As soon as I heard that Joshua Dysart (Unknown Soldier) was going to be writer for Valiant Entertainment's new Harbinger series, I knew that I had to chat with him about what I've predicted to quite possibly be the comic book of this decade (much like the previous Harbinger #1 is considered by some to be the comic of the decade for the 1990s). I knew that his vision and storytelling ability would fit the Harbinger franchise perfectly, both in theme and scope. As you'll see below, I couldn't have been more correct.
AF: Joshua, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me, and our readers, about your exciting new project Harbinger!
Joshua: Hey Andy!! It’s great to talk to you! So glad we could do this!
AF: How did you become involved with the Valiant relaunch and, once on board, was Harbinger a personal pick of yours to work on or was it something that you were approached with?
Joshua: Editor Warren Simons contacted me. He had been blitzed with the double-pronged Dysart attack (not a porn reference) by picking up the first volume of Unknown Soldier then, after reading it, having my friend Christos Gage suggested me to him. So it was written in the stars. Warren knows not to screw with fate. Warren and I flirted with some other titles earlier on. I wrote a few, very brief, ideas for a bunch of books. Honestly, I wasn't sure that Harbinger was the right fit for me at first. It's very grounded in the world, and after Unknown Soldier I was looking for some high fantasy or sci-fi or something. Just to go in another direction, you know? But Warren convinced me that I was the man for the job and I'm really glad he did. He's been fantastic from the start. I judge a lot of my work experiences on my relationship with the editors involved, I like perfectionists, I like a creative partner who's going to go the extra mile to make sure a comic is as good as it can be before it hits the streets (not easy on a monthly schedule) and working with Warren has been extremely rewarding. So you'll see that turn into quality in the book, I'm sure.
AF: Several of your previous projects, especially the late great Unknown Soldier for DC Comics’ Vertigo line, have strong humanitarian and political themes. Can we expect to see a healthy dose of this intelligent type of commentary in Harbinger?
Joshua: Yes, but not in the same way. Unknown Soldier was fueled by a sort of anger and even, in the beginning, incomprehension, on my part. And I think that's writ large in the book. It's a war book and I could never ever portray war as anything other than a horror-show or a joke and still sleep with myself at night. Harbinger gives me more room to move. More room to have fun. So yeah, it's unquestionably about corporate dominance, the baby-boomers fucking up everything for the rest of us, the struggle for social control between generations, protests movements and the economic upheaval we're seeing now. But that's less of an engine and more of a chassis, if you know what I mean.
AF: I completely get what you mean. What is it particularly about Harbinger though, as a comic book and concept, that appeals to you and is ripe for exploration of such themes?
Joshua: It's about kids just starting to use and discover their power to usurp adults who have all the power. I think that speaks to our time quite a bit. The occupy movement, the Arab spring, the global crisis of credit... in this country you have police using military tactics on civilians, you've got an environment in revolt and a collapsing monetary system. The truth is adults are leaving the kids a pretty shitty world. And the kids are pissed off about it. If I can get that into Harbinger, even a little bit, I'll be happy.
AF: I, for one, am a huge fan of the social and political commentary in your sequential art work, so I know that I, and many readers, will be stoked if you can! My column here at The Bin focuses on these types of topics often. One gets the idea that the tension between Pete Stancheck and Toyo Harada will be representative, thematically and allegorically, of the type of tensionthat often exists economically between the haves and have nots, which is a hot button issue this election year. This theme isn’t new to the Harbinger concept. Am I on track here or totally off?
Joshua: You are very much on track. But I want to just say that all of this is going to be couched pretty deeply in the character and narrative. I don't want Harbinger to be preachy. It's not Unknown Soldier. So it'll be interesting to keep these things submerged, but still present.
AF: Awesome. Putting aside all of the deeper meanings and messages you might have cooking for Harbinger, what kind of knock down drag out superhero action are you conjuring up for Harbinger’s readers? Will there be a huge focus on action? Are you looking to play things out with an understated tone action wise? Or will there be a combination of both?
