We’ve been talking for an hour, and Matt Kindt—a man who made a name for himself by crafting twisting, intricate narratives about spies and psychic manipulators complete with subliminal puzzles and clues—is struggling to tell me why he likes Conan the Barbarian so much.
“It doesn’t make any sense!” Kindt says. “I can draw lines from everything else I like! There’s a natural progression from one thing to the next.” You can see it in his bibliography: the crime and spies, psychics and science fiction of Pistolwhip, Revolver and MIND MGMT.
It’s kind of funny, really. Kindt makes comics a bit like puzzles—not the sort that is designed to stump, but the kind that employs the form and function of comics and genre to methodically craft stories. In a way, it feels like he’s constructing them in real time, right in front of you. Whether or not he’s collaborating with another artist, Kindt’s narratives have a way of fitting together that feels very deliberate. His prose is simple, his plotting clean, his mysteries constructed around you as you read them. He’s deceptively straightforward, without much flair or showmanship, but has complete faith in the bigness of his ideas and the humanity at their core.
This is the approach that Kindt has spent the last four years bringing to Valiant Comics. Following an unassuming one-shot—Bloodshot #0, with art by ChrisCross—Kindt has slowly worked his way across the entire fictional universe, first in books like Rai (a cyberpunk murder mystery with art by Clayton Crain) and Unity (a big ol’ team book with art mostly by Doug Braithwaite), then slowly running amok in giant crossovers like The Valiant, introducing the first new hero (and communist deity) to the relaunched Valiant canon in the Divinity tetralogy, and crafting a weird genre-bending spy-ninja thriller in Ninjak. With nearly 100 issues of Valiant comics to his name, he’s rapidly becoming one of the most tenured writers in the publisher’s history, with a body of work that has helped define Valiant as a cosmos that uses superheroes as a vehicle for genre storytelling.
X-O Manowar #4 Interior Art by Doug Braithwaite and Diego Rodriguez
Hence, Conan: it’s one of the last of Kindt’s personal genre influences to go unexplored in his comics oeuvre, and lies at the heart of his bold new take on X-O: Manowar with artists Tomas Giorello, Doug Braithwaite, Clayton Crain, Ryan Bodenheim and Mico Suayan.
“Honestly, as a creator, I’m trying to do every genre,” Kindt laughs. “I’m a fan of all of them. I know it sounds like a joke, but it’s like—I’ve done crime. But then, you do enough of that, you want to do something else. So spies was sort of the next step, and then I slowly started to ramp it up and spread into other genres and then I finally get back to superheroes [with Valiant].”
In Rai— a series that’s been on hiatus since reaching a conclusion of sorts in Valiant’s 4001 A.D. miniseries last year—you can find Kindt’s approach most clearly distilled. A murder mystery set in a far-future city where murder hasn’t existed for a thousand years, Rai slowly spirals out and reveals itself to be about the breakdown of the father-son relationship between its titular, human-machine hybrid hero, and the artificial intelligence that created him.
“I was probably four or five issues in when I realized it was a coming-of-age story,” Kindt says. “That breaking away in that weird time where you want to be independent of your parents, how difficult that can be. Everybody sort of has their own little story—it either goes well or does not. And then with Rai, of course, it went super weird and horrible.”
X-O Manowar #4 Interior Art by Doug Braithwaite and Diego Rodriguez
It’s a somber turn for a story set in a flying city that also turns into a dragon, with crazy mechs and robot uprisings and just about every science fiction idea in the book thrown at it, rendered in the gunmetal grays and muted colors of Clayton Crain’s painting.
“That, to me, is what all these comics are about; if it’s not about something you can relate to, if it’s not something that is personal in some way, then I don’t get it,” says Kindt. “All the crazy sci-fi stuff makes it fun to read—if we just did a story that was set in St. Louis in the suburbs, and you have this horrible father and this kid—that’s not as interesting to me. But if you put it in a floating city in the sky,” he laughs, “then I’m on board!”
As Kindt builds toward his fifth year at Valiant, the writer/artist is pushing the burgeoning universe into areas both he and the publisher have never been before: namely, the cosmic. Part of this is already happening piecemeal in X-O Manowar, as Kindt and his collaborators have built out entire alien worlds and races to populate them, and further groundwork has been laid over the last two years across three Divinity miniseries with artist Trevor Hairsine. But it’s in the fourth iteration, now named Eternity, where it looks like Valiant will be stretched to its very limits. Like just about everything in superhero comics, it all comes back to haloed comic legend Jack Kirby.
X-O Manowar #3 Cover Art by Lewis Larosa
“I guess what I’m trying to do is something New Gods-esque, because I love that stuff, the sheer creativity and the bright colors and the characters,” Kindt says of the miniseries, which launches in October and sees Divinity, an astronaut imbued with omnipotence, plunging into another world full of god-like entities. “I love the Kirby stuff, but it doesn’t make me feel any kind of emotion. Part of me is dead inside anyway. My friends tell me ‘you don’t feel any emotion!’ and I’m like what?!” he says. “Sometimes I do! I want this to be that. I want you to be amazed by Trevor Hairsine and Ryan Winn and David Baron’s art on the book, but I also want you to care about it in the end, turn the last page and you’re like, I want to read it again or I miss that character.”
This has been Kindt’s goal with every aspect of Divinity, a character whose reality-warping power pits him in grand cosmic fights across time and alternate realities where Soviet Russia ruled the world and the Valiant roster of heroes reacted in fear. Ultimately, though, the conflict Kindt, Hairsine, et al has explored through Divinity has been philosophical, an argument that almost reads like an indictment of superheroes. To put it in Kindt’s words: when you have that much power, fighting seems silly.
“I feel like that’s something I’m interested in playing with as a writer, because I love violence in stories. I love action movies, I love cool fights, and Lord knows Ninjak is full of people getting cut up and stabbed with cool weapons. There’s something I love about that, but I love it in a non-real way,” Kindt says. “But with Divinity, I wanted to write him in a way that was more in line with what I really think, which is, wouldn’t it be great if we don’t have to fight? He’s trying to use his power to make other people realize this, without punching it into them… Remember how someone can have a kindness towards you just out of the blue, for no reason? Use that as an anchor, and think about that.”
Eternity #1 Cover Art by Trevor Hairsine
Kindt tells me his earliest ideas about solving hunger, or bringing about world peace. Little flights of fancy he told his wife, colorist Sharlene Kindt, about when they first met and started dating. They’re simple, utopian suggestions where everyone agrees to contribute in small ways for an altruistic cause. There’s one where every actor and studio in Hollywood puts their heads together to make the biggest blockbuster movie of all time, and everyone goes to see it and it makes a billion dollars—the profits of which go towards solving world hunger. Another where the world just agrees that wars are a terrible and wasteful way of solving conflicts, and international disputes are decided via competitions, or sports.
After telling me about these simple, impossible ideas, Matt Kindt asks a question. A question he’s asked in all of his work. It’s why he makes comics, and why his work at Valiant has seen the recently revived publisher become home to some of the most interesting stories in superhero comics. It is, like most of Kindt’s work, a question that can fuel the bombast of genre and the heartbreak of humanity, depending on how you ask it. If you’re good, it’s a question that does both:
“Why can’t we do that?”