Valiant Comics Introspective Part 2 – (Originally Ran On 7/9/2015)

Finally, I’m back for the second part of my look into the new Valiant universe, and boy, what a trip it’s been.

Now first, I offer my apologies if this was expected sooner, but I plead mitigating circumstances. You see, this second article was intended to be more expansive than the first, but occasionally, you can bite off a bit more than you can chew. For what was going to be further reviews of 5 or 6 more titles turned into a full-scale investigation, I’ve gone way past review copies and have been tracking these titles down and reaching into my pocket for them.

But what was most unexpected is this has gone way past even research, Valiant have scored themselves a new devotee.

These books really are the best on the market as a group, in my less than humble opinion, the richness and complexity of the Valiant universe bursts forward with every issue I’ve read, even the short stories. I explained to my Editor during the week, this assignment is long over-due and I’m continuing to receive the Valiant books, but for this piece, you have to stop at some point, but believe me, you won’t have heard the last of me on these titles.

This has been quite the journey, I feel like the guy who went up the mountain as a young man to get some training in Martial Arts, who probably figured he’d be back within a couple of months, returning years later, wiser, quieter and disciplined.

Working as a Reviewer isn’t an easy task, contrary to what one might think, you need to create depth with a review, get to the heart of the material, disseminate it, without coming back and telling you so much there’s little point in buying the book, which would completely defeat the purpose. My job is to pick apart works and give them their fair credence, in fact it’s not a job, but a responsibility about performing a service for you and to this industry I love.

But enough of my blathering, let’s get to the nitty-gritty before I start pulling a ‘Gwyneth’. In the following piece, I take a look at all the material I’ve reviewed to date, bringing back what I’ve found, so if you’ve been pondering whether Valiant are worth taking a shot at, read on, oh fearless purveyor of panelology!

I should stress before we go into this, as I note in my first part of the introspective, these are the opinions of someone reading Valiant properly for the first time. Much of the summary is based purely on individual issues, but as I’ve previously noted, every issue is a first issue for someone. This is about the impression you make as a Publisher and as creators, it’s the same rule that applies here as it does to any other material I’ve looked at as a Reviewer.

From a historical aspect, you are entitled to tell me if I’m missing important depth, you are entitled to agree or disagree, telling me I am wrong, however, is a bridge too far. This is a personal experience, where I’ve let the fan out again and said “impress me, blow me away, show me everything you can do, I am open to suggestion.”

Speaking of going up a mountain to learn Martial Arts, let’s start with the book that started all of it;

NINJAK #1-4:

If you’ve read the first part of the introspective, you’ll know I was very impressed with Kindt and Mann on this title, having got 4 issues deep now, I’ve got a better grasp of the book.

It’s ridiculously absurd and unashamedly gauche, you get the feeling Author, Matt Kindt sat for a while, thought about his take on the book, shrugged his shoulders and said “screw it, I’m gonna have fun with this!” And quite rightly so, but Matt Kindt being Matt Kindt can’t help but throwing greater depth into a book that’s as over-the-top as films like “Smokin’ Aces” and “Shoot ‘Em Up”.

If you’re looking for action, you’ll find it in abundance here. Matter of fact, the style and theme puts me in mind of reading Wolverine at its best, combined with the fun of James Bond, with gadgets, espionage, of deadly criminal masterminds and their even deadlier assistants.

But that’s just the superficial, it’s the stuff to put your butt in a seat, but Kindt is far too smart to just settle there. Characterisation is the tool used to not just put you in a seat, but to keep you there. It’s easy to dismiss Kannon as just another Kingpin that our eponymous hero must defeat, but in these 4 issues, we start to discover more about Kannon and his deadly assassin, Roku.

Everyone has a history, it’s the motivations and subsequent actions of a character that separate them from being just another cackling “Bwoo-haha” or generic “Killing Machine”, and although we’re just scratching the surface on these two, we can see there’s more going on. Both of these characters have potential, what makes Roku unique isn’t her ludicrous abilities, but in issue 4, she gets the attention of the entire story.

