Since its relaunch, Valiant Entertainment‘s line has, for the most part, been pretty serious. Whether it’s the violence of “Bloodshot,” the man-out-of-time conflict in “X-O Manowar” or the moral decisions in “Harbinger,” Valiant rarely gets to show its humorous side. However, in the spirit of humor and in anticipation of “Bloodshot’s” retitling as “Bloodshot and H.A.R.D. Corps” in the wake of “Harbinger Wars,” the publisher has announced a “Who Will Lead the H.A.R.D. Corps” back-up story to run in its July issues. The 5-page stories by the “Skullkickers” creative team of writer Jim Zub and artist Edwin Huang with colorist Dave McCaig explore the interview process of finding a leader for the H.A.R.D. Corps, mining the depths of the Valiant Universe for appropriate candidates — including “Shadowman’s” Master Darque and Quantum from “Quantum and Woody.”
CBR News spoke with Jim Zub and Valiant editor Jody LeHeup about the conception of the backup story, the potential of a similar look at the inner workings of the Valiant Universe in the future, adapting the usually serious Valiant characters for humor and the intense application process to be considered for the job of H.A.R.D. Corps leader.
CBR News: Conceptually, how did editorial develop the story concept of job interviews for the leader of the H.A.R.D. Corps?
Jody LeHeup: As you may or may not be aware, we’re developing a book called “Bloodshot & H.A.R.D. Corps,” coming out as part of our Summer of Valiant with Christos Gage and Josh Dysart writing the book and Emanuela Lupacchino doing the art. They’re putting together a fantastic story, some beautiful, beautiful art — it’s going to be a lot of fun. It’s a very serious book. There’s a lot of violence as you’ve come to expect from a book like “Bloodshot.” So, we thought that as a way to spread the word about the book, we’d have a little fun with the characters and the concept and make a little fun of ourselves — do something funny with a great writer. Jim immediately came to mind. He’s an outstanding writer, he’s very, very funny, and we thought it would be a great idea to get him and his “Skullkickers” collaborator Edwin Huang to do the pieces.
Jim Zub: Jody contacted me — we’d been talking earlier about other potential stuff and then this little project came to mind and Jody gave me a call. He told me he wanted to do something a little more lighthearted. The majority of the Valiant books are serious, but that doesn’t mean they’re not fun, that you can’t have fun with it. He said the initial source for the idea they had was — something like H.A.R.D. Corps is a very crazy concept, where you’ve got this very take-no-prisoners strike force. They wondered what it takes to get involved with something like that. How would you get a job doing something like that? I kind of spring boarded off of that and came up with this idea for the interview process to be the leader of H.A.R.D. Corps. It didn’t take long before we were able to come up with a series of these little, short vignettes of the interview process. It’s fun stuff because we get to run through a nice selection and variety of Valiant characters, some of which are appropriate, some of which are wonderfully inappropriate, how they fail the interview process and how Bloodshot succeeds over his competition. [Laughs]
Jim, you and Edwin are well-known for your humor in “Skullkickers.” What was it like adapting and channeling that humor into the Valiant Universe?
Zub: Although we’ve got a certain rhythm that we work with on “Skullkickers” for the types of gags we do, a lot of that stuff was planned out pretty far in advance. This was a neat way to switch up our approach and go, “Okay, these aren’t characters we’ve created.” These are characters that I’ve obviously never written. I’ve read some of the Valiant stuff and I really like it. I’ve been reading quite regularly on “Shadowman,” I’ve been reading “Archer & Armstrong,” which I think is actually fantastic and a nice mix of fun and action. Also “X-O Manowar” because it’s being drawn by Cary [Nord], my friend. I’d been following the books, but other than “Archer & Armstrong” and of course the upcoming “Quantum and Woody,” I hadn’t really thought of them as funny books. When Jody said, “Actually, we do want to poke some fun at ourselves and have some fun with this idea. What comes to mind?” I said, “Let’s take an alternate view of this.” In any kind of comedy situation, you’ve got the straight man, you’ve got the goof — so which characters are going to take this possibly too seriously, which characters are going to take it far less seriously, which characters can we push and pull different comedic elements out of?
We ended up coming up with this format that always starts the same and then you see each character — the interview process is pretty standardized, so that they can compare applicants. How would someone answer a standard series of questions if you’re X-O Manowar and you don’t even know necessarily what the modern world is all about, let alone the business interview process. Just things like that, being able to push and pull and play with people’s expectations of who these characters are and how they would act in this bizarre scenario.
From your viewpoint, since these applicants are coming in for a job interview, what’s the application process like to be considered for the position of H.A.R.D. Corps leader?
