AICN COMICS SDCC 2013 Q&@: Ambush Bug gets the intel on the fallout of Valiant’s THE HARBINGER WARS from writer Joshua Dysart!
@’s by HARBINGER writer
AMBUSH BUG (BUG): I am here with Josh Dysart and this is Day Three, Saturday.
JD: It’s all a blur. I have no idea.
BUG: We’re at San Diego. Josh, you’ve been doing HARBINGER from the very start for Valiant. Let’s start out with how you came to write this series. Where did you come from? How did you pitch these guys?
JD: They actually approached me. Warren Simon, the executive editor who has brought all of these titles together and launched them, approached me and there was some talk of me doing many of the titles, not all at once, but me pitching for one of the titles, and I did send in paragraph beats on each title, but I have a feeling that from the beginning Warren Simons was intent on getting me on the book HARBINGER, and I didn’t really want to do HARBINGER.
BUG: Why is that?
JD: Yeah, I mean HARBINGER wasn’t really the book that I wanted, and now I’m very thankful that Warren stuck to his guns and kept me and I focused on it.
BUG: So let’s talk about your first story arc on there. When we did the reviews for it I loved it. There were some people on my site who kind of spoke out on the fact that the lead character was kind of manipulating the woman, Kris, to be with him. Was there feedback from that? How did fans react to that?
JD: Yeah, there was. It was a discussion that Warren and I had from the beginning. I wanted to do something really honest about Peter, and I just felt like having all that power and being so young and not having any real model of familial love in being in these cold institutions, I just thought he would be so desperate for affection and that he would ultimately as young people do, would misuse his power and do something ethically terrible, and we went back and forth on it a lot inside the company and then when the book came out, most people responded to it in a way that I thought would be an appropriate way, which is to be like “Well, yes this person has made a terrible decision and impacted another human being, but he’s not necessarily a bad person.” He’s just a young person making a terrible decision, and I thought it was a complex enough issue, and a lot of people got that and some people I guess walked away from the book because of it. They didn’t see what we were going for, which is ultimately a redemption arc, and it’s a little frustrating. We didn’t really get to Kris’s, the victim of this event, we didn’t get to point of view on it until we got to issue six, so it takes a while, but I do think that once you read from one to six, I really do think that we not only address the issue, but I think we made an interesting comic book about an interesting and real thing.
BUG: She’s definitely one of the more interesting characters on the book. She doesn’t have any powers. She doesn’t have anything. She’s there, but she’s the leader of this whole crew even though Peter is the most powerful one. Since then, and people who have stuck through it and saw this arc, that you weren’t just going to have this happen and then drop it and never address it again, has there been reaction to that as well?
JD: Issue six, which is Kris’s first real issue, the first time she gets a voice, that was an issue I was very nervous about. I knew it was our most important issue. But it was very well received and kicked off the “Renegade” story arc, which has been very well received. So I think anyone who has stuck with it through Kris’s narrative walked away happy with the way we handled it.
BUG: She’s one of my favorite characters in the whole book, and even the whole Valiant universe really, just because she’s this normal voice in all of this madness.
JD: She’s kind of awesome. She’s young and impetuous and anarchist to a fault and she will rob a bank at the drop of a hat, but…
BUG: She’s more of a badass than the ones with powers.
JD: Yeah, she really is. They wouldn’t do half of the shit that they do if it wasn’t for her, you know? So I love her and I think it’s so interesting, the courage it takes to be a regular person amongst gods and to play that game.
BUG: So you’re taking your time introducing the rest of the characters, like Torque and Flamingo and Zeppelin and everybody; how did you pick and choose who was going to show up first? Did you follow the blueprint of the original series? How did you make those decisions?
JD: I did not follow the blueprint of the original series. To be honest, I would have to look back and look to see in exactly what order they introduce them. Maybe we accidentally fell right into line, I don’t know.
BUG: I’m not sure, I’d have to check. I’m sure Dinesh would know that.
JD: Dinesh would know it in a heartbeat. No, I picked the characters on just what I thought would be the best storytelling order for it all. Faith and Peter had to be on the back end. We had to get Kris first, because we already waited too long to hear Kris’s side of things, so already I was frustrated with that, that I couldn’t get that in earlier. So Kris was bound to come first. Really the only two we had to shuffle about and see what worked narratively was Charlene and Torque, and from there the story sort of wrote itself. I knew that everything was going to go down around Torque’s place and the story dictated we did these things in, yeah.
