Gage, Van Lente & Dysart Accept Valiant's "Mission: Improbable"

In March, Valiant Entertainment kicks off its latest crossover, joining together Fred Van Lente & Pere Perez's "Archer & Armstrong" with Christos Gage, Joshua Dysart and Tom Raney's "Bloodshot and H.A.R.D. Corps." The crossover arc "Mission: Improbable" takes place over two issues of each series, and sees Archer and Armstrong get targeted for elimination by Project Rising Spirit's H.A.R.D. Corps with Bloodshot leading the charge. Spinning out of events from "Archer & Armstrong's" "Sect Civil War," the arc will mark the first time "Archer & Armstrong" has crossed over with any other book in the Valiant line.

In order to get a better idea on what to expect from "Mission: Improbable," CBR News spoke with chief story architects Fred Van Lente, Christos Gage and Josh Dysart alongside Valiant editors Alejandro Arbona and Josh Johns to discuss the lead-up to the crossover, what to expect from Project Rising Spirit and who they like for the inevitable throw down between Archer and Bloodshot.

CBR News: Gents, tell us a bit about how this crossover came together, both in real life and in the stories of each book.

Fred Van Lente: Well, it's something we've been building in "Archer & Armstrong" for some time where in the first arc, we see the very strong possibility that Archer had come from the Project Rising Spirit nursery facility. That's sort of been a major theme in every arc up until "Mission: Improbable." I pitched it to Warren and everybody over at Valiant -- it was originally just a two-issue mini "Archer & Armstrong" arc, but then the idea came that we should actually cross the two books over and I thought it was a great idea.

Christos Gage: Yeah, I got a call from Alejandro and he explained what was going on and the timing of it. It worked out really well, as a matter of fact. We were having the "Get Some" arc ending just in time and it worked out nicely. I thought it would be really cool because, as Fred said, there have been connections in the Valiant Universe for quite a while between "Archer & Armstrong" and Project Rising Spirit, which is a big part of "Bloodshot and H.A.R.D. Corps," so I said, "Let's go for it."

Joshua Dysart: I think Fred has been really good about tying his book into the Valiant Universe in general, and he's been doing it in a really great way that opens up this opportunity. I'm just excited to sit back and watch Fred and Chris dance, actually.

Van Lente: That'll show up on YouTube.

Van Lente Wages "Sect Civil War" in "Archer & Armstrong"

Obviously, Project Rising Spirit plays a huge role in "Bloodshot and HARD Corps" and was revealed to be one of the Sects in "Archer & Armstrong's" "Sect Civil War." How will "Mission: Improbable" affect PRS' balance of power in the Valiant U?

Van Lente: Well, it'll definitely change it. In "Archer & Armstrong," Project Rising Spirit is a member of The Sect, which is the United Nations of conspiracies that Archer and Armstrong are constantly battling. In the most current "Archer & Armstrong" arc, "Sect Civil War," Kozol enters into a pact with Archer whereby they conspire to take over The Sect. Not to give any spoilers away for the end of that arc, but things do not go as planned and Kozol and Archer are at odds with each other. Kozol enlists the help of Bloodshot and the H.A.R.D. Corps as his personal strike force to bring in Archer dead or alive. Preferably alive, but dead's okay too.

Christos & Josh, you guys are still pretty fresh on "Bloodshot and the H.A.R.D. Corps," just like some of the new H.A.R.D. Corps members are fresh in the Valiant Universe. Was there any concern about not getting enough time to really delve into your cast before bringing them into a crossover story?

Gage: In terms of the cast, as far as Bloodshot goes, he's been around for a while, so we weren't worried about that. As far as the H.A.R.D. Corps characters -- one of the things about the nature of the H.A.R.D. Corps is you never know how long they're going to be around just in general. [Laughs] We sort of like to fly by the seat of our pants in that respect. One of the purposes of this in general is if there's anyone who's been reading one of the books and not the other, hopefully they might get intrigued enough to check out the other book.

It wasn't so much, "Was it too soon to do this?" it was, "Would it make story sense and would it be entertaining?" and the answer to all of that was, "Yes."

