Arrival screenwriter previews his upcoming superhero comic
Ahead of the Oscars this Sunday, much of the cultural discussion has focused on this award season’s heavyweights, like La La Land and Moonlight. But Dennis Villeneuve’s Arrival has also received critical acclaim — a somewhat unusual achievement for a science-fiction film. Eric Heisserer is nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay (his script is based on Ted Chiang’s short story “Story of Your Life”), and he’s not done yet. Heisserer has also been working on films based on the Valiant comic superheroes Bloodshot and Harbinger, and he recently announced he will write the four-issue miniseries Secret Weapons for the publisher. Illustrated by artist Raul Allen, Secret Weapons stars black female hero Livewire, a superpowered “psiot” with electromagnetic powers. After a fall-out with her former mentor Toyo Harada, Livewire must help other lost psiots find their powers and escape danger.
EW chatted with Heisserer about his plans for Secret Weapons, how Arrival influenced his new work, and the current cultural moment for science-fiction.Check that out below, along with a preview of the first issue of Secret Weapons, which will hit stores in June.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What is interesting to you about Livewire as a character?
ERIC HEISSERER: What I find so compelling about her is that this is a character with a history. She grew up in survival mode, and then she got connected with Harada, and he taught her a set of values and principles that she really took as a moral compass for herself and created this worldview where she saw the best in people. And then she discovered that her boss was either misguided or had always been corrupt, so she went astray from the path. At that point, you typically see the student from a teacher like that also become corrupt or spiral into this self-destructive point because they no longer know right from wrong. But Livewire never lost that. She always knew what’s good for the world and what’s good for people. So I now want to stay with that character, someone who knows how to be good even as the world around her crumbles and turns bad.
How with those beliefs be challenged in the upcoming series?
Part of it has to deal with her relationship with the psiots who had been discarded by Harada and deemed useless and are now being hunted down because of the information leak where hackers exposed all of the Harada’s data. She’s gotta become a surrogate mother in a way for these kids who have distrust for authority and certainly distrust for anyone who’s been in Harada’s organization. So she has a lot to earn back right from the start, and we get to see how much her moral compass and her needs to do the right thing and see the best in people works as a curse as well as a blessing.
The Raul Allen art we’ve seen from the series so far looks amazing. What can you tease about readers can expect from him here?
He’s a full package artist. We could spend the entire interview with me just gushing about him. He’s got a flair for color in a way I haven’t seen before. He knows the right palettes to use for different occasions and different characters, and he sets a tone subliminally that I don’t often get with other books. On top of that, he knows how to organize panels and showcase sequential storytelling in really lively and unconventional ways that never confuse the reader but allow you to get more information across. As opposed to the traditional four- or six-panel layout, he can pack in a lot more and never have the eye wander or be confused about where to go next. I see that particularly in the middle of this first issue where Owen is being led on by a number of flickering green lights. That could’ve been a confusing segment, but he does something truly genius with it.
What did you learn from your work on Arrival that you’re now applying to new projects?
Having worked with some spectacular talent with Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker, I’ve realized you don’t need a lot of dialogue to be expressive and to be able to communicate what you want to tell. I come from a place where I realize now I had overwritten dialogue and scenes, partly just to make sure that casual readers understood what was going on. But when you’re working with an amazing artist, you realize that like cartoonists, you can be very expressive in as few brushstrokes as possible. This allowed me an economy with Secret Weapons that I don’t think I would’ve been able to bring to it before Arrival.
In addition to Secret Weapons and Arrival, you’ve also been working on the scripts for Bloodshot and Harbinger. What can you tease about the status of those?
I’ve just completed a new draft of Bloodshot, and I wrapped up my work on Harbinger late last year. I’m excited for both of them to move forward. I think at this point, a lot of that is out of my control and largely up to Sony and other artists out there that might be attracted to the project. But I’m really excited about it, and hopefully we’ll have some good news in the next month or so.
What do you find compelling about the Bloodshot and Harbinger characters?
What I find very compelling about Bloodshot is that at first blush he seems to be exactly the kind of character you feel like you’ve seen before. There’s a similarity, and with that comes an expectation of certain tropes, in the action and comic genres. But a few pages into the books, and hopefully a few minutes into the film itself, you realize there’s a lot more to it. We peel back the onion for you, and you discover a far more complex and unconventional character than you expect. That’s what I like about him. With Harbinger, the best thing I like about those characters is how delightfully punk they are, in their own right. I heard at one point in time that Peter Stanchek was described if like Jesse Pinkman from Breaking Bad had Jedi powers, and I realize I have not seen that character before. It’s so different from anything you’d see at DC or Marvel, it’s its own world and occupies its own space, and I want to go to there.
Between Arrival’s success and your work on Valiant’s sci-fi-infused superheroes, what do you think is relevant about the genre right now?
Well, I think there’s a lot of very sensitive and almost urgent temperature, an urgent kind of need for stories that have voices about what’s going on in our culture and our politics. And I always feel like direct one to one correlations, thrillers that put themselves directly in reality and try to tell the story on the surface right now tend to be too raw and easily rejected. The gift science-fiction has always had is that it can hold up a mirror to what’s going on in our society, but speaks through metaphor, and makes it more palatable. Sometimes we learn the lesson we need to learn without knowing it.