Axel-In-Charge: "Secret Wars" Jam Session Talking "A-Force," "Ultimate End" and More
In May, Valiant Entertainment announced a new addition to its editorial team, former Marvel editor Jody LeHeup. Probably best known for overseeing the Harvey Award-nominated (and Robot 6 favorite) Strange Tales anthology series, LeHeup also worked on books like Deadpool, X-Factor and Uncanny X-Force before being let go by the company last year in a round of layoffs. Marvel’s loss, though, was Valiant’s gain, as he joined former Marvel office mate Warren Simons at the reborn company.
My thanks to Jody for answering my questions, as well as to Valiant’s Hunter Gorinson for helping to make this interview possible.
JK Parkin: What made you decide to join the Valiant team?
Jody LeHeup: There were a bunch of reasons. The first and biggest reason was that when Valiant approached me for the job, they made it very clear that they were serious about their commitment to quality. As an editor, a storyteller and a writer, that is without question the most important thing to me. After talking at length with the guys, I knew that editorial would have the support it needed in order to put out some of the best comics on the stands, and it was music to my ears. Beyond talking about it, their commitment was evident in the work itself and in the care they were taking with every aspect of the company’s revitalization. It was inspiring, and I really felt like I had found a home.
Valiant had also hired Warren Simons as their executive editor and that was another reason for me. When I first started working at Marvel, he and I sat in the same office, and we really hit it off on both a personal and professional level. I trust Warren, and I respect his body of work a great deal so the fact that he had signed on was further testament to the care the company was taking in building editorial. We had wanted to work together for a long time, too, so when the call came it was a no-brainer.
A third reason was the chance to redefine an entire universe for a new generation. Again, as a storyteller, that’s a very exciting challenge, and there’s a lot of fun to be had. Valiant has an incredible library of characters, and the story possibilities are limitless. So that informed my decision as well.
Above: Art from Harbinger #3 by Khari Evans, along with the cover
Were you a Valiant reader back in the 1990s, and if so, what were some of your favorite comics or characters?
I was. Totally. Valiant was zigging when everyone else was zagging, and I loved it. They were sort of the anti-Image at the time, and I mean that in the best way. Superhero comics had become so art driven (much of it just plain bad) that no one was telling good story anymore. There were exceptions of course and some great stuff came out then, but for the most part, and as we all know, it was a pretty bleak state of affairs. Then here comes Valiant with an emphasis on writing and solid visual storytelling and world building and it just hit all of my buttons at the time. It felt like an oasis of sorts.
I liked a lot of the characters back then. Harbinger was a favorite of mine. X-O Manowar. Solar. Eternal Warrior. Shadowman. Rai. I think there was a time where I was actually reading everything they put out. Lots of great memories of that stuff. Oh, and I loved H.A.R.D. Corps. Loved it. That high concept is still killer.
What exactly are you doing for Valiant? Will you be working on all four of the current books, or can you talk about how the work is divided?
I’m an associate editor at Valiant working under Warren, and we’re both assisted by our excellent Assistant Editor Josh Johns. Josh is a really bright, hard-working guy and he’s doing a great job. At the moment we’re all working on all of the books–X-O Manowar, Bloodshot, Harbinger, and Archer and Armstrong. As the publishing plan ramps up and more and more projects get underway, then we’ll need to reorganize the workload, but for now I’m working on everything. Which has really been a great experience.
Above: Art from Archer and Armstrong #2 by Clayton Henry, along with the cover
When you’re relaunching titles and characters that fans have a deep affection for and fond memories of, it seems like there’s a fine line between simply rehashing what was originally done and possibly making it inaccessible to new readers, and creating something completely new and different that the original fans might not recognize or might react negatively to. Is there a balance act between those two points that you guys are trying to achieve?
Oh, definitely. Always. Our goal is to zero in with laser focus on what made the books so resonant to fans in the first place and capture the soul of what came before. Once you have that, then you can begin to streamline and update the concept for a modern audience. The beauty of that approach is that if we’ve done our jobs right, new readers will get a charge out of these cool new modern comics and old-school fans will feel that charge for a second time. Details will change here and there for sure, but it’s impossible for them not to change. We aren’t remaking or as you say “rehashing” these stories, we’re completely starting from ground and letting the stories go where they want to go. Deviations from what came before are part of that process and holy crap, are there some deviations coming down the road. But it’s all very, very exciting and hopefully new and old-school fans will agree. But to get back to your question, we just need to be extra careful while we’re developing these books that we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. So far I think we’ve done an exceptional job of that.
What do we have to look forward to in the months to come from the titles you’re working on?
It’s funny. I actually say this all the time because it’s a hundred percent true, but I’m sitting in the office, looking at our amazing cover wall and all the fantastic stuff coming up in our current and future books, and it really is just a stunning publishing plan. I want so badly to just spill the beans so you can be in on it with me, but I think it’s probably better if I exercise a little restraint so you can discover all the crazy-awesome stuff we have planned on your own. Big, big things coming.
Speaking for the short term, though, we’ve got Zephyr making her first appearance in Harbinger #3, which I’m so thrilled about I can’t even tell you. I love that character. We also have Ninjak making his first appearance in X-O Manowar #5, and I think people are really going to be jazzed by what we do with him. Archer and Armstrong will see the introduction of the villains known as the One Percent and ninja nuns called the Sisters of Twilight. That book is so funny, ya’ll. Lots of wonderful high adventure too. Can’t wait for it to hit shelves. You definitely want to pick it up. And finally we have Bloodshot continuing his mission to find out who he really is and it’s a road that’s gonna take him to some very dark places.
Above: Artwork from Bloodshot #2 by Manuel Garcia
From a personal perspective, you’ve gone from working at a large comics company, Marvel, to a smaller one. How has the transition gone?
It’s been great, actually. Whether I’m working at a large company or a small company, my job is pretty much the same. To do everything I can to put out the best comics I can. And as I mentioned earlier, that support is in place for me at Valiant so the transition has been a wonderful one.
I’m very happy at Valiant, and as long as their commitment to quality remains intact, I see myself here for a good long time. This company has a very bright future indeed, and I count myself as fortunate to be a part of it.