For that issue, Roku’s origin is portrayed by guest Artist, Jose Ryp, I can’t say I’ve ever been particularly gone on Ryp’s work, but it’s the best I’ve seen to date from him. While Ryp lacks the certain aesthetic appeal to regular series Artist, Clay Mann, Kindt and Ryp give us an admirable interlude from the first 3 issues, in which Colin King, a.k.a. Ninjak is hired on retainer from MI-6 to infiltrate a deeply underground Black Market arms-dealing organisation.

‘Origin’ isn’t quite the word, actually, this is more of a bridging gap between Roku’s old life and who she is now, she doesn’t remember who she is, only knows what she can do. While there isn’t much to go on from that, it does at least explain why she is empty and devoid of emotion, I’d noticed her casuality in the first issue, it makes her more efficient as a killer that way, but I want to see more complexity to her, the same with Kannon. We can see all 3 characters have been on a similar journey, but moved in somewhat different paths, now I want to see what makes them distinct.

And that’s where the back-ups come in with Kindt and Butch Guice. Just so I don’t get de-railed here, while I’m on the subject of Kannon, similar to how the first 3 issues are devoted to King’s back-story as a young agent at MI-6, issue 4 gives the limelight to Kannon, so I guess this is the villains issue.

These back-up features offer a completely different pace and flow from the main story, but are interlinked and work well as an opportunity to unveil more about the characters, preventing the book from becoming vacuous, there’s even a nice twist brought up that links one of the back-ups to the main story. Nice touch.

This is an enjoyable series, if you’re looking for ‘high-octane’ action, but also want something for your cranium to nibble on in the background, this book is for you.

MUST READ VALIANT #2

A perfect entry point for any new reader. MRV is a bumper deal, $5.99 gives you a big chunk of Valiant for what is, in today’s market, a total bargain. This is basically a Trade Paperback without a cardstock-laminated cover, over 100 pages of entertainment, featuring Rai #1, Armor Hunters #3, a short story from X-O Manowar #25, Quantum & Woody: The Goat #0, another short, from Archer & Armstrong #25, Bleeding Monk #0 and The Death Defying Doctor Mirage #1.

Yep, apart from the short stories, these are complete issues. Need any more convincing? Then read on…

Rai – Back with Matt Kindt on writing duties, but Rai is a completely different animal from Ninjak. In the first part of the Valiant Introspective, I’d come in at an inconvenient point, right in the middle of a situation, so I needed to piece together what had gone before. Let me start by correcting my previous understanding on one matter, the role that the “Raddies” play in the story.

In our far-flung future, Japan has a protector, the man known as Rai. Japan has had 1000 years of peace, over-seen by the great “Father”, ruler of Japan, Rai is Father’s weapon of justice.

For the first time in 1000 years, a Human being has been murdered, killed by “Raddies” (an abbreviation of Radicals), a faction whose agenda is to free PTs – Positronic A.I. Constructs that serve Humans as a companion and grow with them over time. PTs resemble Humans so strongly they are given an illuminated blue circle on their foreheads to distinguish them, capable of thought, even feeling, their purpose is to serve their Human owner.

Raddies aren’t particularly happy about that, seeking to free the PTs from bondage, only it appears the PTs aren’t interested in it. Don’t you just hate when people are more radical about enforcing your rights than you are?!

Only the murder is just the beginning. As bodies start to rack up over town, Rai discovers the Raddies are about to make a big move, although what, remains to be seen. Rai arrives in time to prevent another murder. When interrogating the suspect, Rai discovers the identity of the Raddies supplier, the famous Spylocke, previously thought to be only a fictional character in popular media.

Something is seriously, seriously wrong…

Alright, that’s all you get, the rest you’ll have to read, but what I will say is this; art-wise, it’s a no-brainer, it’s Clayton Crain, so you know it’s going to me amazing work, but everything I’ve seen from Crain to date, all of it, pales in comparison to his work on Rai. These are high concepts, a world reminiscent of Ridley Scott’s ‘Bladerunner‘ and Alex Proyas’ ‘I, Robot‘, frankly, it has a beauty rarely seen in Comics today.

