Creative team promises that 'his story, and the road of redemption he's on, is going to be fun to watch'
Credit: Valiant/Doug Braithwaite

Get ready to welcome back the man otherwise known as Jack Boniface: Shadowman is officially returning to the Valiant Universe via Operation: Deadside, a four-part story arc that will begin with December’s Ninjak #10.

Operation: Deadside will exist as a self-contained event that will send Ninjak (an intelligence operative) and Punk Mambo (the ’70s-era British punk rocker) into the mysterious inter-dimensional world known as Deadside — which will ultimately lead to the re-emergence of Shadowman. Helmed by some Valiant’s most prominent talent, Operation: Deadside will be written by Matt Kindt (Divinity, Mind MGMT) with art by Doug Braithwaite (Journey into Mystery, Armor Hunters), and colors by Brian Reber (Unity, X-O Manwar.) Braithwaite, Trever Harisine and Tom Muller will produce covers, all of which will feature special glow-in-the-dark treatment.

Consider all of this just the beginning for Shadowman’s return, as the Valiant team has extensive plans for the popular character throughout 2016. EW spoke exclusively with Kindt and Braithwaite, as well as Valiant Editor-In-Chief Warren Simons and CEO & Chief Creative Officer Dinesh Shamdasani about how Shadowman made his way home, what readers can expect, and just how far this series will stretch. Plus, have your exclusive first preview of Operation: Deadside covers and concept art from Kindt, Muller, and Hairsine below.

EW: So. Shadowman! I’d love for you to go into a bit of detail about this event and your feelings on bringing him back to the Valiant universe.

MATT KINDT: I’ve been excited to bring Shadowman back for a while. He’s a cornerstone of the Valiant Universe and is honestly one of the most inherently interesting characters we have. He’s got a pretty dark past and some murky motivations that help him live up to his name. As a writer, it’s some pretty juicy stuff to sink your teeth into. I also think that reader anticipation and curiosity over the character is another thing that really makes him attractive. He went out on a really down note…killing his father and in a lot of ways becoming villainous. So picking up a character like that and catching up with where he is and what he’s done since is going to be pretty dark and pretty fun.

DINESH SHAMDASANI: Shadowman is one of our biggest characters. And Shadowman fans are incredibly passionate about their love for him, perhaps to the point of obsession! I can’t tell you how many times someone has come up to the Valiant booth at a convention and promptly disrobed to show us their Shadowman tattoo! The cult of Shadowman is strong. He’s one of our top sellers, with global sales in the millions, and for good reason. Not only is he a fascinating character struggling both literally and figuratively between the light and dark sides, but he exists in an incredible mythology inspired by the conventions and iconography of Voodoo. Voodoo is a cultural wellspring that is not often depicted in pop culture and certainly not in a fashion that is authentic. The result is a fresh, unique and rich world to play our stories against. We’re incredibly excited to be bringing Shadowman back to the forefront and thrilled to be doing it with Matt, Doug and Ninjak. We’ve been very carefully building a well of demand for Shadowman over the last year. We left Shadowman in very emotional place last year and have denying the fans resolution since. The result has been a fervor of anticipation for his return at even the slightest perceived opportunity — from the launch of The Death-Defying Dr. Mirage to Book of Death and almost everything we’ve done in between.

WARREN SIMONS: Shadowman is one of Valiant’s most iconic characters, and I’m pretty excited that the next evolution of this extraordinary creation will take place during Operation: Deadside. If you’re familiar with Shadowman, you know he’s imbued with a loa that grants him extraordinary powers, but that doesn’t always have his best interests in mind. It’s really more that he can handle, as we’ve seen in the Shadowman series: he’s in over his head without a foundation to manage this incredible power. The brutal events that trigger Ninjak and Punk Mambo entering the Deadside will bring them face-to-face with Shadowman, and his past actions will have direct consequences on how the duo deal with him. The Valiant Universe is very organic and we try not to shoehorn something in if it doesn’t feel right. When I began discussing this story with Matt — particularly in light of the events in Book of Death and with where we left Shadowman in his own book — it felt like now was the right time.

How did you decide to bring Shadowman back into the fold, and why was this the “right” time to do so?

KINDT: It wasn’t really so much a matter of timing as it was a matter of having a good concept. Like the rest of the Valiant Universe — from the event books to the launching of new titles — it’s all idea driven. Everything starts with “what’s the idea” and goes from there. Everything else on the publishing end is driven by the creators more than anything else. It’s really the ideal situation and a rare one in work-for-hire arrangements in that there is no dictate from on-high about direction. Story is king. I just happened to be in the right place with the direction I was steering Ninjak and had a fun and clever way to tie in to Shadowman and have their stories intersect. I’d truthfully been angling to get my hands on Shadowman for a while. I think he’s the biggest challenge for me creatively. Being a supernatural-based character was what always turned me off to the character and also draws me to him as a creative challenge.

