportunity for our characters and through their powers and their own idiosyncratic flaws, they really agitate things into the crazier direction. You can see from the bystanders, the civilians, the cops and everyone they interact with that we are still firmly planted in the same universe as all those other people. It really is the idiocy of these two and where they take things that send us careening down more comedic paths.
The original “Quantum and Woody” were developed during the Acclaim years of Valiant, and it’s one of the titles that fans remember most fondly from that era, associating it with the original creative team. Coming on to this book, is the pressure there to meet the expectations that fans of the original series inevitably have?
Asmus: Oh sure! Truthfully, I have a lot of respect for what that book was — especially the first year that’s particularly strong and thoughtful. All I can do is target the things I think were rewarding and important from it. It was funny, but it also had a real intelligence, it had a real heart, it had definitely some thoughtful commentary and some great, crazy action. As long as I target those priorities and hit them as hard and creatively as I can, I think that is doing a great tribute and service to the fans of “Quantum and Woody.” I feel great about what we’ve come up with so far and the team around me is delivering on those fronts. Almost everything I’ve worked on is something that came before me. It’s characters who have been written by someone else before I came onto the comic, so I feel like I’ve already learned how to honor certain things and how to invent fresh. If I only tried to imitate someone else, no one would end up happy.
Wrapping up, how much of a priority was it to include the goat in the series?
Asmus: I don’t think it was everyone’s number one priority — because we wanted to make sure the guys and their relationship was rock-solid — but easily the goat’s in the top three. [Laughs] Not only did I actually find a very natural place in my story to bring him in, I have a very specific idea for where I want to go and what we want to reveal about the goat, ultimately. I’m really gung-ho to get there and we have big goat plans.