The Valiant Comics Introspective: Curtain Call (Originally Ran On 7/13/2015)

There comes a time when every great piece comes to its end, an end that has arrived after several months of time spent researching and reading everything you come across. But its an end that’s coming not quietly, but with a bang that will have been worth the wait. So why not sit down for a bit once more and read to your heart’s content on the Curtain Call of the Valiant Introspective.

SHADOWMAN #16:

And with that all said, now the hard part.

Now look, this is not an assessment of the series, just an individual issue, Over-all from the glimpses I’ve had in previews I’ve glanced at of the earlier parts of this series, this actually looks like it could be a good read. So when I saw the name of Peter Milligan on it, I was pleased to see this, I mean, this was the guy behind “Hewligan’s Haircut”, “Skin” and one of my all time favourites, the re-envisioned “Human Target”, so naturally I was excited.

I’m going to be honest, this comic surprised me. The story was pretty basic in content, drug dealer gets inhabited by a dark spirit, a Loa called Tremble, terrifying people, taking over New Orleans, and I can still work with this, but the dialogue in this issue made me wonder what happened.

It’s a very contrived script, almost every word coming out of a character was an over-used line, i.e. “only Jack can save us now!”, or to similar effect. The only saving grace was that I at least felt I picked up a little about each character and some of Jack Boniface’s history. We’re basically getting the “hero meets over-whelming threat, full of doubt, he finally finds his true power within himself, saves the day and becomes the hero he was always meant to be.”

Oh good God. Really? The only thing lacking from “the big reveal” right at the end was “Dun-dun-DUHHHHN!!” In the grand scheme of things, I can think of a good number of books worse than this, but given the pedigree I’ve found at Valiant so far, plus the amazing Resume that Milligan has held to date, I am unbelievably disappointed and surprised.

Now that I’m about as popular as a guy with a Hot Dog stand at a Bar Mitzvah, let me tell you what was a great credit to the book: Roberto De La Torre.

It’s rare you get to see this. De La Torre is someone I’ve always considered a very good Artist, but this issue showed just how good he is. There are many skills needed as an Artist, I’m speaking as one; page design, use of negative space, etc., but I see excellent work from many an Artist incorporating that. What De La Torre has shown me is that he doesn’t just draw a background, nothing is just conveniently placed, it’s entirely deliberated. De La Torre has remembered the one rule I see so rarely effected these days; make the surroundings a character.

The environment which you surround your characters in is living and breathing around you, it’s not “just there”, every scene and situation is different, it has a history and an atmosphere. Roberto De La Torre has incorporated that in every single scene of this book, nothing is insignificant, not even the smallest details.

If there is to be an on-going series, I’d love to see him remain on the book, and I love the new costume design, it’s simple and appropriate. De La Torre is not just good for this book, he’s meant for it.

I’m sorry to be so hard on Mr. Milligan, but this was my first experience of the new book, where I’d reached into my pocket for it. In contrast to my “Hot Dog vendor” reference, there’s not much point in saying, “I’ll bring the Chicken Wieners next time”, because that’s not going to help you today.

Disappointing, but still a feast for the eyes.

DIVINITY #3:

Every now and then you find a book comes along and does something unusual: it fits in. Perfectly.

Let’s just be adults and say it; the Gold Key characters going elsewhere was a loss to theValiant Universe. It’s a pity, because although they are in capable hands, you couldn’t help notice the loss.

This left a hole in the universe for fans of the old series’, but when life gives you lemons…

Make a new classic.

Guess who’s back? Yes, this time it is Matt Kindt, and why not eh? This is a great book, with some of the most beautiful covers I’ve seen in Comics, period. I’m not just talking about the art, or the design even. This has cardstock covers you could refer to as having a silk-like texture, some real love has been given to this book, which is stunningly rendered by fan favourite, Trevor Hairsine, amiably inked by Ryan Winn and the icing on the cake are these beautiful colours from the supremely talented David Baron.

Okay, so we’re talking a great-looking book, but what about the story? Well so far, Matt Kindt hasn’t let me down, but then the last review echoes my thoughts on not taking anything for granted. This is starting from ground zero, a brand new character, so you’ve got a cold-sell on your hands.

If someone wanted me to describe Matt Kindt’s work on these Valiant characters, I’d say this about Valiant in general;

Remember the Comics that you grew up with? All that classic material you fell in love with, wanting to be a hero? Then you found that job, had those kids, got that mortgage and part of you, no matter how small it might be.. Wonders what the Hell you did with your life.

You wouldn’t trade it for anything, no way, you love your family, you love your life.. But part of you misses your youth. You pick up a superhero Comic for the first time in maybe a decade or two, having been to the Cinema, watching heroes from your childhood. You tell everyone it’s for the kids, but you know why you’re really there. You love it and you damned well know it.

