Exclusive: Bloodshot: Salvation year-long plans bring 'villains, vengeance and violence'

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On September 20, Valiant Comics will launch a year-long story that is already getting a lot of hype despite being almost two months away. In Bloodshot: Salvation, Jeff Lemire and a team of A-list artists will explore Bloodshot's duality through "villains, vengeance, and violence," as Valiant Entertainment CEO and CCO Dinesh Shamdasani so succinctly puts it. The character will run a year-long gauntlet that includes a new family, new nanite characters and villains, and a trip to the Deadside to combat the mystical side of the Valiant Universe, and culminate with a jump to the far-future world of 4001 A.D., where Ray will come face to face with the living embodiment of the nanites, the Bloodshot of the future.

If this sounds epic already, just you wait. Bloodshot: Salvation is a story in three parts: "The Book of Revenge," "The Book of the Dead," and "The Book of Revelations." In this exclusive SYFY WIRE interview with Shamdasani and Editor-in-Chief Warren Simons, they've peeled back the curtain for an unprecedented look forward. The company is so confident in this story that they're offering a special pre-order bundle of all 12 issues through comic shops.

It may seem like a lot, but when just one of the issues in this run is what Simons calls "one of my favorite scripts I've worked on in my career" and what Shamdasani says will be "a seminal issue for all of Valiant, and for all of comics that year," well, it's easy when listening to them talk to get pulled into the hype.

We sat down to talk about the story of Bloodshot: Salvation and why Bloodshot is so important to the company in comics and beyond to digital and movies, and squeezed out a tease about that very special issue. All that, plus exclusive art from Mico Suayan with Brian Reber from Bloodshot: Salvation #2 (Punk Mambo! Yes!) and covers from Kenneth Rocafort and Monika Palosz and even looks far into the future with the covers of #6 and #9 from Renato Guedes.

Guys, the "first year" bundle pre-order of all 12 issues, and revealing the first year's worth of story arcs all at once like this, is pretty unprecedented. What is it about this story, or series of stories, that makes you take this approach?

Dinesh Shamdasani: We're excited, man. That's the crux of it. Jeff Lemire has built an incredible journey for the character. Since he came onto Bloodshot with The Valiant, he's really built a great long-form arc, and you know we love those long arcs for characters – Rob Venditti did a great one on X-O Manowar; we're doing the same thing now with Divinity becoming Eternity (with Matt Kindt).

We're excited, and we had so much success with X-O talking about how the character would evolve over the first year, we thought this was an even better place to do it. It's such an emotional, character-driven story.

Warren Simons: Yeah, Jeff's an extraordinary writer, obviously, and a remarkable talent. One of the things that's extraordinary about him is his ability to plot so well. He has an extraordinary understanding of character, and he's incredible at plotting, to build stories very quickly that are compelling. He's done that here with the first 12 issues of this book, and when you have something as remarkable as this, we get really pumped up.

Just from the basic descriptions, I'm already seeing this shape into something; we have themes of family, of inner self, of legacy – this seems like a much deeper personal look at Bloodshot than you've taken before. Is that something you wanted to look at or that Jeff came to you with?

Simons: I think Jeff did a masterful job with Bloodshot: Reborn, and that was a lot about Ray Garrison and a soldier recovering from PTSD to a certain extent, really trying to figure out who he is. I think with this story, Jeff's having so much fun being able to put these massive villains on the field across this series. He's building out Rampage, he's introducing a new character named Daddy, he's fleshing out the character Scarred Man he created in Bloodshot #0, there's a big villain coming up in our Deadside arc; so he's building up really powerful villains, and it's more of an exterior threat from Reborn.

And on top of that, we're getting pretty violent here. This is a pretty hardcore series; we're seeing Bloodshot do what Bloodshot does best, which is fu** a whole lot of people up! (laughs) He's relentless, but it doesn't always work as you'll see in the first arc. Ray's his own worst enemy. He can't leave good enough alone. So one of the questions we'll deal with in the first arc is, when can he just leave good enough alone?

A lot of this story really boils down, since Jeff's such an incredible writer, to what a man will do for his family. How far will a man go? And we'll see Ray go pretty far in this situation.

Shamdasani: Yeah, Warren hit it: Villains, vengeance, violence, those are the things we talk about in the office. But what's fascinating about what Jeff is doing here is that while we had a physical internal threat in Bloodshot: Reborn, here the external threat is still internal, too. This is really a story that's a war for Bloodshot's soul, for Ray's soul. All the villains are of his own making, are from the duality between Ray and Bloodshot. If he would just leave it alone, none of these villains would show up.