Dysart Wraps "Harbinger Wars," Looks Forward

Dysart: I don't think there's a danger for all the character to have been fully evolved before moving to the narrative because it all seems very natural and it's all part of the flow. It's not something like "Harbinger Wars" where it profoundly effects the universe and all of the characters. I think it will affect these two books. I don't think there's any danger of the characters not being prepared for the revelations in the book or the actions in the book.

Van Lente: What's fun is that this crossover very much comes out of an "Archer & Armstrong"-specific subplot. Josh has done a great job with me helping as best as I can -- there's some really nice beats for the H.A.R.D. Corps members and Bloodshot in this, so it's not just serving one book. It serves both books equally, which is part of what makes it most exciting.

Alejandro Arbona: Going into this editorially, we started from a place where we wanted it to be -- while at the same time it's an accessible entry point for fans of both of these comics and new readers to try them out, we wanted it to be something that furthers the narrative of both the comics that are crossing over. That is to say, just because they're crossing over doesn't mean we're going to effectively pause the forward momentum of ongoing stories. I think you'll see when these stories start crossing over -- especially the new H.A.R.D. Corps characters, the ones that have still made it to this point -- are still going to have their own subplots. In the second or third issue, we're going to see some fun stuff with Vagabond.

Oh, I guess I just gave away that Vagabond is still alive. Spoilers!

Fred, this is the first time that "Archer & Armstrong" has crossed over with another book in the Valiant line in a major way. How excited were you to expand "Archer & Armstrong's" influence into the greater Valiant Universe with this crossover?

Van Lente: It's super exciting. The other thing that's really exciting about it is it's something that doesn't really happen a lot any more -- at least, I've never done this before -- where we literally have complete novel-length stories in two month's time across two titles in four issues. In other words, you start in "Archer & Armstrong," then to "Bloodshot and H.A.R.D. Corps," back to "Archer & Armstrong" and to "Bloodshot" for the finale. That's something you don't see really often these days, like a literal crossover. I'm really excited as well.

"Archer & Armstrong" I think, in a lot of ways, the title is so crucial to the Valiant Universe because so much concepts spin out of it, whether it's Eternal Warrior and the Geomancers and some of the other things that have been going on. We made reference to The Vine and Robert Venditti made references in "X-O Manowar." We've done some subtle things and keeping the title separate is what makes these kind of crossovers so special -- that it's not happening so often or everybody is in everybody else's books; so that it is an event when it happens.

Josh, you're also kind of the Valiant crossover veteran at this point. What was it like to approach "Mission: Improbable" from a non-"Harbinger" perspective?

Dysart: It's been really interesting because a big part of my role on "Bloodshot" with Christos is to really let Christos manage the book and then just hop in and help Christos keep it in tone and feel with what we're doing, which he's been doing a great job at. So, I have actually had the least amount of involvement with this crossover to date, as opposed to "Harbinger Wars" or as opposed to when Christos and I were building "Bloodshot and H.A.R.D. Corps" -- which, I don't even know what that is. Is that a crossover? It's some kind of strange hybrid of new book and crossover.

So, it's been really interesting for me because I get to sit back and watch great writers work it out and then I come in and make sure everything sings with our larger plans and what we're trying to do in "Bloodshot and H.A.R.D. Corps" and in general with this little corner of the universe. For me, this is fun. It's a bit of a vacation. It's not like "Harbinger Wars" where I'm Sisyphus pushing a boulder up a hill. I kind of dig it, it's really nice.

Van Lente: You're more like Zeus, looking down.

Dysart: That's right! I'm throwing lightning bolts down on them! [Laughs] It's really fun, I'm excited to see everything come out of it.

Out of all the books that "Archer & Armstrong" could cross over with, "Bloodshot and H.A.R.D. Corps" is one of the more unexpected. Alejandro, Josh -- what has it been like from an editorial perspective meshing the two unique and distinct tones of each series?

Josh Johns: Fred has done an incredible job of exploring world-building in "Archer & Armstrong." We've been laying out Project Rising Spirit with all The Sect stuff for some time, especially in "Sect Civil War" where we saw Archer go directly against Kozol, who is a character in "Bloodshot and the H.A.R.D. Corps." So even though the tone's a little different, they're still in the same universe and "Archer & Armstrong" has been living in that so far. This is kind of the natural course for these books to go, and I'm super excited about it. I think you'll be surprised that though one is a book that's more of a comedy book and one's a big action book, they actually share a lot of similar traits we have across our universe. It's been a really fun experience so far seeing them mesh together. It's been more fun than work.