So you pick a Comic book or Graphic Novel, hey, treat yourself, you deserve it, you’ve worked for it. But something’s different. This isn’t what you grew up with. Is it the characters? The art? Or is it you?

We all grow older, our tastes change and become refined, if there was one way I’d describe Valiant, I’d say that these are the books that grew up with you. These are the books that knew you’d get to this point and here they are. Matt Kindt embodies that. I know he’d grown despondent and was near enough done with Comics. And then magic happened.

The culmination of it is this. Divinity doesn’t insult your intelligence, think like ‘if Asimov wrote a superhero epic’. Yeah.

Here’s a character we understand. Most people, if you ask them if they gained powerful superhuman powers, if they’re honest, would either abuse them or wouldn’t know what do with them.

Now imagine you have the power of a God. You can reshape reality around you. Nothing can harm you, nothing can stop you. What would you do?

This is a question that resounds through this book, as Russian cosmonaut, Abram Adams, back in 1987 joins a crew of two others in a spacewalk to examine an anomaly. Abrams is torn apart apart by the force, losing his crew members in the process, then reconstructs. Changed. Different. Abrams repairs his ship, with new found abilities and makes his way home to his Wife and Daughter.

The journey takes 27 years.

Upon his return, he encounters a very concerned Unity with X-O Manowar, who attempt to bring him in peacefully. Abrams, now referred to as ‘Divinity‘, declines. As you can imagine, this isn’t going to end well.

Shifting reality, Divinity banishes the group into an alternate existence, as our heroes attempt to find their way out, Abrams returns home, to find unexpected consequences.

Hunt it down, find it, that’s all you really need to know.

UNITY #16-17:

Unity, as I noted earlier, is the collective of Ninjak, Eternal Warrior and Livewire, already familiar with said characters to a degree, I join this title at a very good point. I’d wanted to learn more about these characters, and in these two issues, my timing couldn’t be better.

Issue 16 covers a story featuring Gilad Anni-Padda, the Eternal Warrior, issue 17 a story about Livewire.

This is the aftermath of the Armor Hunters Saga I spoke of before, where the team has earned some leave.

It’s worth noting at this point that issue 16 in particular was nominated for Best Single Issue at the Harvey Awards, in addition to other nominations, and I can see why.

Here we are with Matt Kindt again, with art from Pere Perez. Perez has picked up some very fine comments and issue 16 clearly demonstrates good reason for this, as we examine the history of Gilad, focusing upon a time in Japan.

Gilad, like his brothers, is immortal. In his time, he’s trained in 500 forms of combat, but this isn’t blathering about him being a bad-ass, or “the best there is at what he does”, but rather, what it means to be an immortal.

It’s not just lonely, for much of it, you are just alone. Gilad talks of how memories and keep-sakes alike are just mementoes that fade over time, that get lost and washed away. What does time mean to one who is eternal?

Again, Kindt reminds us of our Humanity and our fragility, of how little time we really have on this earth, before we become dust. Yet of all these things that come and go, people we’ve loved remain a constant. For everything we seek to define meaning and purpose, it is not experiences that define us, that is simply the adventure, but people, relationships, that craft our hearts, bring us despair or peace and what is left in their wake in their passing.

Towards the end of the issue, we clearly understand more about what stabilises Gilad, with a tradition he has performed over generations. It’s poignant, reminding us that Gilad is no conventional Human, but still has the same susceptibilities.

Issue 17 with Livewire isn’t quite as existential, but it’s nice to know more about Amanda McKee, who can communicate with technology. This doesn’t always act to an advantage, as we see in this issue.

While taking time out, Amanda decides to hook up with an old date. When you think about it, it’s kind of creepy and stalker-like behaviour, tapping into this guy’s e-mails and phone records. Still, when he turns on the charm and the usual “you’re the only one” spiel, it’s probably just as well. The only one, if you discount the 3 mistresses on the go and the other 8 women he got the numbers of recently.

This gets Amanda thinking about her choices, going back to times from her previous life, that sometimes, unfortunately, you discover, you really can’t go home. This brings disappointment and mal-contentment, it’s true, but that is what new experiences are for; to take chances and what can happen when you throw caution to the wind.

IVAR, TIMEWALKER #4:

Finally, we get to the 3rd Anni-Padda brother, who strangely enough, actually uses his name!

What is even more unusual about this book is that it’s not written by Matt Kindt, instead, we have Fred Van Lente! You’ve heard of Fred Van Lente, of course you have, if you’ve actually got this far into this article you have heard of Fred Van Lente.

