Since the initial announcement in August, Valiant Entertainment’s new team series “Unity” has received a lot of attention. There’s been 8-bit motion variant covers, Team USA Luge Variant covers and the news that initial retailer orders came in at a company-high 68,500; a figure Valiant says is much higher than their internal projections.
Now, all of that preamble has passed, and “Unity” #1, written by “Mind MGMT” creator Matt Kindt and illustrated by veteran artist Doug Braithwaite goes on sale this Wednesday. It’s a day both Kindt and Valiant executive editor Warren Simons say they’ve long prepared for, emphasizing that the book is coming out now because it has the right idea and the right creative team, not because the still-growing revived Valiant felt the necessity to launch a team book.
“Unity,” borrowing a title used by the original Valiant’s 1992 universe-defining line-wide crossover, links several of the publisher’s titles with the Harbinger Foundation’s Toyo Harada, constructing a squad consisting of Livewire, Ninjak and Eternal Warrior to take on flagship character X-O Manowar, who is currently attempting a takeover of Romania. CBR News spoke with Kindt and Simons about how the series came to be — and a bit about what’s to come in the future — in an in-depth interview about a title that helped Kindt, who also writes DC Comics’ “Suicide Squad” and “Justice League of America,” realize that he didn’t hate team books after all.
CBR News: Matt, it was reported late last month by CBR that the retailer orders for “Unity” #1 have surpassed expectations, coming in at 68,500. Obviously that’s not exactly department, but as a writer, what does that mean to you? Certainly it’s a vote of confidence from retailers.
Matt Kindt: It’s awesome. I’m saying, “Where do you find all those readers? I’ve been looking for those readers my whole life.” [Laughs]
What was the approach in putting together “Unity?” Matt, you mentioned you were a reader of the original Valiant in the ’90s, and you’re using a lot of the same characters here, albeit different iterations. Did having that background as a reader make “Unity” easier to approach?
Kindt: Yeah, definitely. I was already attracted to those characters because I read them in the ’90s. I was in high school. I hadn’t thought about them since then, and to see them come back was kind of fun. I didn’t even know Valiant had relaunched until my brother told me — he was reading Valiant back in the ’90s, too, and he got me into Valiant back then. “Hey, you should read this ‘Harbinger,’ it’s so much better than the X-Men!” I was kind of burned out on superhero comics. I was like, “I’ll give it a try,” and ended up buying all of them.
When Valiant relaunched in this current incarnation, my brother emailed me, “Hey, Valiant’s relaunching!” “What, they are?” He got me back onto them again. I was reading the new stuff as a fan, just because I was kind of burned out on superhero stuff, still. To me, it’s cool to see a modern version of that, where the stories still come first. It seems like a marketing thing, but it’s not. When you actually read them, you see this really is a “story comes first” kind of thing. I was happy to just be reading those and see that they were still good, and then Warren called me up and asked me to do this. There’s no way I wouldn’t. Someone’s already writing “X-O,” so I can’t do that. Ninjak doesn’t have a book yet. Anything where I can get my hands on all those characters, it’s kind of a no-brainer for me.
In terms of the main cast on “Unity,” was that something that was mostly in place before you came in, or did you help develop it?
Kindt: We worked on it together. We wanted the big guns in there, but who’s going to fill out the team? There are a lot of characters to choose from. We went back and forth, and tried to find the right mix.
Are you planning fairly long term with “Unity?”
Kindt: It’s literally the first time I’ve ever started a project where I have no idea how long I’m going to go. “Mind MGMT,” I have an outline that goes three years; I know how that ends. “Unity” is ongoing. It’s kind of neat. “I could do this forever! Until I’m super-old, or people get tired of reading it.” [Laughs] I remember when I was a kid and John Byrne had a huge run on “Fantastic Four.” That’s a towering achievement. It would be kind of fun to do something like that in the modern day, when it’s even less likely.
Warren Simons: I think we have a fairly rough idea of where we’re going for the first six to 12 issues, and I’m pretty freaking stoked about all of them. And then we’ll get up to issue #500, and we’ll have a big 500th anniversary issue.
You’re writing a lot of team books right now — “Suicide Squad” and “Justice League of America” at DC Comics, and “Infinity: The Hunt” at Marvel also has a large cast. Does that come naturally for you? Or is it just how things have worked out?
Kindt: I started seeing that pattern happen, and I don’t know if it was just coincidental, or editors seeing, “He did this with those characters…”
“Suicide Squad” was the last one where I agreed to do that. I’m like, “I hate team books, they’re the worst! Too many characters!” It’s the trickiest kind of book to write. Why do I keep getting stuck with team books? I think about everything I’ve ever done, even my creator-owned stuff, everything I do is sort of like a team book in a way. There’s a big cast of characters, and you jump from one to the other, and see how those characters and those lives intertwine. You can go back and look at every book I’ve ever done, with the exception or maybe one or two, everything is sort of an ensemble piece in some way or another.
When I had that self-realization, I was like, “Oh, team books aren’t so bad.” I think I hate them before I start writing them, then I realize that’s kind of how I write, anyway. So I do like it, I guess. [Laughs]
This one seems different from many conventional superhero team books, since the team starts out with such a specific mission. Does that distinguish it for you at all?