The more stories you tell and comics your write, you end up wanting some hurdles – something to keep you on your toes and make you think in different ways. I think there’s a danger in being comfortable and settling into a routine when you write monthly books and hit deadlines. You end up being tempted to go with safe ideas and concepts you know you can execute easily and on time. Fortunately, or unfortunately, that’s been a thing I’ve tried to fly in the face of. If it’s more difficult, that’s the way I want to try to do it. It keeps me from being complacent. I’ve never really tackled supernatural or magical characters before. It’s not a genre I particularly enjoy reading, in fact. So, in a way, it was a new frontier for me. I’ve been reading a lot of the genre lately and doing a lot of research into “real” magic, and the concepts behind the origins of the basic idea of magic to prepare. Ultimately, I want this book to be one that satisfies the skeptical non-magic loving reader as well as the supernatural enthusiast. So Ninjak is a perfect stand-in for me, someone who doesn’t really believe in magic, but can’t deny the crazy things he’s seeing. And that was my entryway into the story: let’s see the Deadside and the supernatural stuff, but let’s see it from the point of view of a man who wants an explanation for everything. Let’s see it from someone who’s very grounded and practical.

SHAMDASANI: Operation: Deadside is the perfect time to bring Shadowman back. We’ve been quietly expanding the world of Ninjak beyond his espionage roots and into the realm of science fiction and the supernatural. Loyal Ninjak readers who have been following the series thus far know that we’ve already planted the seeds for what’s to come with the secret origin of the Shadow Seven, something that is most evident in the incredibly well received origin of Roku in Ninjak #4. These aren’t just normal assassins that Ninjak has been hunting. This mystical world has existed in the background of the story so far, but it is about to come to the forefront. Whether you classify it as supernatural or science depends on your perspective, but what’s undeniable is that this world exists and is very much as real as the living realm.

Our entry point is absolutely science fiction: a covert military intelligence unit sends 20 agents and a special operative into a parallel dimension. Only one comes back…but as we journey deeper into the story, the world that is struggling to remain grounded will give way to one that is more fantastical. And we’re trapping Ninjak and Shadowman between them both. I’m incredibly excited for readers to experience the story. We’ve been planning the return of Shadowman for a long time and have worked hard to make sure we got it just right. I can’t think of a cooler, more exciting way for him to return. Ninjak is the perfect counterpoint for him. He was born into wealth, but suffered great neglect and abuse. As a result, he embraced a life of espionage and violence, relying on his own physical and technological skills. He’s been a match for everything the world has thrown at him thus far and he’s bringing that cockiness to Deadside. Add to that his unique moral compass and you’ve got fireworks.

Credit: Valiant/Matt Kindt

Jack Boniface is an interesting and complex character, and part of that reason is because he’s essentially an intriguing combination of a superhero and the supernatural. Why do you think he appeals to fans the way he does?

KINDT: He’s a perfect mash-up, really. He’s a fun supernatural-flavored superhero, which are two genres that I think just fit together really well. But I also think those genres absolutely don’t go together. It’s sweet and savory jammed together. You have the mysterious and unexplainable sort of faith-based genre of the supernatural mixed with the science-based, explanation for everything superhero genre. But at the core of both you have a common hero-myth. That’s the common link that makes it all work but creates the tension as well. Science versus religion.

Can you tease what the MI-6 will find out about Deadside, since they already seem to be suspicious of it, and how that will tie into the story?

KINDT: We’re going to see that this event isn’t the first time that MI-6 has sent agents to the Deadside. But the last time they sent a team over, they got massacred. And now something from the Deadside is stealing some top-secret items from MI-6 and bringing taking them back over. There’s a Deadside agent that’s basically undoing all the work that Ninjak did in the first nine issues. Of course, at the core of the mystery is Shadowman. What his role is in the thing is ultimately the heart of the story, so I won’t spoil that bit.

SHAMDASANI: What I think will surprise readers most is that MI-6 and even Ninjak are already aware of Deadside. In fact, they both may have had previous experiences with Deadside. Ninjak in particular, has a history with it that is very exciting…but I’ve already said too much!

SIMONS: Deadside has breached the Valiant Universe a few times, so MI-6 has some extremely crude intelligence on this dimension and evidence that it can be a potential threat. When the events that trigger Operation: Deadside are viewed in conjunction with the magic-based calamities of Book of Death, things escalate very quickly and very violently, especially as an intelligence agency tasked with protecting the civilian population know their mandate is very clear: terminate threats.