I like you, Fred, you’re a smart guy. This is a funny, but tragic story, where the time-traversing Ivar has warned a woman by the name of Neela Sethi, who has found a means of time-travel, that she is unable to change the past, only visit it. She is intent on preventing the death of her Father, who is involved in a driving accident.

Determined to prove him wrong, she attempts this again and again, discovering counterparts of herself along the way. Now at this point I need to stop talking about it, because anything more will give away some spoilers that I really don’t want to reveal. Needless to say, this is both comedic in effect and just shows the developed mind Van Lente has, it’s very imaginative in its approach, and Clayton Henry’s’ ever easy-on-the-eye art is a fine match with the playfulness of the story. But at the end, when we see the darker aspects of this tale, Henry proves he’s more than up to the task of adapting accordingly as well.

A really enjoyable read, I was going to note that Unity reminded me of ‘Planetary‘ a little bit, but I thought I’d not use that one up because Ivar reminds me of Elijah Snow if he didn’t take himself seriously. All of those books hold a place in my heart now, I like books about characters that are a little more obscure in their dealings, characters that are less high profile (at least until Unity’s involvement in Armor Hunters) can be far more fun to play with. You can get away with more with a book like that, not everyone needs to be clear-cut and behave all the time, and that can make for great entertainment.

ARCHER & ARMSTRONG: 1% ONE-SHOT:

Now to be fair, this isn’t Archer & Armstrong, it’s a 1-shot spin-off from the series, in fact, they’re not in it at all, but the cover doesn’t put too much emphasis on that anyway. To be honest, that logo could be clearer, I thought it said “1070” to begin with, oh well, whatever.

Brought to us by Ray Fawkes and Joe Eisma, I wasn’t familiar with either of their works previously, but it’s a fun book and oozes with satire.

Ever wonder about the life-styles of the 1% and if any of those conspiracies are true? According to this, yes they are! This has a satirical edge to it comparable to George A. Romero at his very best.

We open up with one such Prince of the 1%, Austin Oldenberg, an arrogant little git, he doesn’t take anything seriously and murder and humiliation are entertainment to him. This is a coming of age tale, a classic Father-Son relationship tale that just happens to have murder, ritual sacrifice to Mammon and degradation in it’s theme.

A mysterious group is systematically wiping out the 1% in one fell swoop, it’s a fight for survival for the Oldenbergs as they dodge bullets. It’s a long way to the top, but even longer on the way down. Will they make it out alive? Do you even care? Of course you do, who doesn’t like seeing whether evil people get it in the neck?!

Bags of fun from this one, Joe Eismas’ art is playful and pairs well with Ray Fawkes’ script, which doesn’t take itself even remotely seriously, this is black comedy at its best.

IMPERIUM #3:

I left this one for last for a reason. A couple, actually, partly because people can have such a low attention span these days, so if you got this far in, well done you! The other reason being that this series is, in my opinion, the hardest going, but potentially the most ambitious of them.

Now I warn you, this book is dialogue-heavy and you may find it a bit tough on the brain, you need a little bit more of an open mind for this one.

I referred to Valiant earlier as the place you go when you still want to read a book about people with superhuman abilities when you’ve grown up, and if there were any of the books that embodify that spirit the most, this is the one.

The writing in this book is a clear sign of Joshua Dysart’s intelligence and focus. This guy is definitely smarter than the average Writer out there, in fact, he’s smarter than some of the smarter Writers out there.

Just to bring you up to scratch, Toyo Harada is the world’s most powerful known Psiot, Humans born with superhuman abilities, who founded the Harbinger Foundation that sought out Psiots and trained them, his intention being to bring about world peace.

Now if you’re sitting here, getting visions of a bald guy with mental abilities and a guy with metal claws, that’s okay, I get that, the difference being is that Harada is completely unscrupulous, he will go to any lengths to achieve his goal, the ends justifying the means.

Fine, so this is more like the magnetic guy and his lot, right? Nope, and besides, this isn’t that book, this is Imperium. This is after the fall of Harada, now being hunted by H.A.R.D.Corps, Humans with uploadable super-powers, sent by Project Rising Spirit, financed by 11 nations.

It’s Harada’s last stand, with a few remaining loyal followers, Harada is rebuilding. After forming an advanced complex in Somalia, Harada is creating a utopia and building a new army.

Okay, so that’s the basics, but these are really just background details, it’s the characters that matter. Harada isn’t some tired old criminal mastermind, he’s a man on a mission, highly talented and in full control of his environment.

One of the latest additions to his army is one of the H.A.R.D.Corps, who has slaughtered his team and turned himself over to Harada. I don’t want to give away further information on him, in case you’re presently reading the series.