Kindt: I think the thing that distinguishes it from the other stuff is the characters. Honestly, that’s the way to do it. You don’t want to just have a Justice League clone. The beauty of the Valiant universe is that the characters are so different. They’re different from each other, but they’re different from everything else in mainstream comics, as far as superheroes go. Getting those characters together, those personalities driving the stories, I think that’s what makes it different.
I don’t think I had to do too much different in my approach; it’s more trying to be true to these characters who have all these unique voices. X-O’s kind of a barbarian. Ninjak’s kind of a superspy jerk. [Laughs] Forcing them together to do this thing ends up being fun, and it inherently is going to be different, because those characters are so different.
Back to the team book thing, I think that’s what attracts me — the ability to shift viewpoint, and shift voices, within a story arc and issues, even. I think that’s what makes team books, this one in particular, extra fun.
Simons: This particular title is the cast of characters. It is the fact that these are very, very dangerous men and women who have come together.
It’s really interesting to see what keeps the team together after the first arc. I love “Mind MGMT” — I thought that was an absolutely brilliant book. When I read it, I wanted to see what Matt’s take on this superhero team book would be. We had the story coming together based on a lot of what Robert Venditti [has been doing] on “X-O Manowar,” and the natural trajectory of that book. We didn’t want to put a team book together that’d be forced onto the schedule for the sake of forcing a team book onto the schedule. We really wanted to build it organically, and come up with the right story, and the right writer to tell that story. When I reached out to Matt about it, he came up with a pitch that was just absolutely awesome.
We’re super excited. I don’t want to delve into the next arc here, but it just gets more awesome and badass after this one. The repercussions of it, where it leaves X-O, where it leads Harada, where it leaves the rest of the universe, I think are pretty compelling. Dougie [Braithwaite]’s doing some of the most beautiful work I’ve ever seen in his career. Just absolutely gorgeous, gorgeous stuff. There’s this one image of X-O Manowar holding a tank shell after he’s devastated a tank — it’s just really quite beautiful. The way Matt gets us into the story, the point of view, it’s really exquisite.
Kindt: That’s never happened to me in my non-creator-owned stuff. It wasn’t, “Hey, we’re launching this book in November and we want you to write it.” It was, “We want to do this book, what’s your idea?” It was launched when the idea was there. I’ve never experienced that before. Usually they [offer], and the series is already in place. I felt like if the pitch wasn’t good enough, that book’s not coming out. I don’t know anybody that works that way, except for creator-owned stuff.
Simons: That’s why we’re all insane. [Laughs] Hopefully that’s something that’s been captured in the Valiant books themselves. Obviously, the rigors of a monthly production schedule are inherent in any monthly comic book, but we really wanted to make sure that we had the right writer.
I think it’s real interesting. I think there’s a beautiful entry point to the book, and it’s super action-packed. But it’s got a heart to it; it’s very character-driven, and I feel that’s what makes it unique.
Kindt: You mention what Rob’s doing with “X-O” — that’s kind of what I like about this series. I get to be reactive to everything else in the universe. This team’s together: What are they going to do? If this was real, what would they be doing, and how would they react? That drives the story as well. I think everything I’ve ever written has always been the simple question as a writer, “What would they do for real?” I think Valiant seems to be based on that, anyway. It’s almost like role-playing.
Matt, since you are working at several different companies, in particular the other two shared universe publishers, can you tell us what has made your Valiant experience different? It’s a tighter line of books, so there’s presumably not as many moving parts to navigate in a team book like “Unity.” Does that lend itself to some more closer interaction with the other writers?
Kindt: I think it does. The scale that Valiant works at makes it more agile. From a creative standpoint, it’s awesome. The universe is small enough where we can make all of that stuff really interact with each other rather than just be existing next to one another.
Speaking specifically about the first issue — as your comments allude to, from the opening scene, despite the scale of things happening and the out-of-this-world situations and characters, there’s a clear effort to ground things, by starting with a reporter who’s witnessing something significant happen. How important was that for you as a writer, and for you Warren, as the editor?
Kindt: I think the initial script was 22 pages. I turned it in, and it starts out with crazy crap happening right away, and you jump into it. Warren came back and was like, “Could we add like five or eight pages?” This is at the end. I thought I was done. I was like, “Yeah! I’d love to do that.” If you give me more space, I’ll fill it. Especially with the first issue and all of these characters. That opening scene with the reporter, that didn’t exist until Warren asked for it, and I think it’s half as good without it.
Simons: It’s such a big initiative for us as a company, and it gives us such an opportunity to showcase all of these characters, and who they are. One of the things with a lot of comics, you just pick it up, and it’s a splash page with seven guys fighting each other, and you’ve never met any of them, and you don’t know what they’re doing, and they’re all blasting strange-colored powers at each other. It’s hard to get the heart of that, for me at least as an editor, for my sensibility. I’ve enjoyed stories where you begin to understand who this character is, then you drop that character into a situation and see how he or she reacts to it. Matt put together an awesome first issue, and it was action-packed and it was jammed, but I really felt like there was a really beautiful moment for us to see this universe operating from a person on the street.
I didn’t ask him for any particular scene in general, other than just talking a little about making it accessible, maybe for a new reader who doesn’t know the Valiant stuff that well. Matt just came back with this absolutely brilliant narrative.
Kindt: That’s my favorite part of the book, and if you didn’t ask me to do it, it wouldn’t exist.