Valiant Goes Beyond With New Titles: An Interview With Mel Caylo And Robert Meyers

by Hannah Means Shannon

Currently playing out are the events of Harbinger Wars 2, Valiant’s big summer event pitting big personalities in the Valiant Universe against each other in a struggle over the future of the psiots, powered beings activated by Toyo Harada. As we saw in previous series Secret Weapons, Livewire has taken rejected psiots under her wing and trained them to be a fighting force, and her actions in the face of a threat against all psiots leads to a full display of her powers, leaving North America in powerless darkness.

In the midst of Harbinger Wars 2, Valiant have announced that a new wave of books will be coming up following this crossover event, starting in September. This new wave, called “Valiant Beyond” will consist of four new titles announced so far, bringing together talent that’s new to Valiant with and creators who are already veterans of the Valiant Universe, as well as introducing new directions for established characters, too.

At Denver Comic Con a couple of weeks ago, I had a chance to talk about the publisher’s current and future slate of books with Valiant’s Director of Marketing, Mel Caylo, and Valiant’s Editorial Director, Robert Meyers.

HMS: I wanted to start by looking back for a moment at the Secret Weapons series and spin-off one shots, because that felt like a really interesting direction for the company. I have been a big fan of the art and the writing on it. How did that establish the groundwork for what you’re doing now, in terms of Harbinger Wars 2 and the “Valiant Beyond” titles?

Robert Meyers: We love Secret Weapons. The story came from Eric Heisserer writing the scripts for the movies. He fell in love with the characters, and that’s where the miniseries came from. From the beginning, we wanted it to feel different from the rest of the Valiant Universe, but still be part of the Valiant Universe. Raúl Allén and Patricia Martín were a great fit for that, having just finished their run on Wrath of Eternal Warrior. For me, Secret Weapons showed that Valiant is more than “tights and capes”, even though we’ve never been that much a “tights and capes” company. We found that we could really lean in to what makes the Valiant Universe so strong, which is putting stories and characters first. Secret Weapons validates what we always want to do—which is tell great stories with great characters, and with great creators.

HMS: I think those one-shots were really special. They gave extra emotional depth to the characters, like looking into Nikki Finch’s origin. It was heartbreaking.

RM: And Adam Pollina did some amazing work there.

HMS: Does that open up doors for you because you’ve now explored those characters so fully? Does it mean you’ve got that in the sandbox for the future?

RM: Yes, definitely. We have not seen the last of those characters. There’s a focal point on them in Harbinger Wars: Prelude and Issue #2 of Harbinger Wars 2.

HMS: And of course, Secret Weapons enabled fans to really get to know Livewire. Which I see as the emotional build-up to Harbinger Wars 2. It’s an interesting strategy because the action build-up is not overt, since the focus is on Livewire as a character. She becomes such an important character in Harbinger Wars 2, and in “Valiant Beyond”, she’s now going to have her own series.

One of the things that I’ve heard before about the Valiant Universe is that it’s not a super-polarized universe with heroes and villains, so while you may have some extremely bad characters, for the most part, characters operate within shades of gray. It’s more about the dynamics and frictions between powerful personalities, and that’s what makes your crossover events interesting to me. That really plays out to the max in Harbinger Wars 2, it seems. It’s about personal ethics and decisions versus anything absolute.

RM: It’s absolutely about the gray area. I think you said it best: it’s about the friction between big personalities. We have a very “real” world, very much the world outside your window. It’s what Jim Shooter, Bob Layton, and Barry Windsor-Smith were aiming for originally with Valiant. It’s something we hold near to our hearts, just ramped up to 110%.

We’ll be exploring that in Harbinger Wars 2. Peter Stanchek is going to be unleashed. After floating around in space, and then the events in “Rook”, and Generation Zero, as well as issue #5 of Harbinger Renegade, in Harbinger Wars 2, we’ll see him really unleashed. We’ve never seen him use his whole toolbox. In issue #2, we’re going to see that. He’s not going to wipe out a whole city, but it’s scary how powerful he is, and Matt Kindt does it in such a subdued, careful way.

