While Valiant Entertainment may have its fair share of serious, stoic superhero characters, one of the biggest fan-favorite titles in the Valiant Universe is one of its most comedic: Quantum & Woody. Proclaimed by the publisher as the World's Worst Superhero Team, adopted brothers, Eric Henderson and Woody Van Chelton have been saving the day between their usual sibling squabbling since 1997 following their creation by Christopher Priest and M.D. Bright.
Christopher Hastings (Unbelievable Gwenpool) and Ryan Browne (Curse Words) will be relaunching the title in a new comic series this January, picking up the action where the previous volume left off while providing a fresh, accessible starting point for new readers who may be completely unfamiliar with the Valiant property.
In an exclusive interview with CBR at New York Comic-Con, Hastings teased what to expect from the upcoming relaunch.
CBR: You and Ryan are relaunching Quantum & Woody in 2020. How did this all come about, Chris?
Christopher Hastings: One of comics I had previously written was The Unbelievable Gwenpool and the editor on the book, Heather Antos, has since left Marvel and joined Valiant and after settling in at Valiant she said, "We need a Quantum & Woody book and I know who we should get."
She brought me on to write and I wrote a lot before we actually got an artist. I don't think I even dreamed to try and get Ryan, it was Heather's suggestion. She texted me one day and I said, "Oh my God, yes, you have to!" and she said, "I worry that putting the two of you together, it's going to get too crazy..." and I said, "Don't worry! I'll tone it down! Please get me Ryan! Please!"
And, thankfully, Ryan is wrapping up Curse Words at Image and he's perfectly slotted to get going.
You were mentioning you had written a lot before Ryan signed on. Did you revisit what you had written after he joined?
Yeah, I've written six issues and the book doesn't even come out until January. Do I need to go back and tweak stuff for the artist? I might but I haven't so far; he's still wrapping up Curse Words so he hasn't been able to fully dive into Quantum & Woody yet. But we text and we talk about stuff so that's an adventure for the future to see if I should tweak my material to suit him better.
But he's already taking stuff I'm doing and heightening it. Literally, the very first page of the comic has Quantum working out and I said, "Have him doing some ridiculous, over-the-top workout to show how intense he is." I had him strapped up by his ankles in a doorway to lift weights before I realized I had ripped that off from a previous run and decided to change it and said to make sure to have the goat in there chewing up the couch or something. So he decided to have Quantum doing push-ups with Vincent on his back and, not only that, Vincent is holding a barbell in his mouth to make it even heavier. So that's a great example make sure we're doing the most we can to pack it with goodies in every single panel.
You mentioned previous runs -- what informed your run and what did you want to bring uniquely to it?
Continuity-wise, it's a little more set in the version from James Asmus where they've figured out they're brothers, they're not just best friends. I'm generally keeping all of that history; some of it might not pop up, some of it might. That's generally the vibe we're going for.
Uniquely, we're sort of going for here is, format-wise, I'm really committed to making these individual issues that are episodic so there's a self-contained story in every issue. Growing up, I didn't have a comic book shop and got random issues from the supermarket depending on which issues came in and I reread those issues all the time and I loved them. Also, these days, a lot of my favorite comic book issues are the one-shots that are in between the longer arcs.
In particular, I love the one-shot issue of Quantum & Woody where it's just about them saving people from a burning building; I thought that was a tremendously strong issue. So I was like, why don't I make the entire run like that, just a bunch of really great single issues? And, also, I had so many ideas where I just wanted them to do a really great superhero thing every month.
Obviously, there's still a long-term story arc that we play veeeery slowly but mostly it's like, you get an issue, you don't have to read the one before it, you don't have to read the one after it. You're going to have a greater enjoyment if you buy all of them but it's not like read a chapter, wait a month. You're going to get your money's worth. So that was a major focus and the other thing was that we all know what Quantum and Woody's relationship is, what their dynamic is, and we've taken some things for granted so maybe it's time to let that grow a bit.
Like Woody is the screw-up so I did a lot of work to make Woody try to be a little more sympathetic. Also, we know Quantum is kind of the hard-edged straight man of the story. Maybe we get to see what's inside of him as well and play with the relationship like that. Part of that is in Issue #1, Woody mysteriously gets new superpowers and suddenly he's more powerful than Quantum, and Quantum has to really deal with that jealousy whereas Woody has to deal with that heightened responsibility. So, it's playing with that kind of stuff.