BUG: I find Torque to be a really interesting character. What went into that? It reminds me a little bit of PRIME. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with that series, the Malibu series.
JD: Yeah, I know about it. I haven’t really read it.
BUG: A little bit of SHAZAM, but it’s still original enough and it’s not so derivative that you’re like “Oh, this is an obvious reference.”
JD: Well part of HARBINGER’s charm is that it’s playing with derivative ideas and comic book clichés. Part of what we want to do is very much like purposefully put a pen to something that you’re familiar with and then explore it, like really try to explore it.
BUG: So you guys got into the first crossover in Valiant with THE HARBINGER WARS. This early on it’s kind of risky to do a big crossover before everything is super established. Why was this the story that needed to be the first crossover?
JD: Well, there’s three real main reasons. One is that from the beginning we had been creating sort of a collision course for Bloodshot in the HARBINGER book. That, as narratives often do, particularly in the monthly format, that had an engine of its own, and they were arcing towards each other much faster than I think we expected. The second reason is that I finished my first year exactly the way I wanted to do my first year. It was only ten issues, but that was my vision for the first year: introduce the Peter/Harada conflict, show Peter as alone and broken, and then show Peter as acquiring friends and introduce the Renegades. So once we did that, I had to put the crossover there or I was going to start my next year’s worth of narrative. So it was perfectly slotted in. The third reason why it’s interesting to do it now is that there’s been a lot of talk about how Marvel and DC crossovers don’t really change their universes despite how they are advertised, and the truth of the matter of that is that they really can’t. It’s not because people working on it aren’t talented or because they don’t have vision; it’s because those universes are so solidified and they are properties, they are money making machines, and we are not, but we will be soon. So if we don’t do this crossover now this way and have it really change the universe, who knows how long it will be before we can do that anymore, before the universes solidify. So it does seem early, but if you take the logic to its natural extension, this is the best time to do a crossover, when people really can die, when you don’t know what to expect, when new characters can be introduced. And we profoundly changed both HARBINGER and BLOODSHOT with this story. I mean, the title of BLOODSHOT changed, so I think that’s really why we did it now, yeah.
BUG: So far, just to see the handling of the entire Valiant universe has been great. You mention Marvel and DC, and it seems like you guys are telling stories that Marvel and DC were doing like thirty or forty years ago when they were establishing all of that stuff. It’s great that you guys are conscientious of that.
JD: It feels very much like that. That’s why it makes me uncomfortable when people compare us that we’re doing it right and “DC did the New 52 wrong.” I mean, what could DC have done? It’s a massive juggernaut with huge properties that are incredibly valuable across a wide spectrum. We are young and fresh, like Marvel was in the early days. We can afford to be crazy and do weird stuff. Not only can we afford it, but we have to do it--otherwise we won’t be able to compete. We have to fill the slot that Marvel and DC can’t fill, so the day is probably going to come when…I hope it does in a weird way (laughs), when Valiant is so big that unfortunately it becomes more bound in its own property protection and all this stuff, but right now the only engine we have is innovation and moving fast, being super creative and not afraid to do weird things.
BUG: The other aspect that I really like is the inclusion of not only Harada, but also the Bleeding Monk, who has been in the background. How much more are we going to see of him, and how much more is going to be revealed of this guy?
JD: There are a couple of things I want to do with the book now. The book hasn’t had time to sit inside of the status quo. I think two more arcs can get us to really kind of feel like “Oh, now we’ve got a status quo”, which I think is really good and healthy for a monthly book. Then I think we are going to start taking very seriously the reveal of just exactly what, who, and why the Bleeding Monk is in the universe. So there’s only more Monk coming.
BUG: And Harada--he is the big villain. That’s definitely the one you think of when you think of Valiant as the big bad guy. What’s your special take on him? How do you make him distinct from, say, a Lex Luthor with psychic powers?
