In a universe where humans can wield superpowers, can every power actually be super? What if some powers — like, say, the ability to talk to birds — are deemed useless? That’s the idea behind Secret Weapons, Valiant’s newest limited comic book series released today from Oscar-nominated writer Eric Heisserer (Arrival) and artists Raul Allen and Patricia Martin.
Spinning off from Valiant’s Harbinger reboot, Secret Weapons brings to the forefront a ragtag group of teens with paranormal powers — called “psiots” — who were cast aside by the Harbinger Foundation for having “worthless” abilities. Now called together by one psiot, Livewire, the Secret Weapons embark on a journey to finally claim their place in the world.
The name “Secret Weapons” used to belong to another super team prior to Valiant’s relaunch in 2012, but Heisserer created these characters way back during his days playing tabletop pen-and-paper RPG games as an adolescent. “I didn’t know if I’d ever find a home for them,” Heisserer tells Inverse in a phone interview. Although he didn’t make Secret Weapons, filling out the new team roster with his own characters gives Heisserer a sense of ownership for the story, even for a publisher as big as Valiant.
“I think I have to make everything personal. I don’t know how to write well without it being personal in some shape or form,” he says. “I have been carrying around these characters in the back of my head for a very long time.”
The cast of Secret Weapons include a girl named Nikki who can talk to birds. Nikki seeks independence but secretly craves a sense of belonging. There’s also Owen Cho, an Asian-American youth who has a crush on Nikki and can summon any object out of thin air but has no control over what he conjures. “He has a broken self-esteem and he needs to get over that,” says Heisserer. Then there’s Martin, whose ability to make objects glow is so pitiful, he just wants to forget this whole psiot business and go back to normal life.
Secret Weapons isn’t Heisserer’s first dalliance with Valiant. In fact, the screenwriter came up with Secret Weapons through his work writing the first two Valiant movies that will be produced by Sony: Bloodshot, about a soldier injected with microscopic supercomputers which turn him into a killing machine, and Harbinger, where Heisserer fell in love with the character Livewire, a martial arts expert who can interface with technology.
“She gets me on two levels,” Heisserer explains. “First, I kept coming up with weird, kind of innovative ideas for her powers. New explorations or executions of her talent I wanted to play around with. On another level I found her to be a compelling human being, because of her moral compass.” Heisserer said he was tired of seeing proteges follow the path of their mentor, but in Secret Weapons, Livewire is hurt by Toyo Harada — the most powerful psiotic in the Valiant Universe — and rebels against him by recruiting the discarded Harbinger kids.
“The choices she makes seem to go against what I see normally in these stories,” says Heisserer. “When that mentor goes down a dark path, typically the student follows. She chose a different path.”
Heisserer, who previously wrote the screenplays for the A Nightmare on Elm Street and The Thing reboots as well as writing and directing the late Paul Walker vehicle Hours, has been hard at work building Valiant’s forays into blockbuster movies. Interconnected cinematic universes are all the rage now, but Heisserer said that Valiant is being cautious not to overestimate its potential audience.
“The moment that you land a movie that is a set up to a sequel, there’s just too much hubris involved, and it can get in the way of you telling a good story by itself,” he says. “My focus on Harbinger and on the work I did on Bloodshot were all about just having them feel like solid standalone films. The other part of course is finding the space that doesn’t compare them to Marvel or DC. Those worlds have been out there, they’re more established and people are familiar with them. Finding a tone that lands outside of all of that was a long, arduous process really.”
“Our primary focus is to create a good movie,” he says. “It’s presumptuous to try and assume we’ll have another shot at it.”
Secret Weapons #1 is available now. Below is an exclusive preview of Secret Weapons #2, which will be released on July 19.
Update: A previous version of this article incorrectly credited David Aja as an artistic contributor. The book was also described as an “ongoing” comic as opposed to a limited series. These errors have been corrected.