At WonderCon 2014, Valiant Entertainment gathered together a host of creators and staff to discuss the past, present and future of the Valiant Universe, including "X-O Manowar's" extra-sized 25th issue, new developments for "Unity," "Rai," "Quantum and Woody" and "Bloodshot," the last issue of the current "Harbinger" run and the upcoming "Harbinger: Omegas" miniseries and the first-ever Valiant summer event, "Armor Hunters." Panelists included Valiant CEO and CCO Dinesh Shamdasani, "X-O Manowar" and "Armor Hunters" writer Robert Venditti, "Harbinger" scribe Joshua Dysart, "Quantum and Woody" writer James Asmus and colorist David Baron.
Following panelist introductions, Valiant Director of Marketing Hunter Gorinson kicked off the panel with a description of the Valiant First initiative, which launches in just a couple weeks, marking the third year of Valiant's publishing plan. "We heard something from you guys that was very interesting to us," said Shamdasani. "When you get home, you've told us that the first books you want to read are the Valiant books. It redoubled our efforts. We decided to build a program that allowed new fans an entry into the Valiant Universe that would allow them to feel the same way you do."
#1 issues like "Rai," "Armor Hunters," "The Delinquents" are all designed to bring new readers onboard and create books "unlike anything out there in the market."
Matt Kindt and Clayton Crain's "Rai" #1 is the first issue of the Valiant First initiative and will launch April 30. Rai takes place in 41st century Japan, and a character that many fans have been asking about. The book has been in the works for about 9 months, and Shamdasani said Crain "has gone to a crazy place" to construct the art and "each issue looks better than the last."
"Doesn't he know in comics it's supposed to work the other way?" joked Asmus.
Valiant is also launching a 48-page version of "Rai" #1 called "Rai Plus" #1, which contains many more pages of in-continuity extra material. "It was only available as a pre-order," said Shamdasani. "This thing has 16 pages of material that Matt has been building. Matt's not just building a story, he's building an entire universe. ... He's built this four page map of Japan in the year 4001, and it's crazy the kind of things he's putting in there." If the Plus issue is successful, it's possible Valiant will do more.
"It's content that will flesh out the story, but it doesn't affect the story of 'Rai' itself," he continued.
"X-O Manowar" and "Armor Hunters" was up next, with the panel stating "X-O" #24 has already sold out."Coming out of the Unity storyline, Aric is somewhat forced to be the employee of a covert military organization called MERO," said Venditti. "Aric now works for the American Government to police a [ring of wreckage in space]." The issue also introduces Malgum, who is the "first key piece" of learning more about Aric's X-O Manowar armor.
"X-O Manowar" #25 is coming, and it's Valiant's first 25th issue. The first main story -- a 16-page chunk -- features the Armor Hunters and where they're at following the end of "X-O Manowar" #24. "I think one thing Valiant does great as a whole is write sympathetic villains," said Venditti. "Even if you don't agree with their methods, you can understand and sympathize with their mission statement."
"I will say that 'X-O Manowar' #25 is kind of a cheat -- Josh has written about 2 zero issues," Venditti joked.
"I like to refer to myself as the writer with the highest seniority," Venditti said. "You'll get there one day, Josh," he joked.
"Armor Hunters" #1 by Venditti and Doug Braithwaite (check out new interiors below) follows what Aric's Visigoth camp is up to following the events of "Unity." In terms of the Armor Hunters themselves, Venditti described Helix, who has a weapon that can turn her enemies into binary code, Quartz, a rock-like being; Ginger, a huge death robot somewhat inspired by the video game character Evil Otto; a dragon-esque polyglot, and Primary, the leader of the team with a huge backstory of how he connects to the other hunters. Venditti described them as "the SEAL Team Six" of the Valiant Universe.
"Doug really turned it up and took it to another level," said Venditti. "It's so much fun to work with the artists, see all that creativity and really augment them."
Bloodshot is set to join the "Unity" team -- which will be a very valuable asset for the premiere Valiant super-team.
"The opening to 'Unity' #9, I read the script, is really cool," said Venditti. "Matt's a super-talented guy."
The panel announced that Duffy Boudreau will come on to "Bloodshot and HARD Corps" with Christos Gage for the final issues of the series before Bloodshot heads to Unity. Al Barrionuevo will be on art. "If you're attached to too many members of the HARD Corps, I feel sorry for you, because this is not going to work out for them," said Gorinson.
Bloodshot will also appear in "Armor Hunters: Bloodshot" by Joe Harris and Trevor Hairsine. The series features a solo mission that requires him to work "very, very closely" with some of the M.E.R.O. folks. The panel described the series like "Aliens Vs. Predator" -- "The comic, not the movie," said Shamdasani.
The "Armor Hunter" tie-ins continue with "Armor Hunters: Harbinger," which features the Generation Zero team from "Harbinger Wars," who will go on a solo mission.