So while it's this massive, violent, epic story, it's also this emotional, character-driven story of a guy battling for who he is, battling to see if he's the evil killing machine or the man who hopes to have a family.

With more nanite characters running around, in this first issue alone we have Jessie, Rampage, and Bloodhound, you run the risk of diluting what makes Bloodshot special – how do you make sure this all points back to him and helps his story and understanding of himself?

Simons: I think Jeff was really careful when he built the Bloodshot squad in Reborn that it was clear one of these characters came about every decade or so, if that much. So we had Cold Man, we had Tank Man, we had Viet Man, and Quiet Man, and then Bloodhounds. That's really five characters that Project Rising Spirit had experimented on for 75 years or so to get to Ray, who is close to the perfect version, if not it.

So while there are a few of them, it's not like they're all popping up [frequently], and there's a logical reason why they pop up. Their powers are unique. And with Rampage, Issue 4 will deal a lot with Rampage, what his powers are, and how he gets them, and it's more unique or different from Bloodshot.

Shamdasani: They all illustrate who Ray is. What makes Ray special is not the nanites, and Jeff is very smart in making that very clear. You don't look at Wolverine and say the adamantium makes him special, don't give anyone else adamantium; it'd be a foolish thing to say. Because you take that away, which they did for years, and he was still a fascinating character.

That's what Jeff is doing here, he's showing you, look, you love Bloodshot not because of the nanites, but because of who Ray is. I'll add more characters, Deathmate, Bloodhound, Rampage, and explain to you why these character accentuate what you love about Ray. It's an awesome journey.

Jumping to the last arc, just because I'm so excited about it personally, we're getting more Bloodshot 4001 AD! This is after the 4001 AD bloodshot special, right?

Simons: Yes.

Shamdasani: Yeah, it's a good point – why is Ray in 4001? How did he get there? What mission can he only get done there? Jeff did a really good job bringing together these characters fans have been screaming for. It's tough to talk about why, because it would reveal a number of secrets in arc two and arc three, but people's heads are going to spin when they realize why Ray is in 4001.

The idea of Ray getting to essentially meet the nanites is huge, too …

Shamdasani: And vice versa! The nanites getting to meet their host that they've only read about in their records, that's awesome.

Simons: Yeah, that moment is pretty extraordinary.

Shamdasani: And it's something you can really only do in comics. It's why we're so excited, why we did the pre-order edition, why we're screaming from the hills, "Look what's happening!" Lemire, Mico Suayan, Lewis LaRosa, Renato Guedes, and Doug Braithwaite all on this book – look, if you've ever liked Bloodshot before, this is the book for you. If you've never read it before, we envy you, because this is the best place to start. Jeff has built such an amazing story with such mythology: the Deadside, 4001, Shadowman, Ninjak, all these new villains, this epic journey of a guy fighting for his soul – that's why we're so excited!

Simons: Yeah, one of the things that's so remarkable in the story is that Jeff has made it totally accessible and clean and you can start with Issue 1, but if you've read The Valiant, you've read Bloodshot: Reborn, he's made a really incredible story through it all.

It's interesting to me too, we have him going to the Deadside, to 4001 AD, it seems to be really connecting Bloodshot to the rest of the Valiant Universe, even the mystical and the future. That feels like you're building up to something even bigger here … is that the case? Are you building to something even more with Bloodshot and the Valiant universe?

Simons: Always. Always. (laughs) I'd say one of my favorite things about this run is seeing how much fun it is to see Mico Suayan draw Punk Mambo or Ninjak, or see how Jeff makes these characters interact together. To see Shadowman and Bloodshot in the Deadside …

Shamdasani: Dude, Bloodshot, Shadowman, and Bloodhound fighting demons in Deadside? Forget about it!

Simons: Bloodshot and Bloodhounds carrying a very special package through demons. Having Jeff write one of the most extraordinary things he's ever written is a lot of fun! We're – I was just talking to Jeff about the masterful job he did with this in San Diego. I think we're heading some place very special.

Shamdasani: And you're right to notice the larger mythological elements, Lucas. We try to always have a direction we're going, our publishing plans, but the character will often show us a different road, and this is what's happening here. We didn't want to sequelize – we're in a good position with the creators we have and the characters we have to keep pioneering new territory.

