EXCLUSIVE: Venditti, Simons Read from Valiant's "Book of Death"

This July, writer Robert Venditti and artists Robert Gill and Doug Braithwaite are teaming up for "Book of Death," a new event series from Valiant Entertainment. Following on from the events of "The Valiant," this four-issue miniseries follows the fate of Tama, a young girl who holds 'The Book of Geomancer' in her hands, and The Eternal Warrior, who is the only man who can protect her.

The book tells the actual, irreversible future of the Valiant Universe, and everybody who lives in it -- meaning everybody wants to get their hands on it so they can find out what happens to them in the future. Releasing monthly starting in July, each month will also see a "Fall of..." one-shot that details the fate of Valiant's four biggest characters: Ninjak, Harbinger, X-O Manowar and Bloodshot.

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To find out more about the epic new Valiant storyline, CBR News snagged the exclusive first interview with writer Robert Venditti and Valiant Editor-in-Chief Warren Simons about "Book of Death." The pair discuss the ins and outs of the series, the praetorship between Tama and the Eternal Warrior and showing fans the end of the line for several of Valiant's icons.

SPOILER ALERT: The following interview contains spoilers for "The Valiant."

CBR News: This story picks up from the end of "The Valiant," but for those that didn't read that series, where can they expect to find the characters as "Book of Death" begins?

Robert Venditti: We know that the Geomancer is this mystical entity who has a connection to planet Earth -- we're going to expand on what this means for the Valiant Universe as a whole. Following Kay's death there is now a problem globally -- I don't want to call them natural disasters because they're so much more horrific than that, but it's like the natural world is reacting to humanity in an extremely hyper-violent, unexplained way. There's a mystery as to why this is occurring, and how the new Geomancer may be the answer. Is this the start of a new Dark Age, and if so -- is she here to ward it off?

Warren Simons: What we learned in "The Valiant" is that when one the Geomancers passes on, it can trigger a Dark Age. This can represent a time of great upheaval and loss of the universe. Some think Tama [the new Geomancer] is the key to stopping this happening again, but the Eternal Warrior doesn't think their plans for the her are the right thing to do.

Venditti: So the two of them go into hiding, and the rest of the Valiant Universe is looking for them. Having done this for many centuries, Gilad sees things in a more long-term manner, whereas the rest of the Valiant Universe sees only a micro, short-term view. Gilad is doing what he thinks is right to protect the geomancer and earth itself, whilst the rest of the Valiant Universe thinks that he is wrong.

Simons: And Tama is carrying the Book of Geomancer. This book isn't a list of predictions, but is the actual recorded history of the Valiant Universe. She knows what is going to happen far into the future, and what happens to all the characters. She knows all these great upcoming things like the Third Armor War, the Vine Executions, and more. Gilad is looking for clues within the book which might help him sort this whole situation.

Jumping back to "The Valiant," several characters changed significantly by the end -- especially Kay, the Geomancer, who was killed by The Immortal Enemy. How did that story's finale come together?

Simons: Generally the way that we operate at Valiant and have operated since day one is that nothing happens in a vacuum. Writers come to us with ideas, or we'll come to a writer with an idea, and we'll walk through it and then decide if we want to do it or not. One of the things that has served us very well to date is that we try to allow our freelancers to have their voice reach the page, and that we're not working to create editorially mandated comics.

We knew there would be controversy about the death scene because Kay is a popular character -- she's one of my favorite characters too. But the guys came up with this story that had a natural conclusion which we felt was honest to the plot of the story and gave us a lot of stories we'll see coming up not just this year; but next year as well. I feel like it was a bold decision, but a good one, and they did a beautiful job with it. I like that people find the ending controversial. That means they are emotionally connected to it -- and getting audiences invested in the characters is my primary job.

You mentioned Tama earlier, who is the new Geomancer introduced in the current-day Valiant Universe. Who is she, and how did the character come about?

Robert Venditti: [Tama] was created by Matt [Kindt], Jeff [Lemire] and Paolo [Rivera] in "The Valiant," so she was someone we've been talking about for a while.

It was really about Gilad having this story. It's a really compelling dynamic to have the grown Eternal Warrior, who has no idea who this little girl is, but he has to take care of her. Meanwhile, because of the circumstances by which she has come into the present-day, Tama actually already knows who Gilad is -- but from a time way into the future. There's a parent/child dynamic between them that in some ways is a standard relationship, but in other ways is completely inverted. It's a relationship you don't see often in comics in general, or in the Valiant Universe so far, or even that I've written before myself. It was something I wanted to lean into really heavily as a writer.

Simons: There's a really beautiful dynamic there. We have this girl who knows this guy inside-out, was potentially raised by him, and yet he has no idea who she is yet. I find that extremely compelling. The thing we try to do at Valiant is to make sure that there's some kind of compelling connection for readers beyond the plot itself. The dynamic between fathers and daughters is fascinating, and in many ways is what this story is about.

But we're also going to have a ton of heroes beating each other up! But if you don't have that sense of character underpinning the main event, I think it becomes hollow.

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What defines Tama and Gilad as a partnership? What interests you most about them?

Venditti: What I like most is the father/daughter dynamic -- I'm a father myself, and as they get older (even though you are the parent and you have the experience and are meant to have all the knowledge) children can surprise you by saying the wisest things. They almost have this old soul aspect to them, when they say or understand things you wouldn't expect from a child. And that's really fun. =

Because of where she came from, she is in some way wiser than this warrior who has been around for thousands of years. But then in other ways, he is clearly wiser than her, too. Their relationship where they both need and rely on each other is something we don't see often in comics, and opportunities to write that don't come up often for writers.

