Secret Weapons: Eric Heisserer Talks Coming to Valiant

It’s not every day that an Oscar-nominated screenwriter comes to comics.

This article was originally published in the Den of Geek SDCC Special Edition Magazine. Click here to view the full issue!

Eric Heisserer, who was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay for 2016’s Arrival, is playing with a different kind of science fiction these days. Heisserer has written scripts for two upcoming Valiant adaptations for Sony Pictures: Bloodshot and Harbinger. He’s also writing Secret Weapons, a new comic book series about offbeat heroes with quirky powers, featuring art by Raul Allen. Heisserer spoke to Den of Geek about how he ended up working on both sides of the comics-to-screen process.

How did you end up writing movies and comics for Valiant?

A couple of years ago, I was made aware that they were looking for someone to write the adaptation of Harbinger as a feature film. I fell in love with that set of books, and so I went in and pitched my heart out for that job. I managed to land that gig and just proceeded to try and find a way to make myself indispensable for other Valiant projects.

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I kept pitching [Valiant CEO and CCO, Dinesh Shamdasani, and Editor-in-Chief Warren Simons] other ideas for Livewire. They reminded me that there isn’t a Livewire movie, but if I wanted to write a book that featured her, we could do that. I jumped at that opportunity, because part of my personal goal is to try and do something in a non-screenwriting medium every year to improve my craft as a writer. I felt this scratched a lot of itches at once.

You’re really on the ground floor of creating not just one franchise, but a whole cinematic universe.

I made a promise to myself just to focus on these as self-contained stories that hint at a larger world beyond it, but weren’t reliant upon that. I find it frustrating as an audience member to experience a film that constantly nods at other films or potential sequels. My goal was to make a great Harbinger script and a great Bloodshot script, and if audiences love those stories, and we were honored enough to come back and revisit those characters, great.

So your Harbinger draft is already complete, and you’ve already done your work on Bloodshot as well?

Yes, on both. And it was my work on Bloodshot that got us the director Dave Wilson, who is now busy in pre-production. I don’t have any information personally to give to you. Otherwise, the Sony black-ops team will descend on my home and kill me.

Understood.

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But I do know there’s good news on the way. And I don’t know what the status is on Harbinger right now other than that everybody’s really excited about the script, hoping we can get that agreement sooner rather than later.  

You’re really on the ground floor of creating not just one franchise, but a whole cinematic universe, and that’s the magic word in Hollywood right now. Were you really shaping the tone and vision for all of this, or did you kind of envisioned these as self-contained projects? 

I made it a promise to myself just to focus on these as self-contained stories that hinted a larger world beyond it, but weren’t reliant upon that. I find it frustrating as an audience member to experience a film that constantly nods at other films or potential sequels. I feel like that’s just too much hubris on the part of the filmmakers. So my goal was to make a great Harbinger script and a great Bloodshot script, and if audiences love those stories, and we were honored enough to come back and revisit those characters, great. But if not, we told a story, and we walked out. So that was the plan.

How did you try to distinguish Harbinger and Bloodshot from the competition?

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I would say that what took the most work—is to make sure that we could carve out some real estate that was entirely our own that felt different from the Marvel or DC universes. And the way I look at it is that I latched on to the idea of creating sort of the David Bowie of comic book films that felt off-kilter, that felt fascinating and refreshing in its own right. And I think the way to crack that was to focus on what the story was beyond having it being a comic book movie. You know? Could we label Bloodshot or Harbinger as something other than a comic book film, and what story could we tell that will allow people to see it outside of that label?

For Bloodshot, I saw it as a science fiction thriller, first and foremost. And if you happen to know that it was based on a comic character, then you’d have a little extra information, but you didn’t need to feel that in the narrative.

Harbinger is a little different because you’re dealing with people who have powers, so that’s more of an easy jump to comic books. I feel confident that we gave it its own voice, and it really started with the idea that Pete Stanchek is basically what happens if you gave Jesse from Breaking Bad Jedi powers.

You mentioned that you pitched hard for Harbinger, and obviously you’re a big fan of the new Harbinger stuff. Were you a Valiant fan back in the day as well?

I was a casual fan. Like I picked up a little Archer & Armstrong and loved those. And I liked what they were doing with X-O Manowar, but it was also a time in my life where I didn’t have much money for comics. I didn’t have much disposable income, so I wasn’t reading much of anything at the time. By the time I got back into it, they had sort of come out again—they had reinvented itself. And when I read the first Harbinger books, I was blown away.

Why did you choose to make characters with seemingly “useless” powers the focus of Secret Weapons?

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I’d been walking through the process of what Harada uses to turn a latent into an active member of this [superhuman] community. We see what happens when it goes really well, and you become a badass like Ion or Stronghold. But what happens when you have a power that’s not so sexy? If that goes wrong, how do you come out of that process? That gave me space to tell a story I was invested in. To be able to come back from that and learn that you are part of a community, that’s a steep calling. And who better to help with that than Livewire, who I feel is one of the most compassionate characters in the Valiant universe?

Even though these are “useless” powers, there’s a real compassionate tone, and nobody is treated like a joke in this story. That scene where Nicole is talking to pigeons is really kind of touching.

Early on, I shared with Raul Allen what the pigeon is saying back so he can draw them with the proper expressions. Nicole feels that power is rather useless, but we will see her cleverly use that relationship with the birds time and again. Hopefully, as readers we’ll be like, “Hey, that’s actually kind of cool.”

You were talking about how you work with Raul on this. Just how closely do you break this stuff down? Because some of these sequences, like when Owen’s following the lights, are so cinematic, so how much do you break this stuff down and how much freedom do the artists have?

I’ll tell you that I got very detailed with the first issue. And I went as grandeur as I can talking about various panels, and once I know for sure that Raul was my partner for this, I pulled back and I said, “Ignore the specific panel description. Just know that this is the feel I want for this page.” Because Raul is a master at sequential storytelling, and he gets the vibe that I want for these sequences. The good news is that those pages aren’t far from my original intent, but he manages to sweeten them up and the sequence with following the light is a good example of an idea that I had that he found a way to execute just a little bit better.

Thank you for your time!

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