Our characters all have good and bad in them. Livewire has been the apex of that, really, a hero but what she did in Harbinger Wars: Prelude—there’s no way around that. People died because of what she did there. And we’ll be exploring that in her first solo series. We’ve built her up in this “character arc” to a moment of decision, and now she has to deal with the consequences.

We’re always looking at the arc of the character, the arc of the story, and arc of the Universe.

We’ve been planning Harbinger Wars 2 for two years, so previous series like Harbinger Renegade and Generation Zero have all been part of that.

[Tomas Giorello’s artwork on Harbinger Wars 2 #3]

HMS: If you look at the different series around and before Harbinger Wars 2, a lot of characters have been gradually pushed closer and closer to going further and become more explosive than they ever have been before. It’s these small steps, little decisions, that lead to these bigger crises. It’s like that film Falling Down. You get pushed one little step further than ever before, and it all comes down.

RM: Yes. I think that’s a natural outcome of where our creators are coming from, too. We live in a world right now where people are operating at extremes. It’s scary on both ends. You’re seeing that in our stories because our creators are feeling that, and we’re all feeling that, to a degree.

HMS: That’s an important aspect of storytelling, too, because you’re going to get more depth out of characters if they’ve never faced such situations before. That ties into the ICONS approach to several main Valiant characters that we’ve been seeing played out over the past couple of years, where they have become more fully defined for readers.

One thing that’s always been true about the Valiant Universe is you have all these different types of genres in the comics, but they still all exist within the same Universe. You can kind of lean more toward sci-fi, or hero stories, or comedy, but they are all in the same world, and when you do an event like Harbinger Wars 2, it really reminds readers what all these series have in common and do well—and that is action-adventure. Do you agree that this is the overlap?

RM: That’s a great insight, I think that is an excellent way of looking at it.

[Tomas Giorello’s artwork on Harbinger Wars 2 #3]

HMS: Even Quantum and Woody are there in Harbinger Wars 2, our comedy duo.

RM: Yes, they are there when the lights go out. When I read that issue, issue #6, I cried. Eliot Rahal just made it so real. Something that Eliot does so well is true emotion and real character work. All these series have the potential to be a big blockbuster, but that’s not the story we want to tell every day. If we did, it wouldn’t be interesting. I think something we do well is that we tell character-driven stories that can turn into blockbusters, not telling blockbusters for the sake of blockbusters.

HMS: For real, just thinking about readers as human beings—if you try to keep a certain emotional pitch all the time, you will exhaust them. And lose readers.

RM: Exactly. And that’s something that affects characters, too, like Peter Stanchek. He’s been maintaining this pitch since last year, and he’s falling apart. For me, that’s what makes the Valiant Universe so relatable.

HMS: A lot of what we are talking about is actually psychology, of the characters themselves, as if they are real people.

Did you want to talk about the choice of the name “Valiant Beyond” and what that means to you, as well as how its reflected in the titles that are part of the line?

RM: Well, part of what goes into the naming process over the last few years is asking: What’s available? It would have been really good to name this “Valiant Now” but we couldn’t because of “Marvel Now”.  It would have worked because of where we are in our publishing plan. There was a minute where we were going to call it “Valiant Rising” and we were all on board for that. Then we realized that one of our series was called Bloodshot: Rising Spirit, and that double use of the word just didn’t work. We wanted to avoid that. So it’s a group process of naming things, and it’s fun. “Beyond” was perfect.

Mel Caylo: It was also fortuitous that our 2018 panel for discussing upcoming plans was called “Harbinger Wars 2 and Beyond”.

HMS: Oh, right! Yes, I remember.