Robert, with this being an event, you have an opportunity to use characters from all across the Valiant Universe. Are there any who you've particularly enjoyed writing?

Venditti: I think the one I love most is possibly... Ninjak. We talk about him all the time, and when Warren came to me about putting him in the second arc of X-O I thought it was... ridiculous [Laughs]

But as I started writing him, I totally fell in love with him. He started to become a scene stealer, and I enjoyed letting it happen. And Gilad as well. They're such disparate characters -- if you look at who X-O and Ninjak and Gilad are, they're really three corners of a triangle. They're all heroic in their own way, but what motivates them is so different. I enjoy writing all three of those characters.

You're joined by artists Robert Gill and Doug Braithwaite for the series. How will they be working on each issue?

Simons: Really excited to have Robert join us alongside Doug on this one. He worked on the second arc of "Eternal Warrior" for us, as well as "Armor Hunters: Harbinger" last summer. I think he's a rising star and he has a real sense of characterization. He's a wonderful storyteller, and will be telling the story with Gilad and Tama and the rest of the Valiant Universe. Then Doug will be, within the actual issues, pencilling stories from the Book of Geomancer that will tell the future of the Valiant Universe, and where the characters are going.

I think there's a really interesting switch between their two styles. I'm excited to see how their work will mesh, as we have two really talented, natural storytellers here.

Venditti: I worked with Doug on "Armor Hunters" and had an amazing time working with him. Seeing the way he would frame shots -- I'm thrilled to work with him again. And with Robert, this is my first time getting to work with him, but I already knew his work from "Eternal Warrior" -- so looking over the layouts here and seeing him capture the tone we're going for in this series, it's been great. I'm having a lot of fun working with him.

Having worked with the company since the first issue of "X-O Manowar," how do you feel the Valiant Universe has grown over the last few years?

Venditti: I've been there since the very beginning, setting up the mythology of "X-O Manowar." Building it up and seeing it all grow around you is not something you often get to see in comics, so I'm thankful for that opportunity. Because I've been here from the beginning, I saw when Fred Van Lente first spoke about geomancers in "Archer and Armstrong," or how Matt Kindt developed Ninjak and Eternal Warrior within "Unity." There are a lot of things that you see come up through the background over the last few years which have now come to inform this new story.

Simons: And Rob's a great collaborator. I'm really excited to have people like Matt Kindt, Joshua Dysart and Jeff Lemire on these books, and people like Jen Van Meter helping us to workshop and improve all our stories. We have a team who are trying to make the best stories possible, and as an editor it's been a pleasure to work on them.

And speaking on X-O Manowar, you're also going to be writing the "Fall of X-O Manowar" tie-in issue as part of this event. What can you tell us about that issue?

Venditti: What we'll see is how X-O Manowar... ends.

It's a story I've had in mind for quite a long time, but you never know if you're going to be allowed to tell it. That's one of the great things about an ongoing series -- whereas with a miniseries you plot it and then it's done, but with an ongoing like "X-O" you can go back to it and you can steer further along the path -- and maybe the character moves around in ways you didn't expect before.

How has it been to have spent so long writing the character for Valiant?

Venditti: I feel really lucky -- this was the first ongoing series I ever did. I hoped to be able to do it for 12 issues, and I really hoped I'd be able to do it for 24, and now we're at the point where we have 36 issues published and we're still going strong. I feel real lucky in that regard -- that's a long run by today's standards.

When we first saw him he was this young, brash Visigoth warrior who would do anything to protect his homeland, and over time we've seen him grow into the man who could protect the entire planet from the Armor Hunters, and also defend other alien civilizations. He's turned around 180 degrees into a whole new worldview, and has developed in ways which have surprised even me. But, if you look at that first issue, you can see where the development came from, and it does all ultimately fit together. I'm really proud to have been able to spend so much time developing the character and see him come out the way he has.

Simons: Rob's done such a great job with changing the status quo of the character from arc to arc. The stories have never gotten stale or repetitive. Rob's done a really great job of continuing to put Aric through war after war without ever getting a break -- what I'm saying is you're pretty tough on him, dude. [Laughs]

Venditti: What Warren has always done as an editor is challenge me. I didn't come up with a background in comics, and what Warren has done is challenge me to do these stories which are outside my comfort zone -- bringing in Ninjak, for example, or the next story we have coming up which may actually be my favorite of the series so far.

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Would that be the upcoming "Wedding of the Centuries" story?

Venditti: That's the issue.

Anything you can tell us about the wedding story?

Venditti: It was another challenge. I've never read a wedding issue of a comic before -- but it ended up being my favorite issue so far. We bring in a lot of characters you may not expect -- and it also gave me the chance to work with Rafa Sandoval again, who I worked with on "X-O Manowar" #33.

Simons: This guy comes from a culture where people live to 35, so he -- as Rob has brought up many times -- probably would've been King by now if he'd stayed with his people. I think he does view himself still as a leader of his people. He has a responsibility to the Visigoths who are still alive, and so this wedding storyline feels very natural to him as a character.

Venditti: What we're going to see is a lot of closure for him; as far as him already being married in the past and having had it taken away from him, where he never got to find out what happened to her. He gets closure on his past by realizing that he's in the here and now, and Saana is the one who is here for him today. What says moving forward more than marriage?

"Book of Death" begins in July from Valiant Entertainment.

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