Character designs for Secret Weapons. Art by Raul Allen.
For fans of genre fiction, the box-office success of last year’s science-fiction saga Arrival was a heartening development. Sure, the cineplexes are packed with flicks that traffic in the fantastical, thanks to the rise of superhero mega-franchises like the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the DC Extended Universe, but Arrival was something rare: a self-contained and idiosyncratic sci-fi picture based not on world-famous characters, but rather on an obscure short story. Key to its success was screenwriter Eric Heisserer, who just earned an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. He’s trying to pull off a similar feat on the printed page by taking his talents to an unconventional new comic-book tale from upstart publisher Valiant: Secret Weapons.
The oft-overlooked company has had one of the more remarkable corporate stories in the history of the superhero economy, birthing in the early 1990s, dying in the early 2000s, and improbably resurrecting itself at the hands of a childhood superfan named Dinesh Shamdasani in 2012. It has a dramatis personae of little-known heroes including an angsty supersoldier named Bloodshot and a team of reluctant teenage superhumans called Harbingers. Heisserer was hired to pen screenplays for Sony’s developing Bloodshot and Harbinger film adaptations, and while working on them, he fell in love with an unusual Harbinger character named Amanda McKee, a.k.a. Livewire.
“I kept thinking about her,” Heisserer says. “I started to have dreams about interesting scenes and interesting explorations of her powers long after my official writing steps were done on the script.” Livewire has been a key figure in the growing Valiant universe, one of its many superpowered individuals known as “psiots.” Under the tutelage of a megalomaniacal businessman named Toyo Harada, she learns how to master her ability to manipulate the electromagnetic field. She also happens to be a black woman in a leading role, something that’s still a rarity in superhero fiction.
“I approached Dinesh and [Valiant editor-in-chief] Warren Simons and said, ‘Guys, I’ve got a lot of stories here for her,’” Heisserer recalls. “‘I see her path pretty well. I’d love to take a swing at this, writing a book that has her as the anchor.’” Shamdasani and Simons said yes, and Secret Weapons was born, with Valiant vets Raul Allen and Patricia Martin taking on art duties.
Debuting in June, the four-issue miniseries will follow Livewire as she encounters psiots that Harada had cast aside in an isolated facility due to their seemingly useless powers: a boy who causes things to faintly glow, a girl who can communicate with birds, and so on. Seeing their potential, Livewire gathers them together to form a team that will take on a foe called Rexo — an homage to a character with that name from the earlier incarnation of Valiant.
Rexo isn’t the only holdover from the past, as it turns out. Heisserer says Secret Weapons is based on a concept he’s had rattling around in his head for a long while. “As a storyteller, you carry around a handful of things, like, Hey, let’s find a home for this idea at some point,” he says. “It’s been based on the fact that I always get really emotionally affected at the Island of Misfit Toys in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. I started building this home for these wayward psiots that obviously didn’t make the cut. It seemed appropriate for where Valiant is right now.”
For those concerned that they won’t be able to dive in without knowledge of the past few years of Valiant history, Heisserer offers words of reassurance: “We’ll spoon-feed what you need,” he says. “Enough, hopefully, to get you so curious to say, ‘What’re they talking about here? I should pick up another book.’” If you’re interested in taking Heisserer up on his offer to use Secret Weapons as a gateway drug, check out some exclusive pages, designs, and cover artwork below.