Valiant Entertainment continues its ongoing relaunch with the November debut of “Shadowman.” One of Valiant’s most popular titles in the 1990s, “Shadowman” went through a number of incarnations with a roster of incredible creators including Jim Shooter, Steve Englehart, David Lapham, Garth Ennis, Ashley Wood, Charlie Adlard, Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning and more. The title, which was was even developed into a video game, was so popular, it outsold many Marvel and DC titles during its second year in publication.
Now, “Shadowman” is poised for a comeback as “The Strange Talent of Luther Strode” creator Justin Jordan and “Thor: Ages of Thunder” artist Patrick Zircher join forces to bring Jack Boniface to the modern era of comics. Co-written by Jordan and Zircher with art by Zircher, “Shadowman” takes a look at the core of the character, utilizing and updating elements throughout the history of the title.
CBR News spoke exclusively with Jordan and Valiant editor Warren Simons about the rebooted version of “Shadowman,” the challenges of bringing the character and concept to the modern era, Jordan’s original pitch and the villains from the upcoming relaunch.
CBR News: Justin, you’re bringing Jack Boniface back to Valiant and modern comics. Tell us a bit about your take on the character — what’s old, what’s new and what can fans expect from your version?
Justin Jordan: What we’ve done is I’ve gone back and looked at all the stuff that I thought made “Shadowman” work. I liked the character back in the ’90s and I even liked Garth Ennis’ reboot, but our Shadowman is different from those two. We’ve had the luxury of being able to pick and choose the elements that we thought worked best. This Shadowman is closer to the Jack Boniface of the original “Shadowman” series from Valiant back in the ’90s, but he’s not exactly the same. He’s a different kind of character. He’s not a jazz musician for one thing, although he does have something of an interest in music.
The original Valiant comic premiered over 20 years ago. Obviously, a lot’s changed both in the way comics are told, the way comics are read and the world at large. What kind of a modern sensibility are you bringing to the book, both from a storytelling perspective and setting?
Jordan: That’s a good question, and a difficult one. I’ve read the original “Shadowman.” I had actually read it back when it was originally coming out and I really enjoyed it. But, as you say, just the way that comics are told is different now. Like anything that I write, and I’m sure that this is true of any writer, this is the sum total of everything pop culture and comic book, literature and movies that’s been poured in my head over 20-odd years since “Shadowman” originally debuted. That in and of itself gives it a different kind of feel. At the same time, it’s set in New Orleans. New Orleans itself has changed in 20 years. The most obvious thing is the devastation that came when Katrina happened. That’s not a direct thing that’s referenced in the book thus far, but it is one of those things you’ve got to keep in mind — the setting itself is different from it was for the original “Shadowman.” With this one, we’re trying to take a more character-based approach to it and hopefully get a lot more of what Jack is thinking and more of the things he does. In the first one, it’s a very straightforward, superhero tale where he gets attacked and decides life is awesome and becomes Shadowman. That’s all in the space of the first issue. That’s an extremely compressed kind of version of it. I know people will get irritable about the whole decompression thing, but the whole point of that decompression was to allow you to get a look at the little moments a little more than what was common in comics 20 years ago. We’re doing that. It’s more getting inside Jack’s head and showing how he’s reacting to the situation he’s placed in, how he feels about it and why he makes the decisions that he does.
Warren Simons: I think one of the great things about the story that Justin’s putting together and Patrick’s co-writing is that as with all the Valiant books we’re putting out, we’re really tapping into the core element of what made the character so great in the first place. We really are taking a look at what worked in the original incarnation of the Shadowman character. Justin, Patrick and I have all talked abosut what are the key elements we have to retain here, what’s important, what can we leave behind, what do we need to keep, who is Jack Boniface now and what is this incarnation? In the same way, we have Peter Sanchek and Aric of Dacia and Bloodshot all being different from the original versions, but they also tap into that core element of what made them so great in the first place. I think Justin came up with a story that really was very impressive and tapped into all the great things that made Jack such an amazing character. It’s an action-packed first issue. We open on this crazy colossal fight scene and that sets the template for everything that moves forward and the journey that Jack takes as the series progresses.
You’ve definitely got some experience with a powerful, but conflicted character as evidenced by your creator-owned series “The Strange Talent of Luther Strode.” How did your experience writing that character come into play while plotting “Shadowman?”
Jordan: There’s a big learning curve when you’re doing comics. Getting “Luther Strode” done and out — I had been pitching stuff for years, but “Luthor Strode” is my first real big thing. Over the course of writing these six issues, I learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t work for that kind of a beginning of a hero’s journey type of story. That’s where we’re starting off with “Shadowman” as well. We’re getting right into how Jack becomes Shadowman, what that means to him and how it affects his life. I mean, it’s not the same story as “Luther Strode” but what I learned about telling that kind of story from “Luther” applies directly to “Shadowman.” As Warren said, despite me talking a lot about decompression, there’s a lot going on in the first issue of “Shadowman.” I like having each distinct issue being a good chunk of entertainment. You should leave that story feeling satisfied, not that you just read a placeholder for the next chapter.
Warren, what was the impetus on Valiant’s end to bring Justin on to help relaunch “Shadowman?”