JD: I think that what makes Harada distinct is that he’s not in any real sense of the word a villain. He’s a way more complex individual than that. I’m so fascinated with where the physics of good intentions goes wrong, and Harada is my personification of that. Ultimately, Harada is a kind humanitarian on a macro level, but when it comes down to the micro of it all and getting it done, he would kill your whole family. I really think that’s fascinating and it’s been interesting, because now as we are expanding, other people are starting to write Harada and stuff and it’s interesting to talk to them, because it takes a little massaging to get these amazing writers to get it right. I think we expect to just create a villain and there’s an Ursula K. LeGuin quote where she said “Villainy is uninteresting” and I totally agree with her, but Harada is interesting, because Harada is going to change the world.
BUG: He’s not a mustache twirling villain, like “I’m so evil.” It’s great.
JD: Yeah--his first instinct isn’t to kill you, but it’s second. (laughs) I think he’s really interesting. I think he operates from a place of moral superiority, and that’s almost worse than…on the one hand, he has all of these exceptional intentions; on the other hand, his hubris is phenomenal. He really does think he’s the only human being with the only vision, the only clarity to do this. He’s anti-democratic in every way. So then the book is not about good and evil anymore; it’s about Peter, who is profoundly democratic, possibly to a fault as democracy can be messy as hell, and if you’ll notice The Renegades are always taking votes on what to do. So Peter is profoundly democratic and egalitarian. Harada is a dictator. He is a utopianist dictator, and so we’ve really blurred the lines on what’s right and wrong. Peter is a brash, violent democrat and Harada is a utopian dictator.
BUG: That’s interesting, because you did that in UNKNOWN SOLDIER, and that involves some politics as well. Is that something that’s an interest of yours? The world of politics?
BUG: How much do you put that into the story without making it feel like you’re preaching to somebody?
JD: Yeah, I’ve spent a lot of my career trying to find the balance between making sure that my narrative comments on the human animal as a political animal and society as political constructs and just keeping it fun. UNKOWN SOLDIER was the ultimate crash course in that, like “How do we do this?” When I was researching UNKOWN SOLDIER in East Africa, one of the things I did was heavy-duty research on the NGOs in the area. The time I was in Gulu Town there were more NGOs in that area than anywhere else in the world. So it was like seven hundred and fifteen NGOs in a town of like three thousand people or something crazy. I witnessed good intentions cause all kinds of structural malfunction and social malfunction, and I became super fascinated by that. I think Hirada is very much an outgrowth of that. Ever since then I’ve been very interested in NGOs that mean well that end up screwing up areas, or how humanitarian crises gets poorly managed. I hadn’t really thought about it before, but Hirada is probably a direct extension of that research that I did.
BUG: Then you did the OCCUPY COMICS piece which showed the card set, which is really interesting seeing that. It seems like you take a very standoffish look at not just one particular party, but looking at it from an objective point of view.
JD: Absolutely. I mean, I identify with left politically, but there’s so much wrong with the left, so to not be honest about that is…it’s just complicated struggling for progressive ideas. People have done horrible things in the name of progressive ideas, so we have to be honest about that. If we’re not being honest about that, if we are choosing a party side, then not only does that make us crappy storytellers, but honestly we’re not being involved in the real conversation, like the real political conversation.
BUG: Nothing takes me out of a story like when it feels like I can really tell the politics at play.
JD: Yeah, I can’t stand that stuff.
BUG: So what’s coming up next for HARBINGER?
JD: So the kids have had a pretty rough run of it, so what’s coming up next is a story arc called PERFECT DAY where they are finally going to get a vacation and they are going to get to relax and they are going to get to act like kids. Issue 15, if you come to HARBINGER in part for the character interaction and the chance to watch friendships be born in front of your eyes, then this is your quintessential issue. However, PERFECT DAY can’t last forever (laughs), so things are going to go bad and the kids are going to have to deal with it. After that, we are going to do like I said: establish the status quo. The Renegades are going to have to decide exactly who and what they are and what they stand for and how they are going to fulfill this stance, and then the Bleeding Monk long game is going to start to be revealed.
BUG: Very cool. Any other miniseries or other extensions of HARBINGER or other areas of Valiant that you plan on checking out, or crossovers?
