Earlier today, Valiant Entertainment announced their new Valiant Next slate of titles, including Imperium from Joshua Dysart and Doug Braithwaite.
The series, which sees Toyo Harada gather a team of allies to his side in order to reshape the world in his image, is being described as a kind of "Legion of Doom" for the Valiant superheroes -- but like Lex Luthor, Harada is fascinating in part because he doesn't see himself as evil or his objectives as anything less than exactly what mankind needs.
Series writer Joshua Dysart joined ComicBook.com to talk exclusively about the series, what to expect and why it was necessary to transition out of Harbinger to this next step.
Tell us about IMPERIUM - what is the set-up for this series? Who has Harada recruited to aid him and what is their goal?
I want to keep a lot of this close to the chest so that it can be a real surprise for the reader, because it's going to be very different from anything I've done at Valiant yet. But I'll say this, a lot of what we've set up in Harbinger: Omegas will come to fruition here in this book. That means that when you open the first page, Harada is considered the foremost dangerous human being on the planet.
Virtually every government is against him and he's refusing to back down from his most ambitious play of all. Transforming the whole world into a post-scarcity society. But he doesn't have the resources or the power base he once did, so he's going to have to build a coalition of the powerful and the unscrupulous and the insane if he's going to achieve more, faster and with less, than he's ever tried to before.
As I said above, the book will have an even different flavor than either Harbinger or Harbinger: Omegas.
Harada's goal has always been a better world at any price – a dream that seems to be like it will be entering its most aggressive phase yet in IMPERIUM. What has brought him this point?
The failure of all his other plans. Harada is a man with good intentions trapped inside one of the greatest egos the world has ever seen. Twice now he has built an empire that used capitalism as a front for his end goal and twice it's collapsed around him (once during the first Harbinger War in 1969 and again while facing off against Peter and the Renegades at the end of Harbinger). But instead of thinking that he's in the wrong, he's decided to amp it up. Go for broke. He is unbound. It's double down time. All or nothing. Etc.
This is his last chance to make the world into his idea of what it should be and he doesn't have time to utilize slow unseen paradigm shifting manipulations anymore. This is nothing short of an all out war for utopia, and he'll have to use some very questionable methods if he's going to pull this off. Think of that phrase, "THE BATTLE FOR UTOPIA BEGINS". The profound contradiction built into that one sentence captures it all.
Also in IMPERIUM, we're being teased with "unseen villains." Are these existing Valiant characters that haven't been seen since the relaunch or entirely new characters?
JD: All of the above, but many will be unique creations seen for the first time. And we also have to be careful with that word, "villain". Right and wrong, good and bad, villain and hero, we've always toyed with the meaning of these words in the Harbinger books, often choosing to play in a grey area. The same will go for IMPERIUM.
Technically this is a book completely told from the "villain's" point of view and that alone should complicate the idea of who's a "villain" and who isn't. We've managed to add complexity to Harada simply by putting you inside his head and engendering empathy in the reader for him. That's the whole mission of this book.
So yes, expect some very cool, different villains to emerge, but also expect to question the very definition of the word "villain" as well.
Can you tell us anything about a couple of them?
Robots! Aliens! Psiots! Supernatural beings! Some loyal! Some scheming! Some novel! Some familiar! Banded together, either through faith, profit or opportunity, in service to Harada's grand vision. An uneasy coalition cometh!
How's that for drumming up excitement without spoil anything, true believers?! I'm getting better at it, right? I'll just say this, what if Jack Kirby, Warren Ellis and some unknown upstart named Joshua Dysart made a comic. What would the characters be like? Contemplate on that for a while.
You have made Harada a complicated character over the past two years, and he's been a focal point not only of Harbinger, but Harbinger Wars and Unity as well. Was the plan always for him to be a nonstop presence in the Valiant Universe or did that develop over time?
It's a really fascinating game, building a shared universe. In the beginning we knew that all the toys we were making (or remaking in most cases) were going to ultimately have to be playable across all the books and that no concept was relegated to its own sphere.
