WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Harbinger Renegade #5, in stores now.
Valiant Entertainment has a long, storied history with death. Known in the ’90s for coining the “Dead Is Dead” motto — meaning that character deaths were indeed permanent — the revived company continued this promise, telling stories with major stakes and permanent consequences. Valiant delivered once again with its most recent release, Harbinger Renegade #5, by Rafer Roberts and Darick Robertson. Promising a singular death, the issue actually resulted in several fatalities, killing off the H.A.R.D. Corps and most of the members of Generation Zero. It was a bloodbath.
In an interview with CBR, Valiant CEO Dinesh Shamdasani and executive editor Warren Simons spoke in detail about the issue as part of a discussion that spanned the publisher’s commitment to the permanence of death, how the story will impact the upcoming Harbinger Wars 2 and the dangling thread left by the survival of Animalia, for starters.
CBR: The issue features a “tweet” from the U.S. President reacting to the bloodbath. How did the Donald Trump reference come about?
Warren Simons: I think we obviously have a president that tweets a lot, so I don’t think it’s super out-of-the-box. … I think at Valiant we really take chances with storytelling, and I think the story itself, Issue 5, is the natural evolution of where we’re going with Harbinger. The first arc in the book is about getting the Harbinger team back together … and I felt like with this story [we pose the question], ‘How would the government respond to this?’
Dinesh Shamdasani: I think the Trump tweet is us telling the reader this is something that is on a large media-centric scale. People know this happened. If it had been Obama in office we probably would have cut to a press briefing but President Trump prefers to tweet … so we wanted to be accurate to the current state of the world.
Is “Dead is Dead” still something Valiant stands by?
Simons: Yeah, absolutely. Flamingo died in an earlier issue of Harbinger, and we haven’t seen her yet. We’ve had other characters die along the way and we haven’t seen them yet. For us that’s a staple of storytelling, we want our readers to understand that anything can happen in any book. You may pick up an issue and if a character dies, they’re not coming back.
Shamdasani: Valiant in the ’90s definitely marketed around “Dead is Dead.” I think that it’s become a hallmark of Valiant’s storytelling, and more so in today’s climate where there’s not a permanence to death at any other publisher. But I think it’s a little more nuanced than “Dead is Dead.” We have characters like the Eternal Warrior, who does die and come back, and Bloodshot, who in his origin … is brought back from the dead. We try to maintain the consequence and the emotional resonance of the storytelling, so when someone dies we want our reader to feel like that’s the last time we’re going to see them in the ongoing continuity. We may do flashbacks, we may reference them, but we’re not bringing them back. We’re not going to undermine the storytelling. We’re very protective of that.
The Gen Zero kids, the H.A.R.D. Corps members that die in this issue, they’re never coming back. Christian’s gone. And Christian’s named after a fan that we all know who’s going to be very upset, and probably going to be gunning for you, Warren, at San Diego [Comic-Con]!
Simons: I’ve gotten a couple texts from other fans who are like “Christian’s not going to be happy, man!”
Shamdasani: It’s been really heartwarming to see how positive the reaction’s been. This is the kind of storytelling that you rarely see in comics anymore, especially in a shared universe, because it is so divisive. And I’ll be honest, we weren’t really sure how this was going to play; we loved the idea, we loved the story, it felt like the natural progression of what was happening in the universe, it feels like the right step to build up to Harbinger Wars 2. But these are characters that are really beloved. It’s been really nice to see people not just embrace the story, but embrace it in a way that…this book’s had our best reviews of all-time. I think people understand there’s a resonance to this. … We’re not going to undermine it a year from now.
The deaths are notably graphic. Whose decision was it to execute it in such a bloody manner?
Simons: We have Darick Robertson on art, and Darick’s an extraordinary artist. And we have Rafer [Roberts] writing it, doing an amazing job with Harbinger so far. With that team you get an understanding there’s going to be a visceral. … It’s going to be honest. This is how it works. A guy gets shot in battle, we don’t want to crop it off panel, we want there to be an actual consequence for what happens with the characters. This isn’t a world where we live in where kids are going to take over a town and everyone’s going to be hunky-dory with it because they have superpowers. Everyone’s going to look at that and be frightened out of their minds. … The repercussion of that has to be visceral and real, and the art and the story needs to depict that.
Shamdasani: Agreed. You see that they’re trying to do something very noble, and you see that they’ve been wronged, but you take a step back and they are terrorists. They did take over a town. They destabilized an organized government. And if that happens in the real world, the consequences are swift and fatal. We wanted to depict that these characters are dying, and to depict that graphically gets that across emotionally.
There’s a tradition for Harbinger killing off its characters. Why is that a big part of the series?
Shamdasani: I think it’s beyond Harbinger. If we’re talking classic Valiant, Shadowman was a fascinating character in that issue four you find out when he dies. Bloodshot appears and dies in the same issue, and I think that’s because Valiant originally, and what we do, is build a universe and we’re not afraid to put new characters on the map, and take them off the map. If you take a look at the other publishers there seems to be a fear that they don’t know why the character’s working…they’re afraid that they’re going to break them, and so there’s no change, there’s no evolution. And I think where we’re coming from, we don’t have a choice, we have to keep creating new characters, we can’t be afraid to take them off the board too. That’s how we compete: By doing the thing the other guys can’t do.
Simons: I think it’s something that’s within the DNA of the company, within those original books. When I first got to Valiant and read the Harbinger stuff I was amazed how innovative it was, even though it was 20 years old. And it was extraordinarily risk-taking. We try to have a real permanence, to make sure that every story we tell is important.
How do these deaths impact the upcoming Harbinger Wars 2?
Simons: It’s going to have massive repercussions for Harbinger Wars 2, and in this arc [including issues 7 and 8] especially, it’s really going to focus on what happened in [issue] 5, and I think that that will — as we’ve seen in our universe — anything something like this happens … [consequences felt are] not just within one book. You have a bunch of super-powered kids who all know each other, they all met in Harbinger Wars, they all discussed what it was like to essentially to be weapons to be hunted.
There’s no mansion here! There’s no place for the kids to run to. There’s no one who’s protecting them; it’s a lot like real life. The actions that we all take have consequences…it’s very much the real world. There’s no benefactor in the wings who’s going to whisk you away and tell you everything’s OK — everything is not OK … It’s going to have a massive detonation in our universe.
Why is it that you chose to hold off from killing Animalia?
Shamdasani: We tried, dude! We tried. She’s just too good. We’ll have to try again.
Simons: I think she’ll have a more pronounced role in the upcoming issues of Harbinger, for sure.
Harbinger Renegade #5 is on sale now; Harbinger Renegade #6 hits stands on Aug. 9.
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