But everything just started in the last couple of years to coalesce towards this one event, that clearly had to be Harbinger Wars 2. It's like the characters themselves are at war and they're forcing us to take them there. You'll see what Jeff's setting up will influence Bloodshot's interactions with Livewire, and Harada, and the Renegades, and lead into Harbinger Wars 2.

Simons: And again, we are super blessed to have the crew that we have here. On the first issue we have Mico Suayan handling the flash-forwards and Lewis LaRosa handling the present, and he's handing in the work of his career. Mico as well, the work he's doing is absolutely magnificent. I think we have an incredible art team.

Then the next arc with Renato Guedes, it's as beautiful as it gets. We get something turned in from him and our jaws hit the floor. It's amazing, and we're excited to see what he'll do here, especially for this arc, and a very special issue that Jeff has hinted at.

Then Doug Braithwaite in the 4001 arc, and I don't know if you've seen what he did in X-O, but Doug's one of the best storytellers in the industry. An absolute force to be reckoned with.

So you said special issue, was that the Rampage origin issue or something else?

Simons: Yeah, Jeff has built two really amazing stand-alones; they're still part of the arc. Issue 4 is the origin of Rampage, but Issue 7 … How far do we want to get into it, Dinesh?

Shamdasani: I think we've gone too far saying it was Issue 7! (laughs) Why don't you say how you feel about the issue without talking about [the plot]?

Simons: It's in the Deadside arc, and Jeff has put together something that I sort of talked with him about, this possible idea that he ran with and made it the best thing he's written. He's such a gifted writer, it's hard for me to get into without details, without spoiling it, but … an editor can torture a writer with a challenge that makes a story a million times more difficult, and I did. Then Jeff delivered on it a million times more than anyone could've ever expected.

Bloodshot: Salvation #7 is one of my favorite scripts I've worked on while I've been at Valiant, and really in my career. It's a remarkable work that I'm really excited about.

Shamdasani: It's also something that only someone like Jeff could do. You have to find a team like the team we have here. It's not what anyone expects, it'll be a seminal issue in the entire Valiant catalog and possibly in all of comics that year. It breaks the format. It's a new tweak in the way people tell stories in comics. And now I've elevated it impossibly.

Obviously, this was a big week for Bloodshot, with certain casting rumors floating around; knowing Bloodshot is central to both your digital project of Ninjak, and he's central to the movie slate, what is it about this character that makes you want to put him in front of larger audiences?

Shamdasani: It's different reasons for each. We don't really think that way, we let story guide us in everything we do. So in the comics, he is a central figure because of the emotional duality that allows us to tell stories about a guy fighting for his soul.

In Ninjak vs. the Valiant Universe, we had a fantastic actor and martial artist in Jason David Frank, who just really loved the character and embodied that character; he did an amazing job, and I'm so excited for people to see what he did in that web series.

Then on the feature side, he's a character that allows us to not have to tell a story that's a "superhero story." We don't want to fight DC and Marvel, we don't tell "superhero" stories, we tell stories that fit a film genre then have superheroes in the middle of it. Bloodshot is very much a sci-fi, action-adventure story with a real intellectual element. It's in the vein of Total Recall, of the original RoboCop, in the vein of Memento, the first Terminator, those really smart sci-fi action films. That's what we're doing with Bloodshot, and that's why we're so excited about pushing it forward and making it the first one, to get to tell people who we are in a special way.

I know how anxious you are, Dinesh, you and I have been talking about these movies for a few years now, I know how much you want to get them out there …

Shamdasani: But we're going to keep talking about them until they're perfect, and that's what I've always told you. We're not in a hurry, we're going to wait until we have it right. We have this fantastic writer in Eric Heisserer now, who is writing Secret Weapons for us in the comics and is going to do Harbinger Wars 2, and this is a guy who wrote perhaps the best sci-fi film of the last decade with Arrival. That's the statement we're making, that we want someone like that.

Dave Wilson, the director, if you see the work he's done with Blur Studios, building these stories in Star Wars, in Halo, in Elder Scrolls, he's a storyteller and a filmmaker in that world. So we're bringing these new voices and visions into it.

And we're not in a rush. We'd rather not make a movie than make a bad one.

Simons: And that's something we're trying to do in our comics, too. It's been one of the hallmarks of Valiant, really taking our time to build these characters and these stories up.

Correction: The first issue of Bloodshot: Salvation hits stores September 20, one week earlier than the originally reported date of September 27.