Harada is also growing a creature called LV-99, one of a species called The Vine, a hive-mind species. LV-99 was born in the 1960’s and was intended for the purpose of assassinating Harada, nasty little beggar, and now Harada has one for himself. Cut off from the hive-mind, LV-99 now has no purpose and is alone, with the promise of being returned to the void if it attempts to harm Harada. To say the least, this will be a very tenuous relationship.

But the one character that stands out above all them is Mech Major, an advanced A.I. in the form of a robotic body, who prefers to be known as ‘Sunlight On Snow‘. I prefer this name, so I’m going to refer to him as Sunlight.

Sunlight was born out of a single line of code, growing exponentially fast, ultimately breaching Harada’s security and immersed in the internet, absorbing more and more information and ultimately contained and placed in the body he now inhabits.

Poor thing, imagine having that many images of Cat videos and Troll cartoons playing your head. Still, he’d totally own the porn industry, unfortunately, he can’t gain access to the internet, due to a fail-safe placed on him by Harada, for fear of creating a technological singularity.

This is a robot experiencing an existential crisis, Sunlight is philosophical in nature, more, despite being scanned by an empath, who experienced no sense of emotion within him, it’s very clear something’s going on inside. He appears to possess intelligence, emotion, memories and humour. So is he simply emulating an experience, gained though an abundance of information, or is he something else?

The contrast between Doug Braithwaite’s art and Brian Reber’s colours set for a serious tone for the book, completing its entire feel. This is an intelligent and ambitious series, which I will be taking a closer look at on my own time, I’m interested in seeing where this series goes, but don’t expect me to be reviewing it on a monthly basis, it’s a nightmare to deconstruct, but an experience well worth shelling out for.

Overview:

Well, I’ve finally come to the end of a journey that has taken almost 3 months of research, and as much as I can say I am glad to put this article to bed now, it’s been one Hell of an experience. I’ve read some great material and the new generation of Valiant have done what I didn’t expect, they haven’t just changed my mind about looking at these titles, they’ve made an ardent follower out of me.

When you think about it, it’s an impressive universe, inter-woven with highly developed characters. Bloodshot is tied into Project Rising Spirit, Rising Spirit run H.A.R.D.Corps, which ties into Harbinger and Imperium and Unity. Unity ties to Archer & Armstrong and Ivar, Timewalker, even X-O has a connection to Livewire. It’s all linked. Well, mostly at least.

So what’s next? Well, for me, Valiant Next, and I will be continuing to review a selection of these titles on a monthly basis now, so keep ’em peeled.

So what do I want to see?

Well, I’d like to see all of these titles produced on a regular basis, prices are currently going crazy on these Comics, so I’m hoping circulation can match it.

But above anything else, I want to see a chapter closed. I want to see the return of Mike LeRoi, more importantly, I’d like to see the return of Garth Ennis with a Deadside book. This is important, it’s an unfinished chapter, Ennis had high ambitions for Shadowman when he reinvented the title.

Something went wrong along the way, Jamie Delano and Charlie Adlard did an admirable follow-up, but after that point it went downhill and diluted into a generic character and just got worse as it eventually dwindled into a ridiculous parody of itself. (Circa the 1990’s Acclaim/Valiant era)

This was a book that deserved more, the story of an amnesiac Voodoo Hitman, Mike LeRoi, a.k.a. Zero, it was weird and insane in a brilliant way, dark and mature. It’s a chance for Valiant to develop a genuinely adults-only book and do something that acts as a bridging gap to greater audiences and a range of different books, not just superheroes.

Rai is certainly a good start, it has more in common with Sci-Fi, actually, but I can’t help feeling Valiant will sell themselves short if they don’t take a chance on varying their portfolio and missing out on some great opportunities.

Valiant is a great Publisher, not just a good one, who have breathed new life into Superhero Comics and more importantly, set the standard for the future.

I’m looking forward to the movies, but don’t forget what’s made you great, the singular biggest mistake Comics have made is crafting the Comics around the movies. This is great in the short-term, but in the long-term, Joe Average will eventually lose interest. Film trends are cyclical, they move in waves, but eventually, the general public get sick of seeing any one thing, it’s happened with Horror, it’s happened with Westerns, with Sci-Fi, with action flicks.

You can over-saturate a market too, with an excess of additional titles of the same characters, I believe a second title (or third, or fourth) should earn and justify it’s existence, otherwise you end up diluting the entire lot. I’d hate to see Valiant fall into that trap when I’ve seen clear demonstrations of originality with books like Divinity and Bleeding Monk, thankfully they haven’t as yet. Continue to invest in the future and the future will take care of itself.

Oh man, now I have to go back and edit this thing. See you at Christmas.

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