MC: It was kismet that it matched so perfectly. It was a happy accident that we can call this new slate “Valiant Beyond” and keep moving ahead with our panel title as a double meaning. I think “Beyond” is great for encapsulating the characters that we’re spotlighting in these new series. But also because of the acquisition in January, and the change in some of the staff, fans were worried, and rightly so, about whether they were still going to get these great stories with these great characters, even though some of the players had changed. We wanted “Beyond” to convey that we’re moving beyond all this. That we’ve got a great team in place, who we believe are putting together the best stories that they can, with some of the greatest storytellers out there.

HMS: Terminology just ends up being so important to get the message out into the world and reach fans. So, you see “Beyond” as a reassuring phrase for fans?

MC: Yes, exactly.

HMS: I also think it piques the curiosity. Wondering: What does that mean? Beyond what we’ve seen before? Combinations of creators we’ve never seen before? It feels very exploratory, like a new frontier.

MC: With Faith: Dreamside coming out in September, we’re entering a dimension that we haven’t dealt with before.

RM: Dreamside is part of the Deadside that we haven’t seen before. It’s not the realm we saw in Rapture, and it’s not the realm that Ninjak explored in Operation Deadside. It’s in the same bio-sphere, but we haven’t seen it before, so Jody [Houser] gets to map out what that looks like.

MC: We are going to debut the Dreamside in Shadowman. You’re going to see the first look at the first reference to Dreamside in Shadowman #7, which is coming out just before Faith: Dreamside.

And there are things that are going to be in Incursion that have not been seen before in the Valiant Universe.

HMS: Oh, yes, I was going to ask you about Incursion! Since that’s the most mysterious looking title and title image in the “Beyond” announcement.

RM: That was on purpose.

MC: Yes!

HMS: Related to that, perhaps, is a question I have about the space and cosmic elements in the Valiant Universe and what’s coming up on that front. Because for several years now, there has usually been a title or two devoted to that aspect of the Universe. Like Divinity and Eternity, and of course X-O Manowar has been set on an alien planet. When I saw the title and image, I thought, “That looks very science-fiction”, and of course, it also sounds and looks very threatening.

RM: This isn’t an actual story analog, but when we were coming up with Incursion, I was thinking of that film Event Horizon.

HMS: Oh, wow—that film is terrifying! It still messes with my head.

RM: Science-fiction horror. It scared the pants off of me when I first saw that. I worked in movie theaters when it first came out. I watched it with friends, and when we went home, we couldn’t do anything. We were all in a kind of weird psychic shock.

This story is not that. But that was definitely in my mind as the imagery and the tone we are going for. Science-fiction. Tentacle horror. We’ve had the loose outline in hand for a year or so, and we’ve been building on it. Andy Diggle has been working on it for over a year. He and [Executive Editor] Joe [Illidge] are hard at work on it now.

HMS: I’ve noticed a certain rotational approach at Valiant so as not to overstretch the fan base, bringing in this property, then rotating it out for another, then another, and especially if they inhabit a similar space, like science-fiction.

RM: Yes. We have so many characters, and so many books that we could publish, but we want to keep characters first, and story first. I don’t want us to publish 75 different titles. It’s not worth it to us. We’ve got our fans so onboard with this tightly-knit universe without breaking anyone’s wallet. That’s key to me. I remember having to put books back at the shop when picking up my stack, and I get it.

One of the big parts of our success has been our retail partnerships, and we want to make it easy for retailers to sell these books as well as order them. We are publishing exactly how many books we want to publish to accomplish that.

HMS: As I’ve said before in talking with Valiant folks, the reason I’m a Valiant reader is because my local comic shop pulled me aside and told me that Valiant was coming back and pitched me on reading the books, so retailers have definitely been important! They were in the first wave of outreach to fans. They said that Valiant would call them on the phone.

RM: That’s something we’ve not let go of. We have one of the largest sales teams in the industry calling shops.

HMS: Before we move on, did you want to talk about the creative teams on the “Beyond” books?

RM: Sure, yes. We wanted to keep working with the creative teams who were established at Valiant, but we also wanted to bring in new voices. That’s something we talk about all the time: bringing in new voices without losing our current voices. Jody [Houser] has been working on what is now called Dreamside since SDCC last year, but who would draw that? We wanted MJ Kim, who is an up-and-coming artist with crazy talent. We’re so excited about that—what she’s going to do on the four-issue series, and what she’s going to do for us next.