Simons: When I came up here and began casting some of the books, Justin was someone whose name I had in mind. I read “Strange Talent,” I thought it was absolutely fantastic. I thought it was an amazing debut. It was the first time I had read anything he’d done and the book just moved. It was witty, it was smart, it was well-written — I reached out to him to see if he wanted to come in and pitch something. He put together a couple of different pitches for me. I thought he did a wonderful job with some of the pitches. We really connected, we were talking about some stuff and Patrick Zircher came onboard. Patrick and I were talking about potential writers as well, and he said that he was really a big fan of Justin’s stuff. We looped Patrick in the process, so it was kismet. It was meant to be. We all got on the phone and started talking about the character and I really feel like he’s an excellent writer. The “Shadowman” stuff is fantastic, “Strange Talent” was fantastic — anyone out there reading this should check it out — it’s one of the best debuts of the last year. I’m really excited about what we’ve got coming down the pipeline. It’s filled with story and it’s incredibly beautiful. Patrick is just annihilating this book. It’s one of the prettiest books I’m working on and I’m blessed to have a number of amazing artists up here. I’m really excited for this one.
Patrick Zircher is not only the series artist, he’s co-writing the book with Justin. What has that collaboration been like and how is he bringing the sensibilities of an artist to the book?
Jordan: It was interesting. I have never co-written anything, ever, so I was actually fairly excited when it was suggested, just because it was new. The way I usually write, especially with “Luther Strode,” I would write the script, shoot it over to Tradd [Moore], get his opinion on it, he would do the layouts — and he would change the panels around and all that stuff — and I would change the script to accommodate that. There was a collaborative aspect to it. Working it Pat, it was like that but more so. He’s been a true co-writer in every sense of it. At this point, it would be really difficult for me to pick out which parts of “Shadowman” are me and which parts of it are him. The combination has really made for a better book. The way it is written, it is there to make the best use of Patrick’s artistic sensibility, which he has billions and billions times more of than I do. I am perfectly happy to let him do his thing there and it has been to the betterment of the book.
Simons: I had the opportunity to work with Patrick on a number of projects when I was still at Marvel. We worked together on the “Terror, Inc” limited series, which was about the first time that he began to ink his own work and work in this particular style. I thought “Terror, Inc” was an absolute blast. The brilliant David Lapham wrote that one. We worked together on a couple of other projects, one of which was “Ages of Thunder” where Patrick did a lot of heavy lifting. He designed Thor’s costume. Patrick is super-talented. In my opinion, he’s one of the ten most talented artists working in this medium today. When you take a look at his stuff, it’s incredibly energetic, the storytelling is exceptional, it’s beautiful. I’m a tremendous fan of the work that he’s doing here. The fans are going to be absolutely blown away by the art. He designed the characters and he’s taking a hands-on ownership of everything on the book from soup to nuts. He’s co-writing with Justin and that’s been a great process. He wanted to get involved in the writing side of things and the guys are working together closely to iron out the story.
What about the villains of the piece. Will readers get a chance to see a new version of the Bloodrunners and Master Darque, or are you creating a whole new threat for Shadowman?
Jordan: A mixture of both. You will definitely see some old villains — you will see some old villains really quickly. You will get to meet new villains. It’s kind of like what we’re doing for Shadowman himself. We’re picking and choosing the stuff we thought worked best out of the old one and redoing that while adding some new stuff to it that we think will be cool. It’s going to be a mixture of classic and new stuff.
“Shadowman” has seen a number of different well-known comic creators work on the character, and for a time, the series outsold books from both Marvel and DC. Do you feel any pressure to live up to those stories?
Jordan: [Laughs] Yes.
Simons: [Laughs] I’m glad Justin feels that way. In my part, to be completely honest with you, no. The thing that I’ve done with all the books up here working with all the guys is really just to put out the best book as possible. I’ve been very lucky to work with tremendous, extraordinary creators. I’m really lucky to have Patrick and Justin on this book and working closely with them. I really feel like if we put our heads down and try to put out the best book possible that the chips will fall where they should. If they don’t, that’s okay as well. As long as we’re just really putting our hearts into it. I think one of the things that has hopefully set Valiant apart from some of the other comic book publishers out there is I feel like all my guys are really, really, really vested in the stories that they’re telling. Having the opportunity to help launch the universe and bring characters back to life has been inspiring for a lot of the guys I’ve been working with and it’s really been wonderful to be a part of that experience. I’d love this thing to sell really well, but by the same token, as long as the guys are putting their hearts into it and putting their best foot forward and really trying to do the best story possible, that’s really all we can control. If we can control that variable, editorially speaking, I’m really happy and I feel like we’re in good shape.
Jordan: It’s one of those things where I’m aware that “Shadowman” is an extremely popular property even still. The Valiant Universe as a whole has retained a pretty big fan base over the years just by having been not published for quite a while. So, yes, I’m aware that there are a lot of people that are really anticipating and frothing at the mouth to get “Shadowman” back and I’m trying very hard not to fuck that up. There’s a certain amount of pressure there. Unlike Warren, I’m just kind of wired to feel that way about stuff, but at the same time he’s absolutely right in that there’s only so much shit you can control. I’m having tremendous fun writing the book and I’m working my damned hardest to put out the best book I possibly can. I really hope fans like it, but basically that’s all I can do — just try to put out the most amazing story I can and hope they dig it.
“Shadowman” by Justin Jordan and Patrick Zircher releases in November from Valiant Entertainment.