Kindt’s script is ever-thoughtful, complex and humane, this is less “Superhero”, more intelligent and sophisticated Sci-Fi. The pairing of Kindt and Crain is a dream for the reader, there’s a perfect pairing between the visuals and the story. Rai is emotional, intelligent and there’s more than enough action in the series to satisfy even the hardened action junkie.

Without question, Rai is the jewel in the crown for Valiant, it is a rare example of perfection in Comics.

Armor Hunters – Now keep in mind this is the 3rd issue of the mini series included in the volume, but what impressed me with this story is that for once, I’m not reading a cross-over event that over-rates itself. It’s not going around blowing its own trumpet, it just is what it is; a very serious situation.

Brought to you by Robert Venditti, Doug Braithwaite and Laura Martin, what we have here as our “world-threatening arch-villain and his nefarious lackeys” just don’t fit convention. These guys genuinely have a reason to attack Earth, not because they want to destroy or conquer it, but because of one suit of armour, the X-O Manowar suit, worn by Aric of Dacia.

So according to this bunch of ‘villains’, led by ‘Primary’, the techno-organic suit is a nasty piece of work, a disease to the universe, it bonds to a host and spreads itself wherever it goes, these ‘Armor Hunters’ are sent to hunt down and destroy the armours wherever they’re found and all they infect. Of course there’s just one thing that puts a crimper in all this; unfortunately once the armour finds a host, they are regarded as ‘infected’, along with the environment they’re found in.

Oh, by the way, that means Earth. Well this is awkward. Enter the heroes of the Valiant universe to save the day. This is a nice spin on the usual world threat event, it’s a proper Superhero yarn from days of yore, and you’ve just got to love a 50 ft death machine called Gin-Gr.

The pacing and premise is good, reading like a classic Hollywood blockbuster until the end, but one that’s packed with smart and witty dialogue. You get an appreciation of all characters playing a part, especially that poor cable guy who just came to fix up a Netflix subscription to a military base, Okay, fine, I might have made that bit up, but there you are, going about your business, then some aliens turn up to destroy your planet because of some suit of armour. Where’s the CDC when you want them? Isn’t that what they’re there for? Oh wait, they’re probably dead too.

Well worth a look at, featuring Unity (Ninjak, Livewire and the Eternal Warrior, Gilad Anni-Padda), X-O Manowar and Bloodshot, this is a fun romp, and for a cross-over event, 18 parts over several months won’t break the bank either.

X-O Manowar – This short from X-O Manowar #25, written by the afore-mentioned Venditti is accompanied by superstar Artist, Bryan Hitch for a tale of Aric of Dacia, a man cast from his time from the 5th century as a Visigoth Prince, inheritor of the X-O armour paying his final respects to his Father, now buried beneath a lake.

As Aric reflects on his relationship with his Father, this is a wonderful moment that shows the true character of Aric, a strong and noble warrior, one that knows sacrifice, duty and glory, and the terrible loss that goes with all of it. Quite a moving one this.

Quantum and Woody: The Goat – This zero issue was of zero interest to me, that was my reaction to the prospect of reading this, I was reluctant to say the least, I mean, I don’t do comedy books, and here I am, forcing myself to read a book about a Superhero that hangs out with his childhood bud and a super-powered Goat. Oh, how hilarious, comedy gold, I’m sure, how I baulked and sneered at the thought.

Oh man, the things I do in service of the medium I love. Okay, fine, maybe it won’t be too terrible, just get on with it.

Hang on a minute. This is actually quite funny. I mean like ‘The Tick‘ kind of funny. Am I actually reading about the memoirs of a Goat that’s been sold off to a Farmer by these other two goons, telling of the origin about how mad scientists at a convention get involved in brain-swapping exercises twixt man and Goat?

Am I seeing a Goat looking sad and abandoned by these other two? Did it actually affect me seeing this Goat crying? That the Goat was looking at a death sentence when the next buyer came by the farm? Oh my God, I actually feel guilty. Am I seriously thinking about Vegetarianism here?!

Actually, all of the above.

James Asmus knows exactly how to hit a nerve, I mis-judged this book, this isn’t some lame arrangement where one person is the foil of the joke while the the other party shows how hilarious they are, this is a ‘buddy’ book. It’s fun, smart and Tom Fowler’s art style matches the charm of Asmus’ script and mood.