Doug, how has it been drawing this series?

DOUG BRAITHWAITE: It’s great re-establishing the partnership with Matt [Kindt] on this project after our first collaboration on the Unity series. Matt’s scripts are a joy to work on and he brings a whole different level of structure and storytelling to a script. All of this is carried along by Matt’s thought-provoking dialogue with plenty of melodrama, action and humor. His stories always give me plenty of exciting visuals to play with, images I can really get my teeth into, which in turn stretch my creative muscles. All of the elements that are important to me as a storyteller are there in his scripts and this story will be no different in that respect, and from what I’ve seen so far, it will be my most challenging project at Valiant. Athough I can’t reveal too much, I can say that it is one of my most visually exciting stories to date. This will be my first time working with the Shadowman character and I am really looking forward to dealing with the otherworldly aspects of that universe. It’s great to be drawing Ninjak again. I’ve had a few brief alliances with the character, particularly in Unity, so it’s good to get my hands on with him again. I’m really looking forward to establishing a definitive look and feel of Ninjak in this story.

SIMONS: I couldn’t be happier with the work that Matt’s done on Ninjak to date. He’s built a broad mythology for Colin’s backstory, and created a wonderful new rogues gallery for the book. When Matt and I began to discuss bringing Shadowman into the book, I knew Doug would be an exceptional option to showcase the return of one of our key characters. Doug’s one of my favorite artists in the industry — a master storyteller adept at creating dynamic pages. Part of the joy of working in a shared universe is seeing how a story in one book can lead to events in another, and how the entire team of editors, writers and artists play off these stories and use them to build and innovate based on the things that have come before them.

Credit: Valiant/Trevor Hairsine
Credit: Valiant/Trevor Hairsine

Valiant is great because it’s a smaller universe that allows you more freedom to play with your stories. What’s it like bringing huge, important heroes like this to life in these self-contained stories, where you really get to dig into the character?

BRAITHWAITE: It’s great being part of a stable of talent given the task to develop these characters into world-leading Icons. It has been a revelation working with Valiant these last few years as I have been bowled over at the level of thought and attention to detail they put into the development of their characters and stories. Yes, their universe is smaller compared to some rivals, but the characters are richer because of that, more complex, visually fresh and exciting, and suited to modern-day sensibilities. Most of the stories are self-contained, and this for me as a creator allows concentrated development of the characters. Stories have to be accessible, not just for the readers but also the creators involved. Valiant understands that and that is why Its a pleasure working on their titles. I am given the freedom to express a story as I see fit, a task made easier because of the great quality of writers I am collaborating with.

Can you tease any other big characters we’ll be seeing?

KINDT: Well, Shadowman isn’t going to be a surprise…but the way in which we reveal him and his role is going to be pretty crazy and also super-heartbreaking. If you didn’t care about him before…I guarantee you’re going to love/feel-sorry for him after this arc is done. I think that’s the biggest hook of the story: humanizing Shadowman and getting a real window into what makes him tick, and making him a hero again. He’s had a tough journey and done some questionable things so I think his story, and the road of redemption he’s on is going to be fun to watch. As for other big characters, Master Darque will probably show up somewhere, but the biggest character is actually a location. The Deadside is something we’ve seen in the past, but never like this — and never with this level of detail. The Deadside is a crazy amazing place and is going to be as much a character as anything else in the story. I think there’s huge untapped potential to really make Deadside feel real and inhabited and old and a little bit scary. I want you to walk away from this series being terrified of the Deadside, but also have a little bit of you wanting to visit there sometime.

SIMONS: Punk Mambo is quickly becoming one of my favorite characters in the universe. She has a foul mouth, a Mohawk, loves the Sex Pistols, and as you’ll soon see in the pages of Book of Death, she’s a force to be reckoned with.

SHAMDASANI: Punk Mambo is a character to watch. We’re all in love with her at Valiant HQ. Fred Pierce, our Publisher, in particular has an unhealthy obsession with more Punk Mambo stories. He’s constantly reminding us all how great Punk Mambo #0 is. Matt has developed a really exciting evolution to the loa that Punk Mambo is going to explore. It’s something that’s never been done in the Shadowman mythology before, but that’s also very organic addition to it. The fans will be talking about it for a long time. Oh, and there’s Ninjak’s amazing Deadside armor. This is something that we’ll be giving fans a look at very early on, but Ninjak is going to be donning a new suit for his journey to the Deadside. He’s very reliant on technology and he’s going to embrace a new kind of science for this mission. It’s designed by the brilliant Trevor Hairsine, and it looks absolutely stunning.

Credit: Valiant/Tom Muller
Credit: Valiant/Tom Muller

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