With all apologies to my usual crowd of theatre nerds, this post is going to be a bit of a departure…let’s face it, it was a slow week anyways, so a decent enough time to work on some side projects. In this case, I’ve been feeling the need lately to ramble a bit about one of my other obsessions, and this one something that’s been with me my whole life…Comix. I’ve been a pretty constant comic book collector since as far back as I can remember…my Mother tells me I taught myself to read at age 5 with Batman comix, because she wouldn’t read them to me like I wanted her to. I’m assuming that’s one of the reasons, along with reruns at an early age of the classic ‘60’s Batman teevee show and Chris Reeve’s Superman movie, that I’ve been a lifelong DC fan. I grew up on the capes and symbols crowd, and while I always dabbled in Marvel just to keep in the loop, DC was always my fav’rit.
That changed for a while in the early 90’s when an upstart company called VALIANT hit the stands with a refurbishing of a trio of old Gold Key comix characters (Magnus Robot Fighter, Doctor Solar, and Turok Son of Stone to be specific), along with an entire universe of new characters and concepts. I was hooked from the first issue, and before long my comic life started revolving around my weekly Valiant intake. Titles like Harbinger, X-O Manowar, Shadowman, Eternal Warrior , Archer and Armstrong and many more kept impressing me more and more as the line fleshed itself out. But time takes its tool, and the company folded for a variety of reasons a few years later, a shadow of its former self. Some time passed, and Acclaim Entertainment picked up the Valiant characters and tried a relaunch, completely redesigning the characters (and quite often badly missing the point of what made them cool in the first place) and adding a few new ones along the way. A lot of their focus was on incorporating the characters into their video game line and, although there WERE a few gems among their titles (the hilarious Quantum & Woody, and a brilliant new take of Valiant original Bloodshot), the relaunch died a relatively quick death. And that, I supposed, was that.
Which brings us to last summer.
My comic collecting days were at about their lowest ebb ever. Marvel, coasting from event to mega-event, has become pretty baffling to me these days (how many Avengers titles ARE there now, anyone..?) and, after more than 30 years of hardcore dedication, DC’s ‘New 52′ reboot a couple years back has officially cured me of being a DC fan. There’s a feeling of quiet contempt for the readers among the higher-ups in that company these days…just flood the racks with book after book, and who cares if there’s any internal consistency? The joy of the characters is pretty much gone, replaced by a Hollywood-friendly sheen, paper thin and soulless (and I’ll NEVER forgive them for putting Superman in that ridiculous suit of popped-collar armour). Once Grant Morrison finishes up his run on Batman Incorporated, I’ll likely be dropping out entirely. And…what then..?
It was around then that the news broke…another Valiant relaunch was on its way, courtesy of a couple of diehard Valiant nerds from back in the day who couldn’t bear to let the old line stay dead. Ads appeared announcing the return of four classic titles that summer…X-O MANOWAR, HARBINGER, BLOODSHOT and ARCHER & ARMSTRONG. I got excited despite myself…after all, the last reboot did NOT go so well. But the promos looked good…for starters, the characters were actually recognizable as themselves, so no major facelifts were underway. And the passion from the creative and editorial lineup was palpable in interviews…it seemed like they GOT what was so cool the first time around. My only major concern was the absence of the ‘Gold Key Three’, as that was a separate license that has since passed to Dark Horse (who started new comix with said characters a few years back, rapidly fucked it up beyond repair, and Magnus and friends are currently stuck in comic book limbo, to return who knows when).
As I write this, the new Valiant has just passed the one year mark, and I’m happy to report I’m a raving goofball of a fan once again. I didn’t think it was possible! But the five monthly titles (SHADOWMAN has since been added) are just about all I look forward to at the comic shops these days, and the newly begun HARBINGER WARS miniseries crossover is phenomenal. These are smart, fun comix, occasionally brutal and always entertaining, and clearly with a plan in play. Let’s go title by title, shall we..?
X-O MANOWAR was always Valiant’s premier original creation, a hybrid Conan/Iron Man starring Aric, a visigoth from 408 BC who is taken prisoner by an invading horde of spider-like aliens. Taken aboard their ship and turned into a slave, Aric eventually escapes by stealing their most powerful suit of high-tech armour..but thanks to the effects of near lightspeed travel, thousands of years have passed on Earth by the time he makes it back. Then the fun starts.
Written by Robert Venditti, the new X-O is a solid return to the roots of the character, who was so badly mishandled in the Acclaim reboot. Setting the scene for the rest of the Valiant titles, X-O has been following 4-5 issue story arcs (a smart move that makes trade paperbacks a dream) and reintroducing his classic alien enemies, now dubbed ‘The Vine’. The action has been nonstop and bloody, and if I have one complaint about this book so far it’s a strange one, but here it is: too much X-O, not enough Aric. Our fav’rit visigoth needs to get out of the Good Skin every now and again (note: could he start calling it that again? Pretty please?) and let us see what he’s made of. At the moment, we’re in the midst of the ‘Planet Death’ storyline, with Aric taking on an entire planet full of alien supermonsters single-handed, so…well, I can’t really complain about that, now can I? Next!
