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The news that Eric Heisserer will be writing about the character Amanda McKee for his first Valiant Entertainment comic book is one of those pieces of news that seems less of a surprise the more you think about it. On the one hand, Amanda McKee — or Livewire, as she’s arguably more commonly known as — isn’t a household name even inside Valiant’s universe; on the other, she’s the ideal character for the writer to focus on after his Academy Award-nominated Arrival screenplay.
In a statement accompanying the announcement of Heisserer’s Secret Weapons, he says that, after encountering McKee as part of his writing the screenplay for Sony’s upcoming Harbinger movie adaptation, “I kept thinking about her, long after my official writing services were complete … I had crazy ideas for her powers, and the hard choices ahead of her.” Coming from the man who’d brought Arrival to the big screen, this isn’t too hard to believe.
Like that movie’s Louise Banks (Amy Adams), McKee is a character who can see communication where no one else can. Banks is a linguist who uncovers a way to communicate with aliens who have mysteriously appeared on Earth, while McKee is a “technopath” who can speak to machines telepathically; among other things, this allowed her — as part of Valiant’s Unity series, which offered McKee her most prominent role before Secret Weapons — to communicate with, and ultimately befriend, an alien robot that was part of an invasion force, turning the tide through kindness and understanding instead of violence and superior force. Or, to put it another way, McKee could be seen as a next-level version of Arrival‘s main character.
She also offers a backstory that is already prime fodder for future exploration. McKee is a “psiot” — essentially, Valiant’s version of Marvel’s “mutants” of X-Men fame — who was raised and trained by Toyo Harada, a powerful psychic who took it upon himself to help those like him discover their true potential. But Harada was no Professor Charles Xavier; instead, he was building an army to help him gain power, as he believes with unshakable faith that only he can save humanity from itself. McKee was raised as one of the zealots of his Harbinger Foundation, only to discover that her father figure wasn’t the good man she believed him to be.
What makes McKee notable is what happened afterward, however; unlike most heroes whose origins include such discovery that their mentors are corrupt, she didn’t immediately turn against him and fight the good fight. Instead, she placed herself in exile until Harada himself asked her to assist him in a mission with other heroes, and only after that point — armed with more information on his ambitions — did she fully turn on him, joining the “Unity” team of superheroes and attempting to find her own way in the world.
That way would, eventually, bring her back to Harada. After two years of appearances in the Unity series, McKee’s last major appearance was in the final issues of Valiant’s Imperium, which saw Harada invade an African nation, only to declare it the beach head of his vision of a utopian world. McKee led an American strike against Harada and his forces, and when it was unsuccessful, was left with only one regret — that she hadn’t managed to “save” her former mentor from himself.
McKee, then, is a rarity amongst superheroes: one whose powers are, for the most part, passive, who is motivated primarily through empathy and who remains, to some degree, beholden to the brainwashing of her upbringing. (That she’s also a female character, and a black one at that, only underscores how unusual she is in a genre still sadly dominated by white male leads.) No wonder that Heisserer couldn’t stop thinking about her. The question now is, where will she go next?
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