Okay, I can be a douche at times, next time I’ll with-hold judgement. A lesson learned and a fun read.

Archer & Armstrong – Another short story here, from issue #25. Now look, I’m not going to wax lyrical too long on this story by John Layman and Ramon Villalobos, it’s not a bad tale and it’s really quite amusing. Here we open up with one of the other Anni-Padda brothers, Aram, a.k.a. Armstrong, getting impaled on a sword by a very big grey guy who bears a striking resemblance to Frankenstein’s monster.

Still, when you’re an immortal like Armstrong here, death’s not the inconvenience it used to be. This is one of Armstrong’s mortal enemies, who he fought against 600 years before, burying him alive.

I guess it’s pretty understandable why he might feel inclined to want to exact retribution on his old enemy. Behold the wrath of the one to whom you fought a battle to rock the ages! Nope. Armstrong doesn’t remember him. Come on, this was a historic battle! Nope. Nothing that rings a bell.

Armstrong is seriously giving this one a go, trying to recall who this guy is, listing off various names and situations, still nothing coming. Now this is seriously offensive, you fight a glorious battle, wait 600 years for revenge and this guy really has NO IDEA who the Hell you are?!

Thankfully, after initially being swatted away, Obadiah Archer steps in and deduces who this guy is. Given the nature of their location, a scholarly knowledge of history and Frankie’s terrible dress sense, we finally get there. What happens next.. Well, you know, I don’t want to spoil it for you!

Armstrong, you drunk, you are a terrible influence. Hell, I’d drink with the guy.

Harbinger: Bleeding Monk – Penned by the ever-thoughtful Joshua Dysart and drawn by the incredible Mico Suayan (both of which I shall be expanding upon later in this article), with Steven Segovia, Khari Evans and Lewis LaRosa, it’s not surprising this epic took 4 Artists.

The attention to detail here is fantastic, not one of these Artists let the side down. Interestingly, even though these Artists have very different styles from each other, it didn’t disrupt the flow for me with the story. Yep, it’s that engaging.

When is an Oriental Buddhist Monk not an Oriental Buddhist Monk? Why, when he’s Greek, of course. This is the origin of the Bleeding Monk, a fascinating little ditty about how Kyros, a representative of Alexander The Great, goes to a great monk on a mountain and tells him the boss has arrived and wants the land. He never returns. Instead, he stays to find out he quite likes meditation. No, he REALLY likes meditation. Several hundred years later he’s an Oriental Buddhist Monk with blood pouring out of him. That is one irritating Boo-boo, especially when you’ve lived that long.

Despite my flippancy, this is an engaging read, full of philosophical reference with settings worthy of Zhang Yimou (Hero, starring Jet Li, anyone?)

Finally, (I told you you’ll get a lot for your money) we finish this bumper deal of Valiant goodness with Jen Van Meter and Roberto De La Torre on;

The Death-Defying Doctor Mirage – This first issue is a fascinating read, bringing me my first dose of the supernatural from Valiant (it actually spins out of Shadowman, but I’ll get to that later).

This is quite Barker-esque, Dr Shan Fong, the Wife of the original Dr. Mirage is looking for the spirit of her Husband. She operates as an Occult specialist, after opening with a medium session for bereaved Wives, which affects her profoundly, we discover the problem here. Fong can communicate with the spirit world, this can bring comfort to those left behind, but is of no comfort to Fong, who cannot make contact with her deceased spouse.

I am presently getting images of hooks on flailing chains, as Pinhead emerges through a wall, to a back-drop of the Righteous Brothers’Unchained Melody‘. “We have a special place in Hell for you, Kirsty; the Pottery department.” Strangely enough, it actually works in my head. But I digress.

Her agent, for lack of a better word, Leo brings a new file to Fong, something not so welcome, considering how the last situation above turned out. One Linton March, looking to utilise her expertise to resolve a very specific problem; a thranial binding. No I’m not going to tell you what it is, but it’s enough to make Fong reject the case, that is, until she discovers the dark little secret March has been hiding away. Now it gets interesting..

