Arrival was one of the most acclaimed movies of 2016, with screenwriter Eric Heisserer going on to earn a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination at the Academy Awards for the film. His next project won’t be on the big screen, though, as he now heads to comics with “Secret Weapons,” a new miniseries from Valiant Entertainment.
This isn’t Heisserer’s first time in comics, having written previously for Dark Horse, or his first time in the Valiant Universe, as he’s been helping them adapt their comics to film, so it’ll be interesting to see how Heisserer takes the experiences working on both sides and brings them to bear on this book. “Secret Weapons” is out this Wednesday, June 28th, with art by Raul Allen and Patricia Martin. We reviewed it last month and, suffice to say, really dug it.
Read on as we chat with Heisserer about “Secret Weapons”, Rex-O, what makes Livewire a good character, Oklahoma, and more. We also have three exclusive pages from the issue to help tide you over until tomorrow after the interview.
“Secret Weapons” is the new Valiant book that you’re working on. The cast of characters is largely made up of some cast-off Psiots, those that Harada deemed to have powers that weren’t worthwhile. What can you tell us about them and what they do?
Eric Heisserer: I can tell you they have oddball and strange powers that Harada has deemed useless. One can talk to birds. One can conjure inanimate objects, but can’t control what or when. One can make things glow. In later issues, we’ll another Psiot who can turn his skin and clothes to stone, but when he does, he can’t move.
These are kids who got into this program and were recruited for surgical activation. They were told that they have something amazing inside them. That their latent and amazing powers would be revealed after this risky surgery. We’ve seen what happens when people die on the operating table, and the good results and the success stories, but no one’s really talked about what happens when you come out the other side and you have a power that Harada doesn’t know what to do with. I was excited to focus on these kids and what it must do to someone’s self-esteem when you’re told you’re powerful and special and you’re going to join a world famous team of powered people and solve big problems, then told you’re worthless at the end of that. You’re told you have a power that’s embarrassing or stupid or whatever words the kids heard when Harada relegated them to this facility in Oklahoma city.
What an interesting problem from an emotional standpoint, I thought, for Livewire to have. Here she has to go in and rally up this group of kids who have a severe distrust of authorities and other Psiots and they have a lot of self-esteem issues. How is she going to deal with that?
I think it’s interesting that Livewire takes the lead in “Secret Weapons,” as the sort of caretaker and savior of these misfit Psiots. What about the character attracted you to her and made her the right one for this role?
EH: What I liked about her for so long is her ability to listen to her inner voice and her own moral compass made good choices based on that, versus people in authority or people who she has respect for. The number of choices she made to go against what her mentor Harada did or said, knowing how much conflict that could create between the two of them, it ended up with her separating from Harada and her kind of banishing herself from that organization as a way of distancing herself from those actions. I love that about someone.
I’ve seen so many stories of the apprentice and the teacher, and the teacher goes down a dark path and the apprentice follows, or they have a huge identity crisis and don’t know what to do, they have a nervous breakdown, drink themselves to death. Amanda doesn’t do that. Amanda knows what’s the right thing to do and sticks by that. To me, that says she has a big heart, a lot of compassion and empathy, and wants to do the right thing. Of course, I want to put her into situations where we get to showcase that compassion.Continued below
“Secret Weapons” sets up this new group of Psiots in a universe where there are already several others. How do these new Psiots fit in with the rest?
EH: Right, you’ve got the Renegades and a handful of other groups, some of which are more designed as military solutions. They’re absolutely the group that’s lowest on the ladder. They’re a little island of misfit toys, trying to figure out how to become a team or surrogate family. Hopefully, they’ll get to a place where, even if their powers aren’t that great or the flashiest, they’ll learn to operate as a unit and the whole will be greater than the sum of its parts.
The secret facility in “Secret Weapons” is in Oklahoma City. Is that just the most boring place you can think of or is there some personal history there?
EH: There’s some personal history there. I grew up in Norman, Oklahoma, which is about half an hour away. I don’t often see books set there in Oklahoma, so I wanted to explore some new territory. The joke, also, is what’s the worst place in the world that you could be forced to live?
Rex-O, an older Valiant character, is making its first appearance in the new Valiant Universe. What can you tell us about this version of Rex-O?
EH: I have a nice nod to the last appearance to the previous iteration of Valiant, so there’s a fun little Easter Egg for readers who were fans of his previous appearances. If you come into it fresh, you don’t need any of that backstory. Rex-O is interesting in that he’s basically alien technology and it’s interesting to see what our villain here has reprogrammed Rex-O to do and how that ties into a larger narrative. In fact, here’s a bit of information of that no one else knows right now – Rex-O will be a key component that sets up a very big story that I’m going to lay out for “Harbinger Wars 2” this year.
From what I understand, you got the chance to work in the Valiant comic universe while helping with transitioning the Valiant properties to film. Was this something that was always part of the plan, or something that evolved organically as you were working together?
EH: It organically came out of our collaboration. I kept pitching ideas for Livewire, and Dinesh [Shamdasani, CEO & Chief Creative Officer – Ed.] was like, “Look, this isn’t the Livewire movie, it’s the Harbinger movie. If you want to explore that, you can write a book for us.” Challenge accepted!
I think that’s an interesting thing – you were working to bring the comics to film, but now you’re just making the comic. Is there anything from the previous that’s helping to inform the latter?
EH: From a narrative standpoint, of course not. But I can tell you that writing a comic makes me think more like a director and informs my screenwriting.
I know Valiant likes its series to be pretty approachable for new readers. Do you think “Secret Weapons” accomplishes this, and can be picked up by folks who may not be current on the Valiant books and fall in love with the characters?
EH: I really hope so. I worked especially hard on that facet of the book to make sure that the book is a nice gateway drug for new readers.
Anything else you can tell us about “Secret Weapons” or your future with Valiant without getting in too much trouble?
EH: I can say that if the book does well enough, I have several more arcs planned that I’d love to write for them. I could do another two or three dozen issues of these characters if they give me that option. So if you see me buying a bunch of my own books, I’m trying to inflate the numbers so I can write more.