Having said that, there's also an organic evolution in the making of something like this. A sort of competition of character that occurs as we creators each grow and tend to our individual casts. Some characters simply end up resonating to both the creators and the company. I think Harada is someone I've been fascinated with since day one and so I've put a lot of effort into making him a complex character because I thought that was the only way we could make him work. I think that complexity is infectious and it's really turned him into an engine in the Valiant U. I'm proud of him. Proud that he can stand the test of a true villain, which is perseverance (and again, villain is not the kind of word I feel comfortable using in my stories - it's so 1950's or whatever).
This is obviously a book about villains that don't see themselves as villains…but is there a general sense of trust between the members of IMPERIUM? Will see any in-fights as some characters that may have more altruistic motives confront actual evil within their ranks?
This book is, first and foremost, about the struggle for power. Regardless of the vision that struggle is in service to, those who hunger for power never end up acting in the best interest of others, only themselves. What we have here in this book is a lot of people jockeying for power of all kinds. So expect manipulation, deceit, betrayal... the works. But in the end, only one can be the boss.
In general, how would you describe the interpersonal dynamics here? Is the IMPERIUM run like a military organization with Harada in the leadership position? Or a corporation, as the Harbinger Foundation was previously? Or possibly even a sports team feel, like a more traditional team of heroes/villains?
Well, the Harbinger Foundation was actually run more like a Bushido school with ancillary corporations surrounding it which covered its paper trail and delvered funds to the Foundation research wing. The Foundation Zone is run more like a chain of command organization. Just to be clear, IMPERIUM is just the name of the book. It speaks to Harada's inability to create a form of government that's truly built on equality.
The word Imperium to the Roman Empire meant "sovereignty of the state over the individual" and has come to me "total power" today. Total power is actually not something that Harada wants, but it is what he's unintentionally striving for. Harada simply doesn't have it in him to abdicate power, nor does he trust the democratic nature of a team dynamic. That's always the big thing that separated him from Peter Stanchek, his inability to share power.
Harada himself has been pretty teflon so far – he keeps bouncing back from whatever life throws at him. Is it tough to keep the feeling that there are stakes for a character like that real?
I disagree that there are no stakes for Harada. Sure, he's managed to survive from story to story, but his plans and organizations keep crumbling, and so he's becoming more and more desperate and dangerous. This is not an ideal situation for him to be in.
Everything and everyone is against him. In truth the stakes are higher than ever for him now. Wave after wave of resistance is to be expected. It's not just a couple of teenage kids with super powers anymore, it's the whole world coming at him. A huge part of this series will focus on the nightmare of a life lived like that. The stress of leadership, the constant struggle of vision against the realities of the world. To me things have changed for him drastically, and for the worse.
You know that scene in The Godfather when Vito Corleone leans over to his son Michael who's taken over the family business, and he says, "I never wanted this for you Michael." well, Harada is Vito and Michael in this situation.
Putting together a kind of Legion of Doom seems like it has the potential for conflict. How insular will this book be, or will we see it interacting more with other Valiant books? Do you plans for the rest of the "hero" community's -- The Renegades and Unity and such -- response to this?
The book is being specifically built to interact with the larger Valiant U in a way that Harbinger really wasn't. Harada is a global, recognized threat now in a way he just wasn't when he was a more furtive character. Anyone can come at him at any time.
But he has his own plans, and the frustration he'll feel of trying to implement those plans while the struggle and needs and ambitions of those around him occupy all of his time is a huge part of the series itself. Not just his own "team", but also from the larger Valiant U.
In many ways it's a metaphor for me as a writer trying to create insular intentions in a shared universe. I have things I want Harada to do, but so do all of my wonderful co-creators across the Valiant U. So I take a particular mischief in paralleling my plight as a creative individual with Harada's plight as a beleaguered visionary. There's a joy in that idea for me. Whenever the needs and ambitions of the outside Valiant U crashes in on Harada's personal plans I'll be able to fully translate the beauty, energy, joy and also some of the frustration, that comes with wrestling down a personal story that's also part of a collective narrative. I think there's some real story juice there.
Does that answer your question?