In case you weren't paying attention, one of the best series of the last year ended recently: Valiant's solo hero book Livewire. Penned by Vita Ayala with art duties rotating for each arc, Livewire ran for 12 issues on the heels of the Harbinger Wars 2 event and told a complex, thoughtful, and at times painful
In case you weren’t paying attention, one of the best series of the last year ended recently: Valiant’s solo hero book Livewire. Penned by Vita Ayala with art duties rotating for each arc, Livewire ran for 12 issues on the heels of the Harbinger Wars 2 event and told a complex, thoughtful, and at times painful story of a woman coming to terms with her own actions, as well as the choices behind them. Now, the final collected edition is hitting the market, so I had a chat with both Vita and the artist for this run, Tana Ford, about wrapping up the book, and what Amanda McKee meant to the both of them.
Wanted fugitive Livewire has been on the run for months from the authorities for shutting down the country’s power in an effort to protect people gifted with powers. Will a shocking offer to go public from a renowned local politician pull Livewire into a political spotlight?
Valiant’s breakout heroine fights to clear her name in the next electrifying volume from rising stars Vita Ayala (Prisoner X) and Tana Ford (Avengers)!
Collecting LIVEWIRE #9–12.
Your Livewire run was a hell of a ride. How does it feel for the both of you to be saying goodbye to Amanda McKee? Also, an easy softball, how did it feel to be low key making one of the best comics of the year?
Vita Ayala: It’s been emotional to say goodbye to Amanda. I was writing Livewire for a year, and this last arc – the last issue – was rough to get out, because at the back of my mind I knew I’d have to let her go. But now that it is done, I am just incredibly stoked to have been able to write her for so long, and to have worked with such incredible collaborators!
Tana Ford: This was a wonderful story to illustrate and I could not have asked for better collaborators. SPOILER WARNING: I’ll spend the rest of this interview gushing about them. You’ve been warned!
Through the course of the run, Livewire dealt with a lot of very modern, very omnipresent issues, like government persecution, found family and the instinct to protect it, and what it means to take responsibility for one’s actions. This came down to some really big, explosive action sequences paired with heavy moral conundrums. With this last arc, you really leaned into that, and I was particularly fascinated with the way you portrayed John Wright and Gwen Goodman. I don’t want to give away the twist behind their motivations and their actions before folks have read it, but Vita, can you talk a little bit about what made you want to write this kind of story in particular? Tana, what was it like stepping into the book for the last arc? What aspects of the story here did you connect with?
Ayala: One of the things that we wanted to do with the series was present situations, antagonists, and allies that were as complicated as Amanda and what she had done. I always like a “villain” that is more than just bad for the sake of being bad – someone that, if we switched POV, we could easily believe they were the hero, or at least buy their argument for why they do what they do. And I think to make allies that were more than plot devices, we had to do the inverse. They had to feel like people, and people are not just Right or Wrong. They had to have reasons to do what they do, especially since they are politicians.
Ford: It is always important to stick the landing and I knew that these final moments would be what resonate the most. This would be Amanda McKee’s take-away message for Vita’s run on the series — a defining legacy! — which was why it was vital to me that I create my best work. From an art perspective it was relatively easy to step in for this last arc because Vita’s writing is so brilliant and immersive— the world really does feel like home. Things like found family, protecting those you love from the Big Bad World, making the world a better place just hits me in the feels. And what a delight to get to play with the big meta questions of our day: government overreach, population surveillance, domestic terrorism, moral absolutism — all while trying to balance the redemption story that Vita so brilliantly baked in. Being able to explore the heavy real world stuff overlaid with the fun super-powered psiot stuff — like floating phones! And hacking mainframes! And fighting security drones in cyberspace —was thrilling! And a welcome escape from dreary reality where all I can do is watch the news and cringe.
Comics creation can certainly be varying degrees of give and take amongst the creative team, can you two describe your process working together? I feel like it’s a story that really doesn’t move in the way that people are expecting at all; it certainly caught me by surprise, and I really love the way it was left! How did the two of you arrive at this particular arc together?
Ayala: I did some scripting before really getting into the nitty gritty with Tana, just because I was coming off of arc 2 and we had the bones already. But I wanted to be sure to leave as much room for Tana to not only have fun, but be a part of the creation of the story and influence the direction. And once we talked, things really gelled and it was off to the races. And we emailed a bunch. Tana is an INCREDIBLE collaborator, and I would love to work together again!
Ford: The final script was a labor of love, for sure. I am especially proud of our ability to work as a team. One of life’s great pleasures is knowing that you have the right team to do the job. I found Vita and Heather Antos and the entire Valiant team to be a pure joy to work with. It was so refreshing. This arc was a way of refocusing the way Amanda McKee fits into the world and is seen by the world as she comes to grips with her past actions. There is also political intrigue, the ever present question of “Who can you trust?” and “Who has something to gain in this situation?” All of which pervades the storyline in a way that is designed to make you feel uncertain and off balance. As Amanda grapples with those questions she is also looking toward the future; toward creating a better world. She wonders (as we do) who will help her? Who is really pulling the strings? Trying to convey those internal struggles visually was a terrific challenge for me as an artist. I loved it.
One thing that I didn’t know about psiots in the Valiant universe before reading this arc was that they have to be specifically activated; there’s no sudden explosion of abilities, there’s no, say, shooting the roof off of your school with brand-new optic blasts during lunch hour. People can potentially be activated against their will, certainly, but those cases aside it’s very much a conscious choice in a very personal and affirming way. In a big way it kind of feels like the choice to pursue transition, or even gender expression; the way you can know something is inside of you but you have to choose to let it out. Livewire has sort of been my introduction to this universe, was that an extant piece of canon or a new contribution on the part of this team? Is there anything about this as opposed to…other notable comics metaphors…that resonates with either of you?
Ayala: It has been baked into psiots since at least the Valiant reboot that psiots have to be activated. I think that it is an interesting and novel take on powers, and it presents its own set of challenges and rewards in terms of working on stories. I am not sure that it feels to me like a metaphor for transitioning or gender expression, because a psiot won’t necessarily know they are one if they aren’t activated. So if activation is the expression or transition then it is a little muddied.
BUT, there is something important in the intentionality of activation that feels like maybe a metaphor for a more broad idea of self actualization/self discovery? I think it resonates with me because of that intentionality, absolutely.
Ford: I am an Out Lesbian who did not accept or manage to come to terms with my own gayness until I was well into my college years, I feel this “conscious choice” idea deeply. This story is very affirming. It is very personal. I love a good allegory and the internal struggle to be your best self (Like Livewire is trying to do in this arc) when you may not even know what your True Self is (and in her case, that True Self comes with a LOT of questionable choices and “bad” behavior previously) — well, it’s complicated! To say the least. There is a learning curve. And for Vita to write those difficulties with such nuance and grace made this story utterly relatable and much easier for me to draw. Because I saw those struggles Amanda is having and I could say “Ah. I know this feeling.” And then draw from that place.
Any plans to adventure with Amanda again for either of you?
Ayala: I absolutely adore the character, and should there ever be a desire for me to work on stories about her again, I would be honored!
Ford: Nothing official but I’d be delighted to play in the Valiant universe again. It is a wonderful, inclusive & exciting place to be. And it is filled with some of my favorite folks in the industry. Thanks for having me on!
Livewire vol. 3: Champion is available now