9:00am PT by Graeme McMillan
'Arrival' Screenwriter Expands His Comic Book 'Secret Weapons' With Special 'Zero' Issue (Exclusive)
Arrival screenwriter Eric Heisserer has more to say about his Secret Weapons.
The Academy Award-nominated writer will be staying with the group of superpowered misfits he created for Valiant Entertainment's four-issue miniseries earlier this year, The Hollywood Reporter exclusively learned: Following the December release of the collected edition of Secret Weapons, the publisher will release a special "zero issue" prologue, written by Heisserer with art by X-Force artist Adam Pollina, the next month.
Secret Weapons No. 0 will center around Nikki Finch, the teenager whose superpower is the ability to speak to birds, and will reveal what happened to her in the year before the series started in an unusual format: each panel will feature a brief snapshot of the character as she discovers her superhuman potential, becomes "activated" by the nefarious Harbinger Foundation, and ultimately is abandoned in the Willows — a home for those whose powers are seen as less than optimal — allowing the reader to connect the dots and create the larger narrative.
THR spoke to Heisserer about the special issue.
The storytelling in Secret Weapons No. 0 takes advantage of the medium, playing with time and space in a way that even film couldn't match — the birds talking to Nikki in particular feels very "comic-centric," I got a Watchmen-esque formal playfulness from it at times. Where did the idea for this come from?
The inspiration for this particular issue format came from the videos I've seen on YouTube that capture a few seconds a day for a year in the life of someone. Probably the most emotionally powerful example is one of a little girl who, over the course of the year seen in snippets, winds up as a refugee from a war-torn country. In these videos, the character is always center-punch in the frame while their appearance and backgrounds change. Sometimes they're in the same pose for several days.
I don't know if that idea ports well into comics, but I wanted to try it — as they say, if you're gonna fail, fail creatively. What this format allowed me is the freedom to jump around all over the place in Nikki's life and showcase it in new ways.
For an intentionally fractured, compressed, narrative, Nikki's story packs a punch in No. 0, even knowing — especially knowing, perhaps — what comes afterward. Was all of this backstory in your head writing the main series?
Most of this content I'd already written, in rough form, before writing Secret Weapons No. 1. I wanted to live with my characters for a spell before giving them dialogue in issue No. 1, so they would feel a bit more "lived in" if that makes sense. I have similar source material for the other misfits of The Willows.
You get to show the Harbinger psiot activation and development process for the first time in this issue, which is an important — and previously mysterious — piece of the mythology of the franchise. It feels like you're deep inside the idea of what the Harbinger Foundation is, in a way that others outside of original series writer Joshua Dysart haven't gone into. How much of this comes from the work you've done on the Harbinger movie screenplay, or, for that matter, on the work you're doing on the Harbinger Wars 2 comic book series?
A lot of this has some relationship, tangential or otherwise, to my Harbinger film adaptation. I'm a process fetishist, I love exploring how something works and following the human experience through it, so getting under the hood of the Harbinger Foundation is what I hope we'll see in the film… But, beyond that, the relationship various groups have with one another is a huge part of how I want to tell the Harbinger Wars 2 story. That's, uh, all I can say on that for now.
Artist Adam Pollina's work on this issue brings a different energy to your writing compared with the main series artist, Raul Allen. It's aesthetically unlike Allen's work, but the discontinuity helps the issue feel like Nikki's life "before" the events of the main series. What was it like working with him, and what do you think he brings to the younger Nikki?
My god, Adam's work is astounding. Normally an artist for a book will have to go deep on environments and backgrounds for some key pages, maybe a dozen panels or so. What makes issue No. 0 so ridiculously ambitious is that it requires every damn panel to be rich with environmental art. It's how we understand where Nikki is and who's with her. So that means Adam had to spend time crafting more than 80 panels of this monster. And he did it with grace and authority. I'm grateful for his patience and his attention to detail.
You mentioned earlier that you have similar stories already written for the other new characters from the Secret Weapons series, and you're announced as the co-writer (with Matt Kindt) on the Harbinger Wars 2 series launching in May next year. Do you want to continue in this vein — and this medium — going forward? Are there dream projects you would want to take on at Valiant?
I have special issue-zero stories in my head for both Owen and Avi, and like Nikki's story, they're also highly experimental. What I would love is a chance to write those and package them together for a book called Secret Weapons: The Zeroes; it just feels right. Beyond that, I would adore a Livewire ongoing series. But let me see if I can earn that after people read what I plan on doing with her in Harbinger Wars 2.
Secret Weapons No. 0 will be released in comic book stores and digitally Jan. 3. Below, uncolored, unlettered preview artwork from Pollina's interior work, as well as variant covers by Veronica Fish, Sibylline Meynet and Pollina.