Exclusive: Collin Kelly and Jackson Lanzing Let us know what they think of Peter Stancheck and their plans for The Harbinger
Can you make the world better if you can’t be better? Writers Collin Kelly and Jackson Lanzing explore that question as Peter Stancheck returns in The Harbinger. Launching in October from Valiant, The Harbinger features art by Robbi Rodriguez, color by Rico Renzi, and lettering by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou.
We got to use Psiot telepathic abilities to pick the brains of Kelly and Lanzing to dive into what we can expect in their upcoming run.
Graphic Policy: Hi, how are you both?
Jackson Lanzing: We’re fantastic. We just returned from vacation, it’s a beautiful day in Los Angeles and we’re heading to San Francisco next weekend for the wedding of two of our dear friends.
Collin Kelly: It’s been a bit of a hurricane of work for us these last few weeks (months?), but when you’re working on projects this exciting, it tends to give you more energy than less.
Not great for sleep though.
JL: No, we are not dudes who get a lot of sleep these days.
GP: How did y’all come aboard the project?
JL: The short answer is persistence. I had something of a personal obsession with getting the Hivemind in the loop over at Valiant since 2015, when we started developing a take on Shadowman. But nothing ever quite materialized – largely because the Valiant Universe is so tightly coordinated, which was the thing that drew us there in the first place. So instead of helping steer the ship, we sat back and read the universe as fans – with a special love for the Harbinger line, written by Joshua Dysart, Jody Houser, and Rafer Roberts. We honestly never dreamed we’d follow them up. For that, all credit and blame goes to editor extraordinaire Heather Antos.
CK: NYCC 2019, she asks us “what do you guys think of Peter Stanchek?” And truthfully, we didn’t know Heather that well at the time – we weren’t particularly close, we were all just fans of each other’s work. So we’re a little caught off guard, but we answer with something like, “he’s absolutely amazing as a character, but he’s also done some terrible things, and it would be hard to tell a story that doesn’t take that head on.” And it turns out, she agreed. If Peter’s story was going to continue, it couldn’t be a retelling or a one that forgave his sins on page 1 – he needed to move forward, face his past, and evolve into the version of himself that he was always meant to be. It all started there – and by the end of the con, we had a take that excited the whole team.
GP: How closely does The Harbinger #1 follow the events of Harbinger, and Harbinger Renegade, and do you need to be aware of those events?
CK: To answer your second question first; you can have never read a Harbinger title in your life and still absolutely love this book. That’s not a brag – that’s by design. We want new readers to be able to meet Peter for the first time… because that’s exactly what Peter is doing as well. Our Peter starts as a complete blank slate, discovering who he is hand in hand with the new reader. Of course, for readers who know his story quite well (and now, back to the first question), they’ll realize that we are starting about eight months after Harada’s fall. The Harbinger Foundation has been gutted, its assets sold off. The world seems like it’s constantly under attack… and Psiots are the ones taking the blame. And Peter Stanchek? We all know how dangerous Peter Stanchek is… thank god he hasn’t been seen in months…
GP: There’s been numerous series out with this title and these characters. What is influencing this take?
JL: Harbinger stories all share something in common: they’re always about the moment in which they’re being told. The Harbinger is no different – it’s a story that is reckoning specifically with the reflective and reconstructive moment we’re having across many levels of our society. Written during the height of the Trump Administration, it’s influenced by the police brutality, factionalization, and the self-reflection offered when living in a dystopian world that serves only the rich and powerful. It’s a story about organization and responsibility – about standing fearlessly against injustice. But it’s also got a lot of joy underneath all the madness – like a spontaneous dance party in the middle of a protest. It’s inspired equally by bands like IDLES and artists like RÜFÜS DU SOL – we’re really trying to embrace the whiplash between oppression and community.
GP: Peter being a blank slate is obviously a great entry method for new readers or ones who have forgotten what happened. Where did the idea come from?
CK: Once again, we circle back to Heather Antos. Jack and I are collaborators to the core, so when someone has the best idea, we listen – and that day, she had the best idea. Which for the Hivemind gave us questions of our own: how do we get there, and what happens next? Finding those answers started us on the journey that leads to the book in your hands.
JL: It’s actually a core mystery of the book: who left Peter Stanchek without his memories? Who gave him this second chance – and why? Was it a gift… or an attack? Peter’s going to be looking for those questions, and readers are on that journey with him. We love how relatable that makes the character and his journey, regardless of how mindblowing all his context is.
GP: Peter has always been hovering over the line between hero and villain depending on your perspective; are you approaching this as a redemption arc or as the introduction of a new yet familiar character?