Zub: That was one of the things we needed to figure out, because if you’re some secret society or a government agency, how do you sit people down and talk to them seriously about the types of things they’re going to do? How do you get them to speak about their own qualities — whether it’s qualities as a killer or qualities as a leader or qualities as someone who can keep a secret. I can’t even imagine that in real life. I can’t imagine the interview process for the C.I.A. where you’re talking about world-changing kind of stuff. It does lend itself to this sarcastic, parody element where it’s so serious or so over-the-top that it almost pushes itself beyond belief. It’s hard to imagine how anyone would get these jobs or what sort of process you would go through to get that kind of job. If someone says to you, “Hey, we’re going to lead this squad of murderers who go in and destroy whole areas when nothing else will do. What makes you the most qualified person to lead this arsenal of murderers?” It’s kind of fascinating in that way. We play it on all ends of the field, where some of the applicants are looking at this as an opportunity to improve themselves or make themselves bigger than they previously are. Some of them are just confused they’ve been called in the first place, some of them think this is going to be a great way to make some money — just the whole spectrum. It was really fun to play with.
How did you decide which characters to use for the applicants?
LeHeup: I think there was a little bit of an idea of some characters off the bat that I thought could be fun to use for this particular story. But it was a collaborative process. I’d kick it over to Jim and ask what he thought, he liked some of those choices and had all the ideas in terms of what he did with the characters. We batted it around until we found some characters we thought could really, really work and have some good concepts for each of the shorts. Jim just knocked it out of the park.
Zub: The only one that I said we had to have was someone from “Quantum and Woody” — preferably the goat.
Zub: If I get to use the goat, then I’m good.
This is a relatively short introduction to the Valiant Universe for you, but it definitely seems like this is the kind of thing readers might want to see more of. Do you have any future plans to keep up with this behind-the-scenes look at the workings of Valiant?
Zub: I’d be happy to. I think what’s cool about it is that now that Valiant has had some time to really establish themselves and establish their new take on the universe — and a cohesive one at that — I think what’s impressed me the most is how consistent the Valiant books have been artistically and in terms of plot and storyline. I think they’ve done a good job of establishing their brand and establishing the types of story they want to do. With things like “Quantum and Woody” and these short backups, they’re saying, “Hey, we can broaden ourselves with a bit more humor. We’re willing to poke fun at ourselves.” It doesn’t all have to be serious.
Not that I’m against serious storytelling by any means. I have serious stories to tell as well. I know people know me for “Skullkickers” and banter-centric or jokey kind of material, but I’m up for both ends of the spectrum. But yeah, obviously if it goes over well and if people have fun with it, it’d be cool to dig in and do some more of the inner workings of what makes the world run. You look at the series Marvel did called “Damage Control,” which looked at the goofy idea of what happens when people destroy all those buildings in the superhero fights. I find that kind of thing fun, when you take a different glance at the same-old, same-old. I think that can be very amusing and engaging.
Edwin really nailed the look and feel of the Valiant characters while bringing his own style to it. Jim, you’ve obviously had experience working with Edwin before. How easy was it to collaborate on a non-creator-owned project with Valiant?
Zub: I mean, Edwin’s a killer talent. He’s still really young and with every issue we do together, I see his skills growing and his natural sense of pacing and storytelling kick into gear. He is so skilled, there’s no other way of putting it. His grasp of posing and staging and expressions, both in terms of character expressions and body language — he’s a real talent. I’m very, very fortunate to be working with him on “Skullkickers” and I know that pretty much anything he works on, he puts his all into it. He can deliver the goods. When Jody and I first started talking about it and the idea came up of Edwin being a part of it, I had no doubts. I’m so used to working with him and I know that he’s a consummate professional. We started working together when he was coming out of school. He actually finished the first “Skullkickers” as he was finishing school. You look at that issue and it stands up against any professional out there, and that’s the first thing he did as a graduate. I know that whatever he does, he’s just going to knock it out of the park.
I know that sounds really cocky, it’s easy for me to brag about him because he’s not here. He’d probably melt if he heard all this. He’s just a killer talent.
Jody, do you think this behind-the-scenes look at the Valiant Universe is something editorial might want to explore later down the line?
LeHeup: Sure, absolutely. It’s definitely a conversation that we’ll have. We had a ton of fun doing this. Jim mentioned a lot of our books have a pretty serious tone, “Quantum and Woody” and “Archer & Armstrong” being the exception. This was one of the first backup stories we’ve ever done for Valiant and I don’t see any reason we wouldn’t want to continue this, especially with the fantastic work the guys put in this time around.
Jim, you have “Skullkickers” still coming out from Image — anything else coming down the line for you?
Zub: I did a two-part “Legends of the Dark Knight” story. The first part came out last week, “Legends of the Dark Knight” digital #49 and #50 comes out on Thursday, and that’s a Batman and Harley Quinn story I did for the California office of DC. “Skullkickers” is continuing, we’re finishing our first story arc and the trade collection of that’s coming in July. I’m still plugging away on “Pathfinder” for Dynamite and I should have another project to announce in about a month, which I’m very, very excited about.
Look for the “Who Will Lead the H.A.R.D. Corps?” backups in Valiant Entertainment’s July titles.