JD: Yeah, well we just finished HARBINGER WARS and the repercussions of HARBINGER WARS are deeply affected throughout our books, and you’re going to find soon in other books as well. So right now I think the point is that now that we’ve expanded it, it’s to now deal with all of this expansion. But I am also co-writing BLOODSHOT and HARDCORE with Christos Gage. Duane Swierczynski did a great job up until the end of his crossover, and now he’s going off to work on his novels and do his other work and Chris and I are taking over the book. I think that’s going to solidify even further our little corner of the universe. We are building something where multiple books speak to each other month in and month out. I mean, the censors are going to be looking at it as a constant crossover.
BUG: Were you part of the creative process as far as what H.A.R.D. CORPS is going to be? You introduced them in the HARBINGER WARS.
JD: Yeah, I was given pretty much carte blanche, actually. We talked a lot about H.A.R.D. CORPS for a long time before putting them in this book, and we wrestled with all kinds of different things. At one point there was an idea about grafting on different body parts and stuff like this, but when it all came down to it and I finally had to execute them, I was given carte blanche and I did what we’ve always done with all of these titles: look at what worked. What works about H.A.R.D. CORPS is they are the human response to a superhero solution, and that takes a great toll on them. I didn’t want to lose that. So yeah, I got to conceptualize them all, and I got to choose which characters came back and recreate Palmer’s personality as a man who would gladly feed a rogue fox and help the animals around him, but would shoot a man in traffic for cutting him off.
BUG: Very cool. I flip flop between whatever book I’m reading at the time. Valiant is always one of my favorites of the month. HARBINGER is non-stop. I love it every time it comes out and I love all of the other titles. Is there another title that you really like coming from Valiant right now?
JD: Yeah, I think Robert Venditti just kicks ass on X-O MANOWAR. I think Fred Van Lente is super, super funny. I have not read the James Asmus stuff. I haven’t read QUANTUM & WOODY yet.
BUG: That one was really good.
JD: I can’t wait. I’m super looking forward to it. Matt is a genius, so yeah…honestly, I think Warren and I share the same belief. It’s a belief I’ve had since I’ve been in comics, and that is that every single comic book issue should kick in your fucking door, man. It’s three dollars; they’re getting 22 pages of story and art. I know it’s hard. I know it’s hard not to just grind through and turn stuff out and it’s way more taxing and way more work, but we are a monthly medium and I just think we have to earn it every month, and Warren believes that. I think you see that in all the books.
BUG: It’s fantastic and you can tell with each book. Every month it’s always entertaining.
JD: Yeah, cool.
BUG: Congratulations. It sounds like you’re in it for the long-haul. You’re not planning on leaving Valiant any time soon?
JD: No. I’m super happy here. It’s a small company and so that has a familial feel to it. When I first met Dinesh, our CEO, my boss, he was carrying boxes along with everyone else through the con floor. I had never really seen that before. I like it scrappy, and I’m a product of the third wave of punk, and for better or for worse, Valiant feels a little punk rock right now as far as superhero comics go. So I couldn’t have found a better place.
BUG: Fantastic. Well, congratulations. I can’t wait to see what else is coming up for HARBINGER and Valiant, so thanks a lot and have a great con.
JD: Yeah, thanks man--and you too.
BUG: You can read Joshua Dysart every month on Valiant Entertainment’s HARBINGER ongoing series, and if you haven’t picked it up yet, check out the amazing THE HARBINGER WARS which just wrapped up.
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of AICN COMICS for over 12 years & AICN HORROR for 3. He has written comics such as VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS THE TINGLERS & WITCHFINDER GENERAL, THE DEATHSPORT GAMES, & NANNY & HANK (soon to be made into a feature film from Uptown 6 Films). He has co-written FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND’s LUNA: ORDER OF THE WEREWOLF (to be released in October 2013 as a 100-pg original graphic novel through Hermes Press). Mark wrote the critically acclaimed GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK from Zenescope Entertainment & GRIMM FAIRY TALES #76-81. Look for GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK: LAST OF THE SPECIES available in February-July 2013 and the new UNLEASHED crossover miniseries GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS WEREWOLVES: THE HUNGER #1-3 available in May-July 2013! Follow Ambush Bug on the Twitter @Mark_L_Miller.
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