JL: This will sound like a cop-out, but this story is absolutely both of those things. First and foremost, this is the introduction of a new hero to the Valiant Universe – The Harbinger. If you’ve never read a Valiant book, Peter’s journey from Renegade to superhero will hold your hand and walk you into the deep end of the pool. But if you’ve been reading this universe for any length of time, you know full well who Peter Stanchek is and what he is capable of. Moreover, you know some of the terrible things he has done in the interest of selfishness. This book does not offer forgiveness or absolution for those things – but rather a reckoning. And how Peter handles that reckoning is going to define what kind of hero The Harbinger becomes.
GP: You’re working on the origin of Kang over at Marvel – can you talk about the differences in the series and publishers?
CK: Plus, we just announced BATMAN BEYOND: NEO YEAR at DC, so we have a full superhero publisher hat-trick! Seriously though, regarding the publishers… there are small differences, sure, but they’re honestly very similar: we are incredibly lucky to only work with outstanding editors who absolutely love telling stories, and artists who are putting their hearts on the page. Whatever logo is on the front of the book, that’s the experience of making it.
Now, in terms of KANG: THE CONQUEROR and THE HARBINGER… both Kang and Peter have to grapple with the sins of the past, and the hopes for the future. They both have incredible power, and severe impulse control issues. But Kang… his story is a tragedy; we know who Nathanel Richards will become, and it’s not a hero. Peter Stanchek on the other hand… he still has that chance. (And for the record, Terry McGinnis has his own set of problems, which readers can discover in BATMAN: URBAN LEGENDS #7!)
JL: Working on these books at the same time has actually been really psychologically rewarding – every time we get pulled down into the darkness by Kang, we can move back into the sky with The Harbinger. They’re both books that are to some degree about the damaging aspects of imposed masculinity on young men – something we’ve both experienced a lot in our own lives – so these stories come from a very personal, heartfelt place. The feelings on the page are ours.
GP: Valiant has been great about balancing enjoying just a series but the series also playing into a greater narrative and “meta” story of the universe. How does it differ from writing for that?
JL: Honestly, we really thought of this story as standing fully on its own, with only the context of the previous Harbinger books that needed to be woven into our mythos. We’ve had situations where our launch on a book had to serve many masters – our Green Arrow run played clean-up for No Justice and Heroes In Crisis before being cancelled to pivot the characters into Event Leviathan – and this story is just about the opposite working condition. We’re setting the table for the next steps of the Valiant Universe, with new heroes, new settings, new villains, and a new status quo for Psiots. We’re pushing things forward… and looking forward to coordinating tightly with the rest of the universe once our part of the universe is defined and operating on its own.
GP: Valiant has a very vocal fan base; does that add any pressure to what you’re writing?
CK: Not much? The core of everything we write boils down to one thing: can we make you feel something. That’s always our goal, and how we do it doesn’t change because of what we think readers do or do not want. It’s not about them (sorry y’all) – it’s about telling the best story for the character, in the raddest way possible. For us, that means getting out of Robbi Rodriguez and Rico Renzi’s way, so that they can deliver some of the most eye-catching and kinetic storytelling on the shelves. I’m actually very excited to really get to know the Valiant fan base – when they love the book, I hope they’re vocal as hell.
JL: Bring it on, Valiant fans. We love you, we’re into it, let’s geek out.
GP: Speaking of pressure, there’s a film that’s been in the works. Does that play into the creation process at all? Do you think that this might be the possible entry into the comics whenever that film is released?
JL: I’m perfectly happy to report that the movie has nothing to do with anything we’re doing. The Harbinger stands on its own – and we can just wait like the fans to see what comes out of Hollywood for Peter and the gang.
GP: What can you tease about the upcoming issues?
CK: How about questions of my own: What happened to the Eggbreakers? Where are the H.A.R.D.Corps? Who – or what – is The Warning? But most of all… who took Peter’s memory?
What was he forced to forget?
…also, there’s a cat.
JL: It’s a Hivemind book. There’s always a cat.
GP: What would you say is the most exciting thing about writing this series, and comics in general?
JL: In this case, those things are one and the same: the excitement of collaboration with incredible artists of line, color, and letter. Every project brings a different dynamic and alchemy – so the process is always one of discovery. Robbi’s way of seeing the world is so fundamentally unique, so powerful, and so singular that our scripts and stories take on a new life every time. It’s like getting to join a new band on every project – and it really feels like this one is making one hell of a record with The Harbinger.
The Harbinger #1 comes to comic shops on October 27.