Van Meter certainly has a knack for dialogue, I’ll say that, and the story is engaging and interesting, by attention scarcely side-lined, but one criticism. I didn’t feel I really got to know Shan in any meaningful way, I know her situation, but I felt no emotional connection with her. Okay, granted, her Husband has died, she talks to the dead, you’ll hardly be full of the joys of Spring, but it’s a shame I didn’t feel I had something to latch onto. Even so, a fascinating read and I’d like to have look at the entire mini-series some time.

De La Torres eye for detail is ever-present and mood-setting, but more on him a bit later in this Introspective.

BLOODSHOT REBORN #1-2:

Wow, what a book. Alright, 3 guesses on who’s writing it? Wrong, it’s Jeff Lemire. In fairness, if you’d thought Matt Kindt, you’d be forgiven, these two Writers have worked closely before, specifically on ‘The Valiant‘ together.

It’s Bloodshot, the action book, a killing machine, a virtually indestructible avatar of death. Or rather, he used to be. Ray Garrison is back, only this time, he’s Ray Garrison, not Bloodshot. At the close of the previous series, Garrison is released from servitude to the nanites in his system that make him that killing machine, but also held him to ransom.

There’s probably not a thing on Earth Garrison hasn’t killed at some point, now, freed of the forces controlling him by a Geomancer (like a Shaman of sorts) named Kay, Garrison is Human again. Unfortunately for Ray, with that comes a certain inconvenience. A conscience.

Laying low, staying under the radar of Project: Spirit Rising, Ray has taken a job as a handyman at a remote motel,. Sleepless nights, with nightmares of what he used to be, who he’s killed, Garrison has visions of Kay, coming to him at night, and hallucinating about a cartoon version of himself as Bloodshot called ‘Bloodsquirt‘. No, I’m not quite sure where Lemire is going with that.

Anyway, Garrison gets on with his lot in life, with the persistent nagging of his older Employer, who offers board for handyman services, glancing past her creepy little 12 year old Grandson, you know, the kind of kid you expect to find on the front cover of a newspaper 20 years later, with the headline; “Human head found in freezer”.

Ray’s life has turned to crap, and if it wasn’t for the nights, the memories, Ray might even be content with the tedium of nothingness.

And then it hits. A TV news report about a massacre in a theatre downtown from an assailant with white skin, red eyes and large red spot on a white T-shirt. Finally, Ray can’t sit on it any more, now it’s time to get up and do something, as more and more bodies rack up and another assailant, matching a similar description turns up. Human, though he may be now, Ray hasn’t lost his skill-set, but will it be enough?

This really is the character reborn. With this story background, we’re getting something different from previous offerings. I like this approach. Where previously Bloodshot, to me, was pretty much an archetypal action hero, stripping all that away leaves for some real character development. No longer superhuman and completely Humanising him, we now have the setting to make him a person.

Now okay, I doubt this Human version will remain that way for long, but it might provide an opportunity to learn more about him and sculpt something past being just a ‘kick-ass’ book. Mico Suayan is an Artist I’ve seen grow over time, from being “the guy who had to fill the shoes left behind by David Finch”, Suayan has matured rapidly.

Here we have Valiant’s answer to Leinil Yu, only.. I actually think Suayan’s skills may have surpassed him now. I’d recognised Suayan particularly on a short Batman story a while back, his style very different from the last time I’d encountered it. From that point, I knew one day this guy would get recognised, that one day he would be getting the title of “Superstar Artist”, and someone deserving of such a title.

From his sense of detail, the expressions and features on characters, Suayan has shown himself to be a true heavy-weight of the business, his work a delight to dance your eyes across, not one panel doesn’t have presence and power, matching an equally matured story from Lemire. This one has earned – and I do mean earned – it’s way to the top of my pull-list.

I don’t do star-ratings, but when I do do star-ratings, this book would get a 10.5 out of 10 from me. Just do me a favour, Jeff, don’t make that Bloodsquirt a permanent thing, okay, that could get irritating after a while, otherwise a perfect experience.

Well everyone, I hope you enjoyed this. But stay tuned as a third part is coming soon!

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