The making of Valiant Beyond was truly a team effort. [Director of Marketing] Mel [Caylo], Joe, and the rest of the team pitched in. It was a lot of fun, lots of excitement behind the scenes.

Incursion is something that Andy Diggle pitched, and has been working on for over a year, but who can do “wide-screen, blockbuster, universe-wide”? We immediately thought of Doug Braithwaite, and he said yes, choosing it over other projects.

The same with Bloodshot Rising Spirit. Those are new voices who I’ve wanted to work with for years. I’ve personally known Zac Thompson for years. He and I were working on something at Doubletake that never ended up happening. So, this project started with Zac and Lonnie Nadler, and they are a younger team. So we asked, “Who should draw this, and bring some gravitas?” Ken [Lashley]’s name came up. He’s someone I’ve been a fan of for decades, and someone I’ve always wanted to bring in. We spoke with him at C2E2 this year, but were worried he might be exclusive. We were delighted when he wasn’t, and accepted.

Livewire’s the same story. We came up with some names of who could work on it. Vita Ayala is someone we’ve wanted to work with for some time and bring them in on a project. I was working with Raúl Allén and Patricia Martín, and wondering what they could do next.  It was very much a case of showing them a number of pitches and they fell in love with Vita’s pitch.

We have definitely wanted to bring in some new voices. It’s the perfect time for it, with “Beyond” as part of the title. Next year there are going to be some crazy and exciting things that are going to fit that mold, too. New voices, new creators, alongside people we’ve been working with since day one.

HMS: It’s an interesting time where we’ve got this generation of comic creators coming up right now who have tremendous talent and knowledge of comics who are just on the edge of breaking into wider recognition in their field, and they are all reaching that point at the same time. And the creators in the “Beyond” line definitely make that list.

RM: Yes, these are all people we’ve wanted to work with for a while. For these creators, this is not their Valiant project, this is the start of their Valiant career, and we are talking about what  comes next.

HMS: Last question: How does “Beyond” fit in with the ICONS Valiant road-map? X-O Manowar was so huge, and set records for sales. We’ve had Bloodshot take the fore, and right now Shadowman. Is there more to come in that vein, or have we moved into a new phase?

RM: It’s a little of both. 2016 was the year for the Future of Valiant. That was about expanding the Universe. 2017 was about ICONS. We knew we would be getting more mass media, and we wanted to focus back on these characters. With Beyond, it’s a little bit of both. We wanted to combine the past with the idea of the new.

We’ve come up with a full slate of what we’ll start in March of 2019, and it’ll be a mix of both. There’s an ICONS image that shows Faith, X-O, Bloodshot, Shadowman as Magpie, and Harada. So that’s my desktop screensaver at work. There’s only one of those we haven’t seen yet. So, we already know one of those is coming in March. We build these things out for years and years, so that’s the plan.

HMS: I credit Valiant with that. I’ve been watching the company grow long enough to see some very long lead-time in planning things out, and that’s reassuring, and an interesting thing to keep an eye on.

RM: Oh, of course. I don’t know how much people look behind the scenes, but it’s definitely there.

Big thanks to Mel Caylo and Robert Meyers for sitting down to talk with me about Harbinger Wars 2 and Valiant Beyond!

Faith: Dreamside #1 kicks off this new raft of books on September 26th, and is currently available for pre-order, as is a special Pre-Order Bundle:

FAITH: DREAMSIDE #1 (of 4)
Written by JODY HOUSER
Art by MJ KIM
Cover A by MARGUERITE SAUVAGE (JUL182253)
Cover B by SIBYLLINE MEYNET (JUL182254)
Variant Cover by ADAM POLLINA (JUL182257)
Blank Cover Also Available (JUL182256)
$3.99 | 32 pgs. | T+ | On Sale SEPTEMBER 26 (FOC – 9/3/18)

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