Valiant's Live-Action Ninjak Directors Balance Heroic and Humanistic

After a couple of weeks of teases, Valiant Entertainment made "Ninjak vs. The Valiant Universe" official this past Saturday at New York Comic Con -- an upcoming web series intended to introduce the company's shared universe of characters to a new audience, while also providing hardcore fans of Valaint's comics the first live-action adaptation of characters like Ninjak. X-O Manowar, Bloodshot and Eternal Warrior.

Scheduled to debut in late 2017, the six-episode series will star "Arrow" veteran Michael Rowe as Ninjak, and also feature "Mighty Morphin Power Ranger" alum Jason David Frank as Bloodshot, pro wrestling star John Morrison as the Eternal Warrior, Chantelle Barry as Roku, Kevin Porter as Armstrong, Ciera Foster as Livewire and Derek Theler as X-O Manowar, with more cast to be announced. The project is the first initiative of Valiant's new "Valiant Digital" division, which aims to be complementary to both Valiant's publishing efforts and its separate feature film projects in development with Sony Pictures.

Last month, CBR visited the Los Angeles set of "Ninjak vs. The Valiant Universe," and with a small group of reporters spoke to series directors Aaron and Sean Schoenke -- the father and son team behind Bat in the Sun Productions, best known for YouTube hit "Super Power Beat Down." The duo -- who also wrote the series along with comics writer Joe Harris -- discussed their own history with Valiant's comic books, bringing the characters' costumes to live-action and what makes this cast of comic book characters unique.

Michael Rowe as Ninjak.

What did you see in the Valiant characters that made it apparent you could create something different from the many other live-action superheroes we've seen in recent years?

Sean Schoenke: It's a fresh opportunity for people to explore a whole universe of characters they may not be familiar with. The fact that we're working with the official IP holders is a great way of embracing a fresh opportunity.

Aaron Schoenke: Obviously there's ton of superheroes out there, but there's tons of music -- you may be into rock and pop but there's also jazz, classical, country, and that may be more your thing. That's what people are going to get with Valiant. The characters are different, I think they're a little more humanistic. You never see superheroes eat -- I want to see the characters being like, "I've been on the run, I'm starving, I need carbs." Michael Phelps eats like 13,000 calories a day; superheroes have to eat, too, as opposed to being perfect all the time. You want to see humanistic things about them -- I think that's what makes them cool and relatable, while still [doing] heroic things.

And it's not just straight superheroes -- even within this project you're getting to do different genres via the different characters.

Aaron Schoenke: Exactly. It's not so cookie-cutter. Anything could happen -- I think that's one of the draws for it, because the characters allow for that.

How much familiarity did you have with the Valiant characters going into this?

Aaron Schoenke: A lot more since we started the process. Being huge comic book fans, familiar with them from the '90s, I had some "X-O" and stuff from back then. Since they restarted, I had not been [reading Valiant], but they sent us literally every book ever. The normal comics I read, I haven't read any of those, because I've been reading all these [Valiant] comics. Sometimes they'll send them like a week [after release], and I'll be like, "I already went out and bought it! I had to know what happened to Ninjak!" It's been real cool to dive into these characters.

A lot of the superheroes that are popular, it becomes formulaic; it becomes a recycling. With Valiant, it's been new. It's been interesting to see that applied to a different character structure.

Sean Schoenke: A lot of our cast and crew were familiar with Valiant. So we were able to pick their brains a lot. They've been fans for a long time. It was a lot of information, and we've been able to process it, and really hone in on the personalities and nuance.

Aaron Schoenke: Jason [David Frank] and Michael [Rowe] have been so into the characters. They're so aligned with it, they're like the living embodiment of those characters. It's been a blast working with them.

Jason David Frank as Bloodshot.

How did you settle on the costume design for the first live-action versions of these characters?

Sean Schoenke: Sometimes the costumes that are illustrated in the comics, if you try to template that exactly in live-action, it seems a little cheesy. So you try to add a little more texture to it, a little tweak here and there, but you want to stay faithful. You want to keep the color patterns correct.

Aaron Schoenke: You don't want to go, "Let's go all black leather, that'll solve everything!" You want to [recognize], "That is Ninjak, that is X-O." You have to design the suit for durability, it has to allow for great action. Ninjak's a great fighter, so the suit's got to be allowed to do that.

Sean Schoenke: When it's on paper, you're not going to know for sure. It's not until the actor actually puts it on and you start to tailor-fit it to him that it just comes alive. When we finally completed the Ninjak costume, we were all just blown away. It came out so much better than I ever expected.

What was your philosophy on the casting? There are actors fans of genre entertainment will recognize -- how deliberate was that element, bringing in people like Jason David Frank and Michael Rowe?

Aaron Schoenke: You want to have the actors embody it in terms of physicality, but also loving the characters. They read so many of the comic books and are here because they like these characters, and want them to be brought to life correctly. Not just here for to get exposure. That's never a good destination to start with when doing something artistic.

Sean Schoenke: Especially those who are really familiar and have followed Valiant for a long time, we want them to go, "That's it. That's what we want to see."

Keep reading CBR for more on "Ninjak vs. the Valiant Universe."

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