Arbona: Given that Project Rising Spirit is kind of our connective tissue that exists between these comics, because Project Rising Spirit is part of The Sect and all that in "Archer & Armstrong" -- when you look at it from that angle, it's inevitable because that connective tissue is there. So sure, of course Project Rising Spirit would send their top agent after what the people they want to get. But given the comics are so different and it's so unexpected, I think that's what makes it fun. It's both inevitable and unexpected.

Dysart: [Laughs] That should be the tagline.

Van Lente: "Mission: Inevitable."

Dysart: I think it's great that we're in a situation where there's going to be a few jokes at Bloodshot's expense. Bloodshot needs to be in a comedy. He also needs to be in a musical, but that's harder to pull off in comics.

Johns: I'm working on that as we speak, that's why I've been talking so much on the phone. I've got my first draft of "Nights of Bloodshot: The Musical."

Gage: The Nanite Chorus needs to be heard to be believed.

People don't realize that "Archer & Armstrong," for example -- people remember the funny bits, but it's actually a very dark book in terms of some of the things that go on and the personal journeys the characters are on and the things that happen to people. They're not as far removed as you might think on the surface. I think people will hopefully be pleasantly surprised at how well they fit together. But it is nice to go out of your comfort zone a bit and change things up a little bit -- hopefully not so that it's jarring, but like I said, I think people will be surprised at how well it works.

As both series move forward, are the elements that you brought in for the crossover going to continue, or is this sort of a one-time experiment?

Dysart: It would be kind of interesting if the tonality of each individual book was kind of like a contagion that was smeared -- like a little bit of "Archer & Armstrong" got smeared onto "Bloodshot and H.A.R.D. Corps," like herpes or something. I don't know that we intend to actually change the thrust and tone of our books once we emerge from this collision.

Gage: Well, I know that in "Bloodshot and H.A.R.D. Corps," there's already going to have been and already has been some dark humor in the book since we've been doing it, usually having to do with Kozol, which is kind of funny given the connection -- just about how evil he is.

Dysart: Yeah, I love Kozol. He makes me happy.

Van Lente: He's a very fun character to write. Characters who revel in their own badness are always fun to write.

Dysart: I think Christos made a great point when he said there's a lot of emphasis placed on the comedy of "Archer & Armstrong," but maybe you're missing its darkness. I think the same could be said to a certain degree of "Bloodshot." I think a lot of emphasis is placed on action and violence, but one of the things I was super excited about working on this book was I think there are very few writers in the medium -- and two of them are on the call with me right now -- that are humanists. Christos is a humanist, and I don't think you see a lot of that in comics, and I think both these titles benefit from that. I'm also a humanist writer and when I sat down to do "Bloodshot," I wanted to make a book that's also human and fun. I hate to short change the fact that "Archer & Armstrong" and "Bloodshot and H.A.R.D. Corps" actually have a lot of each other's DNA in them. I think we all sort of approach them from the same place.

Wrapping up, one of the fights that I'm sure fans are most looking forward to during the crossover is the Archer Vs. Bloodshot bout for all the marbles -- who do each of you like for a winner and why?

Van Lente: That's a little unfair because we know the answer. [Laughs] So, I'll say Archer.

Gage: That's fine. I'll say Bloodshot.

Valiant Zero Issues to Return Early 2014

Johns: I think there's going to be a lot of surprises. The one thing I will say to tease a little bit, before this whole thing kicks off, we have "Archer & Armstrong: Archer" #0, which finally reveals the true origin of Archer and we see an expanded view on some of the things that he's able to do that I think are going to shock readers of both titles. It's something that we haven't ever seen before. When you see some of that, I think it'll level itself out to a more even fight when you see what this young man is truly capable of.

Arbona: Guys, guys, guys -- I'll tell you who wins in this fight: the readers.


Van Lente: Truer words were never spoken.

Arbona: We also have a zero issue for "Bloodshot and H.A.R.D. Corps." It's going to be a very unexpected set of stories, which is a very eye-opening look at what goes into being in the H.A.R.D. Corps, what it means to be H.A.R.D. Corps and how Bloodshot fits into it.

"Mission: Improbable" begins in March 2014.

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