HARBINGER is easy to pass off as just another X-Men clone, but is so much more. As much about the villain as the hero, Harbinger follows Peter Stanchek, a disturbed young man who’s been plagued by voices in his head and uncontrollable powers since he was a kid. When we meet him he’s self-medicating and on the run from Government stooges out to harness his power for their own use. Enter Toyo Harada, corporate billionaire and the most powerful Psiot (read: mutant) on the planet. He scoops Pete up and ushers him into his Harbinger Foundation, where he’s training folks like them for his own purposes. But Peter eventually chooses a different path, going on the run once more, but with a clear head this time and a few allies to boot. An unflinching look at power and its effects, and featuring some of the most wonderfully realized characters in the comics world. Writer Joshua Dysart has been working miracles on this book, surpassing for me even the pretty damn good original run. And huzzah for Faith! Faith, aka Zephyr, is another returning character, somehow even more perfect this time around. And I was a bit worried at first…see, Faith is a pretty big girl, a serious rarity for comic book ladies. I recalled DC’s recent reboot, when one of their only larger women, Amanda Waller, was recreated with a supermodel figure. Thankfully, Valiant has a LOT more guts than anyone at DC editorial, and if anything Faith’s put on a few pounds since we last saw her, and I love it. The recently wrapped up Renegades storyline was a flat-out joy, and it only looks to be picking up steam.
BLOODSHOT follows the violent adventures of Angello Mortalli, or maybe Raymond Garrison, or…we’ll just keep calling him Bloodshot for now, yes? A perfect soldier whose blood is coursing with nanomachines that repair even the most catastrophic injuries with ease, Bloodshot takes on some ridiculously dangerous missions for his bosses at Project Rising Spirit…until a little outside interference frees him from their control and sets him on a new mission of self-discovery and high explosives. Easily a major improvement over the original series (as was the Acclaim reboot, actually), writer Duane Swierczynski tells an impressive story, along with gorgeous art from Manuel Garcia. Relentlessly brutal and bloody, with flying body parts and some of the funnest fight scenes in any comic ever. A great comic taking its time to tell great stories. Can’t wait fer more!
ARCHER AND ARMSTRONG follows the misadventures of Armstrong, a ten thousand year old immortal reprobate, and Obadiah Archer, an inhumanly gifted martial artist. Raised by fanatical parents who work for an ancient sect, Archer is sent to kill Armstrong but ends up abandoning his mission and forming one of the best odd couples in comic book history. The original run of this series was marked by an amazing 12 issue stint by legend Barry Windsor Smith (I can barely even remember what happened in the title after he left, to be honest, and Acclaim once again missed a lot of the point of these characters). But if writer Fred van Lente keeps up what he’s got going, we’re looking at what may be one of the most enjoyable ongoing books on the stands. With some sweet artists along for the ride, A&A has been a rude, crude delight, already spotlighting the Valiant return of Armstrong’s brother Gilad (more on him in another post) as well as more secret societies than you can shake a stick at. Keep yer eyes peeled for the upcoming Zero issue, which I have a feeling is gonna rock.
SHADOWMAN stars New Orleans dude Jack Boniface, who through no fault of his own finds out he’s a voodou-powered, evil-bustin’ generational superhero, just in time to get attacked by hordes of gruesome undead led by maybe the most beloved villain in any Valiant Universe, Master Darque. Kind of a mashup between the original run and the darker, more mystical Acclaim reboot, Justin Jordan’s take on the Shadowman has been a pretty fun ride, although I’m not as sold on it as the other titles JUST yet. The art by Patrick Zircher has been awfully sweet, though Zircher does seem to have trouble putting emotions on people’s faces from time to time. And I’ll admit, I do have a major soft spot for Bob Hall’s great run on the original book, and sort of miss Jack’s sax-wielding day job from the old days. Also, bring back Nettie! But the series is promising, has lots of mood and zombie action, and it’s great to see Darque properly evil and sinister again after his metrosexual reboot in the Acclaim years. Shadowman #0 is on its way as well next month (zero issues are kind of a Valiant tradition), and promises to be a gooder
So, five regular monthly titles plus one miniseries (the just begun HARBINGER WARS) are on the go as of this writing, and I’m enjoying the lot. Nicely affordable trade paperbacks of the opening storylines for each series are already available, and highly recommended if you want some superheroics with smarts. I’m excited and overjoyed that Valiant is back, and it feels like it’s being done RIGHT this time. I’ll end this rambling post with a quick wish to ask of the new powers that be: KEEP DOING WHAT YOU’RE DOING. Leave flooding the market to DC and Marvel (although they could cut that shit out ANY time now and just try telling some good stories), and continue the slow rollout. The original Valiant too often launched titles for new characters, only to have the books run out of creative steam within a year. Wait for creators with vision and commitment. It’s been working great for ya so far. Keep it tight, keep it manageable, and for flip’s sake, keep it Valiant. That it for now, might be back in the future with some ongoing writeups if my enthusiasm keeps up, my theatre backlog lightens up, and of course, if anyone reads this. Peace, love and soul,
Kevin Reid, the Visitor (and Winston)