"It's a little bit of a surprise that they broke out of the Harbinger Foundation, but we'll get that in 'Harbinger,'" said Dysart, who said the book took place in a corner of "Armor Hunters" and dealt with a smaller part of the event. "This is the first I've seen this image, and that's awesome."
"Harbinger" is about to debut its 22nd issue, which kicks off "Death of a Renegade" -- a pretty harrowing title for those that love the team. Dysart said there's an inevitable collision with Harada, and "the very promise of the series since day one is that the kids with no power go up against the most powerful corporate entity in the species. That goes down in these issues."
"There is ultimately going to be repercussions to it," Dysart said. "I can honestly say without rhetoric and hyperbole changes for the characters."
The death will occur in "Harbinger" #23, and readers will see characters pushed to the absolute limit of their abilities -- even Harada.
Dysart went on to say that he felt like with Warren Simons' help, they've actually captured the battle of intellects between Peter's group and Harada. "It's about who can out-think who up against the wall," said Dysart.
The second Valiant 25th issue is for "Harbinger," which will span 48 pages. Dysart and original series artist Khari Evans will take care of the lead story with a number of creators attached to contribute -- Justin Jorda, Dan Goldman, Barry Kitson, Lucy Knisley, Riley Rossmo and more. Shamdasani said Kitson drew a poster of all the characters Dysart introduced during his "Harbinger" run.
Dysart described #25 as the "last" issue of "Harbinger," but the "end of the chapter, not the book."
"This whole last five issues of 'Harbinger' have been really challenging for me. We killed a character and that was hard for me," said Dysart. "When you kill a character, you take away that character's potential forever. Bringing this book to a close is really hard. I have a deep emotional attachment to it. The characters will go on, and I'm still involved in the Valiant Universe -- and it's time for chapter two. We get to do something that's rarely done in comics, and that's come to finite end, but [still continue the story]."
"Harbinger: Omegas" #1 is on sale in August, and serves as an exploration of the aftermath of the first "Harbinger" chapter. "Once Harada is outed as a Harbinger, he's unchained," said Dysart. "The capitalism was always his tool for legitimacy. Harada without legitimacy is potentially the most dangerous person on the planet." The series will follow Harada and any of the Renegades that survive the series. "I like the idea of seeing them parallel but with no confluence."
Asmus and Kano's "Quantum and Woody" is currently placed in Washington DC, and Asmus said the artist really brings "the electric sex-punch" to the book. "As much if not more than anyone I've ever worked with, he has just dove in and really relishes playing with layouts and the visual beats of the humor," he said. "He's phenomenal. He's doing 9 and 10 and 11/13 will be Wilfredo Torres."
Kano will also be doing "The Delinquents" -- the "Quantum and Woody" and "Archer & Armstrong" crossover, which Asmus and Fred Van Lente have been plotting in "the most delightful conversations about inappropriate things that will be in the book." The panel then confirmed there will be hobos in this book. Asmus said the writers were talking about a very real thing called "the hobo code," which was a code that helped hobos how to survive. "We wanted to send our rambling heroes decoding the hobo code to find the treasure of the king of the hobos," said Asmus. "Our four guys are traveling and the map towards this place has been split in two long ago. The map was originally tattooed on a hobo's butt-cheeks. And it turns out for years, Armstrong has had it in his bottomless satchel from his days as a hobo. We're talking about doing a variant cover that's maybe the butt-cheek map."
A variant cover set that is planned are interlocking covers that feature a fully-playable board game.
In other Valiant news, "Archer & Armstrong" is about to enter a new story arc, "American Wasteland." Much like previous arcs, this one will deal with a conspiracy -- Hollywood conspiracy. Archer & Armstrong will discover that "Hotel California" is about a very real place. Baron said everything from the writing to the pencis by Pere Perez and the coloring is "on another level." "When I was talking to Fred about the storyline, anytime I had a question, [the answer] made me smile," Barron said. "I have a feeling this will have an ending that will make you truly make you a fan of 'Archer & Armstrong' for life."
Finally, the "Death-Defying Doctor Mirage" by Jen Van Meter and Roberto De La Torre is the final Valiant First announced title, which will be a reinvention of the character. "I'm the most excited about this book," said Shamdasani. "It allows us to do something a little bit different. It's a very personal story." The story picks up when Doctor Mirage is meeting with other widows, speaks with their dead husbands, but can't speak with her own. "I don't know how many of you are familiar with Operation Paperclip. Jen has come up with the idea that there was ... basically an arms race for the supernatural. This millionaire recluse was the leader of that initiative." The millionaire has a bracelet that bonds him to a demon, and he wants Doctor Mirage's help. Shamdasani described the series as a "Tolkien-esque journey through Deadside" as the demon promises to reconnect Doctor Mirage with her husband if she frees him.
The panel was running low on time, but wrapped with "Shadowman: End Times" by Peter Milligan and Valentine De Landro. "It's going to be brutal," said Gorinson. "Things are about to get much worse before they get better." The series includes the return of Master Darque and the previous Shadowman.