Joshua: A combination of both. Like with Unknown Soldier, we build towards epic action scenes. To have just enough momentum, weird stuff and great characterization to carry the reader forward towards big action set pieces. These guys have amazing powers. So it can get really crazy. But we do start Peter off pretty small in regards to his abilities. He's been self-neutering his powers most of his life. But as Harada enters the picture, Peter will find he's capable of so much more.
AF: What are some of your favorite aspects, story lines, or ideas that were introduced in the classic Harbinger series that you are excited to expand upon?
Joshua: I really hope we can satisfy both fans of the original, and those who've never read the book. The way we do this is to stay true to the spirit of the thing, while changing up the pacing, structure and characterization a little. So the idea of being betrayed by someone you trusted, someone older that you admire... that's in there. The idea of the real struggle to keep a superhero team together... that's in there. The war of the generations, social classes... etc. That's all in there. And the fact that the "villains" often seem more morally centered than the "heroes", that's in there.
AF: What was/is one of your favorite Harbinger kids/characters?
Joshua: I'm super-excited to get to Torque. He won't show up for a several issues, but he's going to be a blast to write. And I really want to make Kris, the only one without super-powers, amazing. Then there's the Psiots (that's what I'm calling them) that I'm creating from scratch. They should be super cool.
AF: Oh wow, I really can't wait to meet those guys! Speaking of characters, old and new, you’re no stranger to the process of re-imagining and updating characters and concepts (once again, as you did with Unknown Soldier), but with Harbinger you are really in the position to be an “architect of the ValiantUniverse,” if you will. How does it feel to be on the “ground floor,” so to speak, of a comic book universe that has a history, but is about to explode into new territory?
Joshua: Honestly, it's a huge part of what drew me to this project. Already an idea that I pitched when I was angling for the job has been integrated into the overall storyline for the whole Universe. It's just something that I thought would make our book cooler but it's in the larger mix now. And that’s happening with the other writers too (all amazing by the way: Robert Venditti, Duane Sweircynski and Fred Van Lente). The truth is, I always wanted to be a part of something like this. But for some reason DC and Marvel never asked me to play with them. But really, this is even better than that. We are building this together, almost from scratch. We're not tied to the safe corporate identity those other shared universes are. It's really pretty cool.
AF: Do you have a set story that you are planning to tell, kind of like Jonathan Hickman had with his soon to be concluded Fantastic Four run, or are you approaching this project in a more open ended and organic way? Obviously, you have a story in mind, but is it a potential series of story arcs or a long continuous narrative?
Joshua: I'm not quite as tight as Hickman in my plotting. I think I'm somewhere between tightly plotted and open-ended. There is a continual story. There is a big ending we're heading towards, but I'd like to take as many detours and narrative explorations as the story will allow along the way. I want to play with these characters in this universe for a long time.
AF: Have you had any contact with the other “Valiant architect,” Robert Venditti, who is working on X-O Manowar? Are the two of you trading notes and ideas in the spirit of weaving a tight continuity in this new Valiant U, something that Valiant fans like me have always admired about the Valiant U’s previous
Joshua: Not directly. Not yet, but I admire Venditti a great deal and I know that's coming. Right now we're just trying to get our individual books to sing. But there has been much talk about us moving towards a convergence. And Warren has been seeding ideas across all the titles. So I think that sense of a handful of creators working in concert to create a continuous universe is already in the mix. There are big plans for the near future.
AF: Okay, it can’t hurt to ask, even though you might not be able to fill me in at this point, but does Valiant have any plans to relaunch Eternal Warrior anytime soon, and is there any chance you might get a shot a writing it if you are interested? It seems like it would be another perfect book for you to put your unique writing stamp on.
Joshua: You're right... I CAN'T TELL YOU!! But I'll say this. When I was first pitching books in the Valiant line Eternal Warrior was the one I wanted the most. I think it's so in my wheelhouse it's ridiculous. I could write it in my sleep and it would be awesome. But we’ll see. The future will tell.
AF: You would totally be absolutely perfect for that book! Wow! Again I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to chat with me about this incredibly exciting project and I, along everyone here at The Bin, wish you the best of luck and success with Harbinger! I cannot wait to get my hands on a copy of issue #1 this June!
Joshua: I always dig talking with you, Andy! The questions, as usual, are top notch! Thanks, brother!