HEAT VISION

'The Visitor' Coming to Valiant's Comic Book Universe in December

The five-issue series is written by former DC Comics president Paul Levitz.
Amilcar Pinna/Valiant Entertainment
The five-issue series is written by former DC Comics president Paul Levitz.

Valiant Entertainment’s comic book universe is about to get a visitor. Or, to be more accurate, it’s about to get The Visitor. A new five-issue series by former DC Comics president Paul Levitz and Russ Manning Award nominee MJ Kim (Faith: Dreamside), The Visitor follows the arrival of a mysterious figure into the Valiant universe, one with a deadly mission that could change the future — and destroy part of New York City in the process.

Although the title of the series reuses the name of a character from Valiant’s original 1990s incarnation, The Visitor is an all-new creation that ties in with the mythology of the publisher in an unexpected manner — although, as Levitz tells Heat Vision, existing knowledge of the Valiant universe isn’t a barrier to entry for this story.

Below, Levitz talks about his involvement with Valiant, while preview art for the series by Kim can be seen for the first time. The new series launches in December.

As someone who’s a longtime fan of your work with DC, especially your Legion of Super-Heroes runs, it feels unexpected to see you write for Valiant. How did it come about?

I was friendly with [Valiant Entertainment publisher] Fred Pierce, back to his time at Wizard, and I guess even acquainted back to his time with Valiant the first time [in its 1990s incarnation]. We didn't spend a lot of time in the same room in those days, but at least we knew how to wave at each other. When he moved over to a broader responsibility for the editorial side, at one of our periodic lunches, he just said, "You know, we've got a bunch of old names we're not doing anything with, properties that we're not doing anything with, would you be interested? Can I send you over a couple, just to take a look at? Do something interesting with it, let's have some fun.'

What you're doing is particularly fascinating because, there was a Visitor character from Valiant before, but this is something brand-new. This is a new concept, not simply rehashing or rebooting an existing character. Was that something that interested you as a creator, that it wasn't that you're redoing someone's work?

I don't mind adding on to other people's work. You know, certainly the Huntress character clearly took on all the Batman mythology, and I did so much stuff on the Legion that was firmly based on many, many other writers work, but the Valiant Universe is new to me. I've read a little bit of it over the years, back to when Jim [Shooter] was creating it, but I've never been deeply immersed in it or played in it before, and this seemed like an interesting opportunity. There were a couple of things in the original Visitor series that I thought were...structurally interesting. Particularly, it seems very much of a place; the original stories were very very specifically Los Angeles, and I said, "that could be fun. Let me do that with New York."

For whatever set of reasons, I focused in on UN Week as a starting point, and said, "OK, what kind of havoc we have during UN Week? How would that logically tie to the life of a character with a complicated background? What can be going on?" And I started to build out from there.

What you're doing with with the series, and with the larger Valiant mythology, is very interesting to me because The Visitor does tie in with what has already been established, but is also very much its own thing. It feels like something that could bring newcomers into Valiant but also can stand alone. Is that something that you wanted to do yourself, or was the idea of doing something in the shared universe particularly exciting for you?

Ideally, it's both. One of the things that I like, on my good days as a writer, is, I like to build good mystery stories. Some of the stories that are best remembered of mine were structurally mysteries, whether you're talking about [Legion of Super-Heroes storylines] "The Great Darkness Saga," or the Sensor Girl mystery. Structurally, this seems like a really interesting opportunity; the Visitor isn't tied to the Valiant Universe in any of the same ways that the original Visitor series was. It does have a tie, that you really don't need to know in order to enjoy the series. But there are some Easter eggs hidden in it. And ultimately the thing does connect back into the broader universe.

In and of itself, it's a very specific mystery story, hopefully with some emotional resonance for the characters as they're going on, hopefully, some interesting setups as we explore New York. MJ — whose work I did not know when I started on the project — is just doing such a fabulous job of immersing herself in all that. She's going to each of the locations, taking photographs, digging into it. We're meeting up Monday actually at a location, so if we can prowl round it together and build it — that sense of place is something not a lot of comics do today. And it's a good tool.

What is it about New York? This isn't the first time you've done a story that is so definitively a New York story; what is it about New York that's such a compelling location to explore in this way?

Well, I think it's maybe three levels. One, I've lived in New York all my life, so I know things about the city that some more transient person might not know. So it's a little easier for me to say, "Oh, what if we use this piece? I've sat in UN week traffic, for example, and cursed it, trying to make my way across the city for what usually was a half-hour journey that set up being an hour and a half. (Laughs.)

The second level is that New York really is an enormously rich visual environment — probably the richest in the United States, of all the big cities. Maybe Washington comes close. L.A. is a great city on many levels [but] an awful lot of it is not architecturally very interesting. You know, there are a few cool places scattered here and there — the Hollywood Bowl, Griffith Observatory, the studios, of course — but most of L.A. is just kind of generic urban sprawl.

New York has its share of that, but because of the compactness of New York, because so much has to be crammed on that main Manhattan Island or very near it, you've got all these skyscrapers, all sorts of interesting strange things that have been done with it.

And the third level, which I think is maybe ultimately the most important commercially, is that New York is an aspirational city for young people today. This is where kids want to move to make it. You walk around Brooklyn these days and it's an extraordinary place; it's just an army of young people creating new businesses, working as individual creatives in one field or another. Just a mob scene of energy in a way that I'm not sure there's ever been an equivalent in this country. It's younger than Greenwich Village was, in the Village's heyday, and it's much more aggressively focused on growth. You go back to when the Village was the cool young place, it was a very laid-back young place. Williamsburg is not. Greenpoint is not laid-back. And that's kind of cool, and that's permeating a lot of what's going on in New York City.

It sounds very much like New York is a character in the book.

I hope so. I hope New York is a character. I hope the woman who is one of the leads in the book is very much a kind of person you would find in New York. Someone who's come from somewhere else, but came here to do her job and do her thing, not taking anything from anybody else. At the same time, it's a place that is both welcoming and a little bit alien to people from other places.

We have a host of characters in [the series] who are here from Japan and their different reactions to what goes on here, to some extent, is reflective of the different reasons people come to New York, and the different reactions people have here.

You mentioned her earlier on, but MJ Kim's work, from the preview pages alone, is lovely. How did she get involved in the book, and what is she bringing — for you as a writer but also just overall — to the series?

Whether Valiant discovered her or not, she'd already done one project for them previously. She's very new to doing [U.S.] comics; she grew up on manga, more so than American comics. She's discovering American comics as she's been working at them, which is fascinating to watch the evolution of. I've had some really interesting conversations with her about the differences between the forms, and how she's amalgamating them and the things she's thinking about.

When you get somebody like that, you just grab hold of the opportunity and try to take the best advantage you can.

It sounds like this is a series, and specifically getting a chance to work with MJ and getting a chance to write about, as you said, the aggressive growth of youth culture in Brooklyn — it feels like something that is a learning experience for you as well.

Well, it's a fresh challenge. I have written something like 500 comic book stories, the largest number of them, really, the Legion of Superheroes. Next up, other things set in the DC Universe. I've had just a couple of opportunities to play outside that over the years, and it's fun. It's fun to try something a little bit different. And also, being given a challenge that's not the challenge I've been given before: Can you invite some of the readers who have followed you over the years, who know your work, to come to Valiant and try something a little bit different, and, at the same time, create something that, texturally, will please an established Valiant reader because it contains some of the spices, some of the ingredients, that they've come to love.





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