To go abstract, who are Quantum and Woody to you?
I think about them a lot in the same way that I thought when I was writing Gwenpool in that they both became superheroes because they were familiar with what it meant to be a superhero. It's not like they were Superman or Batman where they literally invented the idea of being a vigilante. Quantum is this guy who is this ex-military badass who all he ever wanted to be was a superhero. That's his entire past in the military with all the gadgets and the guns and the boots and all that stuff. He always wanted to be a superhero because he knew what it meant to be a superhero and Woody knows that through pop culture too. They are already one level removed from superheroes.
I'm approaching it in a way that they have some expectation as to what it means to be a superhero and we, as a reader, have an expectation to be a superhero for them to think that they need to be superheroes. So it's all these levels of meta to be these modern, mythical creatures.
With Gwenpool, you had taken this meta concept and gone one step further and made it even more postmodern with the medium itself.
I don't know how many more levels of postmodern we can go. Somebody had written an essay on Gwenpool that she's the Camus absurdist hero which is the idea of absurdity that ultimately embraces humanism instead of going nihilistic and I went, "Oh, great! I'm so glad I definitely thought to do that!" (Please write that I'm making a sarcastic face.)
A lot of Valiant characters tend to be a little self-serious. What is the importance of making Quantum & Woody perhaps bring the most levity into that universe?
I always feel like every superhero universe needs to have their funny characters. To make a culinary metaphor, your serious superheroes are the base of the dish -- a very savory dish -- and Quantum & Woody are like that hint of lemon juice or vinegar that you throw in there to make the entire thing pop. I really believe that you need a balance of tone and I'm happy always to bring in the comedy side.
After having previously done Vote Loki and with Ryan fresh off Curse Words, what kind of comedy can we expect here?
Part of the fun with doing these individual issues is we kind of hit them from a different angle with every single one. There is definitely a great slapstick thing where they accidentally kill one of their supervillains and then it goes into a very different style of very tense, awkward humor when they have to go to his funeral. So that's a good example of balancing tone.
How steeped [in backstory] or how accessible are you going to try to make it for somebody who has maybe never read a Quantum & Woody issue? How important is accessibility?
Accessibility is at the top of my mind. Like I said, they're individual stories and what I mean is you can pick up any single one of them, not just as your first Quantum & Woody comic but maybe your first comic ever. They are structured to be very, very easy to get into and we're kind of doing, not quite a recap section, but one that is treated a little bit more like a recap on a TV show where it's not just a paragraph of information and character profiles but it's more scenic and it's only the information you need. Even if I have to do the same scene across different issues for that recap, I'll do a new joke for every single one of them. That's a good example of how we bring in new readers but old readers aren't going to get bored.
Having just come off Marvel work, what do you find so refreshing about getting to play with the Valiant characters?
I'm allowed to do whatever I want! I think every single decision I made at Marvel had go through multiple layers of approval. For example, with Gwenpool, I was originally writing it that her first story arc revolved around her becoming Bullseye's intern or something. She accidentally steals an assassination gig from Bullseye and that it's really tense and scary that she has to work for Bullseye while he's recovering from some injury that she accidentally gave him until he recovers and then they have to fight. It took a really long while for them to say, "No, you can't use Bullseye... What about M.O.D.O.K.?" And that completely re-shifted the story to have it be about M.O.D.O.K. instead.
While I was writing Vote Loki, that got rewritten under my feet the entire time I was writing it. Scenes would come back where they'd go, "Hey, you can't do this scene, they've already drawn it the other way; we need some text now." So I don't have to do any of that here which is wonderful. And also, I'm working so far ahead of schedule. I started writing this book in February; Ryan only just started illustrating it in September and the book doesn't come out until January. So I have a lot of time to go back and rewrite stuff if I write something for Issue #6 and then have to go back and add it to previous issues to set it up properly. That's really refreshing instead of writing by the seat of your pants the entire time.
Quantum & Woody #1 is written by Christopher Hastings and illustrated by Ryan Browne. The series is scheduled to debut January 29 from Valiant Entertainment.