Okay, so this year’s Free Comic Book Day and Toronto Comic Arts Festival have come & gone – have you had a chance to settle in and look over the goodies you acquired? Among your deal-hunting and picking up must-haves did you do any experimenting? Hopefully yes, especially in cases where the cost was only 0 cents and a bit of your time. Any standouts? There were for me (we won’t diss the misses here – no point kickin’ someone when they’re already down) and I even realized one company has been consistently taking advantage of FCBD and nicely showcasing what’s going on in their universe; enough for me to devote most of today’s column to them: Valiant.
Valiant has been around over 20 years, first making a splash in the early 90’s during the big comics’n’trading cards boom. They did well back then but like a lot of their contemporaries, they eventually lost steam and faded away due to financial and behind-the-scenes management issues. Admittedly, I wasn’t a convert back then; looking at back issues/collections from that era, I don’t think they’ve necessarily aged that well, not helped by a colouring style I think was trying to mimic some European comics.
However, if you like hero/action comics, the new Valiant is…well, pretty cool. All the 90’s characters were quietly resurrected/revamped and relaunched, along with the intro of a new batch of interesting characters to join them. With a horde of excellent writers & artists, Valiant has established itself as a viable alternative for comic readers looking for their fix to come from somewhere else besides Marvel or DC. Besides being good-looking great reads, another draw for Valiant is they already are working with an entire universe, not starting from scratch. It’s nice to jump into something with a sense of scope instead of having to wait for it to expand. But it’s still very accessible for new readers as well. With no real prior knowledge, it didn’t take me long to get a handle on who characters were/what was going on in any trades I picked up. The best comparison is to early 60’s Marvel, when their iconic characters were new to the world and still growing. This is the only comparison I want to make between Valiant and any other company. It’s easy enough to say “______ is this universe’s _____” or “this team is like the _____”, but that defeats the purpose if you’re trying to find and enjoy something for its’ freshness and difference, yes? It’s inevitable to notice similarities between concepts/characters of any two company’s properties but I’ll leave it to you to decide if what you spot are rip-offs/homages/coincidence or taken from genuinely shareable idea pools.
One of two (another reason to give ‘em kudos) Valiant giveaways on FCBD was a handy guide to their universe. For those who didn’t get one (try and track one down if you can) here’s a quick rundown on most of their major players:
X-O Manowar is an all-powerful alien suit of armor worn by Aric, a Roman Visigoth, for the last few centuries. Bloodshot is a nanite-powered soldier on a continuous quest for answers about who and what he is, while resolutely completing whatever job is assigned. Jack Boniface is Shadowman, a guardian of New Orleans who, like his ancestors for two centuries before him, is bonded with a loa voodoo spirit that he must fight to stay in control of while using. Ninjak is an MI-6 agent who combines the latest in weapons and technology with the ancient skills and practice of the ninja. The Eternal Warrior is exactly that – an immortal who has pledged his fighting skills to the aid of self-identified just causes throughout the ages. Along with Livewire, X-O, Ninjak and the Warrior also work together in the group known as Unity. Currently led by Bloodshot, the H.A.R.D. Corps are an elite military group backed by Project Rising Star that have tech implants in their brain which allows each of them to upload one of various abilities at a time (i.e. flight, strength, neural spike) as needed for any given mission. PRS is also responsible for Generation Zero, a group of youth who were being groomed in the use of their special abilities to further that covert agency’s agenda, until they ran. Archer & Armstrong are a pair of traveling adventurers. Archer brings the finesse, using the skills from the cult sect that raised him to be a killer, until he met Armstrong who convinced him to turn his back on them. The hard-drinking and partying Armstrong brings the muscle, and also happens to be an immortal brother of the Eternal Warrior. Quantum and Woody are Valiant’s other mismatched duo; two half-brothers where one is interested in being a hero and the other in being anything else. But if they don’t “klang” two bracelets that bond them every 24 hours, they’re done and…there’s a goat. You’ll just have to read it. Harbinger tells the story of Pete Stanchek and the Renegades, a team he has empowered and assembled while on the run from the Harbinger Foundation. Stanchek was a psiot prodigy of Toyo Harada, founder of Harbinger, with a full spectrum of mental abilities, both telekinetic and telepathic, until they parted ways. Harada has been a supreme psiot since the days of his youth in Hiroshima, using that power to become one of the richest and influential men in the world. Harada has been a chief nemesis of the Renegades in his efforts to have them captured and controlled. Finally (for now) we have Rai. A being of mystery, Rai is the protector of a 41st century Japan that floats in the stratosphere, who is as much myth as man to the people of Japan and others who know of his existence.
The other FCBD Valiant giveaway was a promo for their summer crossover event, The Armor Hunters. It might sound similar to an “Armor Wars” storyline of a certain iron-clad Avenger, but that’s in name only with the stakes being a lot higher. It seems a group of powerful aliens (some even appear to be god-like) want to reclaim X-O Manowar’s suit and aren’t too worried about what gets destroyed or who gets killed in the process. Cue most of the other players in the Valiant universe, and another element that seems plausible and fun. Their world is big enough for them to have separate adventures but still small enough that most of them are still aware of each other and their bigger actions/altercations can affect each other. It seems like a justified, rational universe-wide event; not a cash grab done for the sake of doing it, with a giant cast of characters impossible to keep track of making their obligatory appearances. They’re even bringing back chromium covers for this! Okay…maybe that’s a piece of nostalgia that even I could have lived without seeing again.
I don’t want to shill for anybody who does enough of that on their own, but if I want to speak up for an entire line, not just a single book and its’ character/team, you know I think it’s solid. If you’re willing to take that next step and plunk down some hard-earned cash to start exploring Valiant, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
Now we go to the other side of the coin and see that blind trust in a label doesn’t always deliver satisfaction. Any Vertigo fans here? I won’t do another Valiant redux; anyone in the loop knows Vertigo has been responsible for a lot of good, even classic stories and characters through the years. So when they announced a quarterly anthology series based on the four primary colours required for printing comics (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow & Black) I was looking forward to a gaggle of great new stories done in that inimitable Vertigo style. Unfortunately, if the first book is any indication, if the quality isn’t upped, Vertigo may be looking at a rare dud on its’ hands. Once again, I won’t name check individual creators and call anybody out, but in general, these stories seem to lack edge and punch, some even feel a little contrived. It feels like an assortment of inventory/audition short stories barely connected under the tenuous theme of mentioning the same colour, definitely not worth the higher $7.99 US cover asking price. Sure, there’s three more to go and this might turn around but until there’s some indication of improvement, you might want to revisit some old Sandman or 100 Bullets back issues and remind yourself why the bar has been set so high for Vertigo in the first place.
Before we part, another tip. If you planned to see The Amazing Spider-Man 2, you probably already have. If you loved it, great, I won’t take that from you. If like me, you, uh…didn’t, the new X-Men opens next week and reviews on the latest Godzilla remake I wasn’t gonna give the time of day to have actually been pretty kind and make a convincing argument to check it out. But for those with a bad taste from Spidey, remember Evian? Stay with me. For those who still drink bottled water, there was a time when they were the glamour brand of that industry. For whatever reason, their market share has seriously declined in North America and has even started to shrink back in Europe. Yet somehow they still have the money for the big ad campaigns and regardless of your stance on commercials, they make ones that are damn fun! Youtube “evian baby & me” to see one of last year’s big award winners, then “evian Spider-Man – the Amazing Baby & me 2” to see a variation that involves a certain wall-crawler. I swear, I was more entertained by a 1:20 spot than I was by the two hours and change of the real deal. See for yourself.
If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!