Andrew A. Smith
Scripps Howard News Service
Comics characters often return from the dead – but sometimes publishers do, too. Such is the case with Valiant Comics, which has burst back on the scene in an explosion of high-quality books.
First, the history:
Valiant first launched in 1989 with three top creators at its head: Jim Shooter, former editor-in-chief at Marvel Comics; Bob Layton, who gained fame as co-writer and inker on Iron Man; and illustrative legend Barry Windsor-Smith. The line they launched included a host of imaginative original series, including Harbinger, Shadowman and X-O Manowar. All the titles were subtly interconnected and eventually, as title after title was added, a huge tapestry began to form.
Valiant’s emphasis was on character and good writing in a field then dominated by artists, and it quickly became the third largest comics publisher in America (after Marvel and DC). But right at its peak, in 1994, the company was sold to a videogame company, which de-emphasized the comics and eventually went bankrupt. And that was that. There were a couple of attempts to re-start the company, but nothing panned out.
Until now. Amazingly, two undergrads who were young fans of the first Valiant universe managed to get control of the company’s assets in 2005. Now, after seven years of assembling investors and a professional staff (including former Marvel Chairman Peter Cuneo), Dinesh Shamdasani and Jason Kothari have brought Valiant back.
The new Valiant is putting its best foot forward, by re-launching four of the most popular concepts from its previous incarnations: Archer & Armstrong, Bloodshot, Harbinger and X-O Manowar. Very little has changed in these titles since their first incarnation … including the fact that they are very, very good.
X-O Manowar #1 came first, launching in May. Written by Robert Venditti (The Surrogates) and drawn by Cary Nord (Conan the Barbarian), X-O stars Aric of Dacia, a Visigoth warrior from the Roman Empire who was, in the first three issues, kidnapped by aliens, joined by the powerful – and sentient – X-O Manowar armor, and returned to Earth, albeit in the present day. It’s kind of an Iron Man-Conan mash-up, with a little Blue Beetle thrown in.
June brought Harbinger #1, by writer Joshua Dysart (Unknown Soldier) and artist Khari Evans. It stars teenage orphan Peter Stanchek, the most powerful telepath/telekinetic on the planet – except for Toyo Harada, the first person with psionic powers, who wants to recruit Stanchek to his worldwide organization of super-powered “harbingers.” Like with the 1990s series, Harbinger operates in a gray area where the scariest people look normal, and it’s hard to know who to root for.
Bloodshot #1, by comics and crime fiction writer Duane Swierczynski and artist Manuel Garcia, arrived in July, about a U.S. military blacks op agent who has jillions of microscopic machines called nanites in his system that allow him to rebuild himself from almost any injury, but also allow his minders to implant thousands of false memories to motivate and control him. Codename Bloodshot has now broken free, though, and is on the run while deciding which of the voices in his head is his own – if any.
My personal favorite from Valiant’s first incarnation returns this month: Archer & Armstrong, by Fred van Lente and Clayton Henry. Armstrong (real name Aram) is an immensely strong and immortal warrior from Ur, the first city, who has developed a strong taste for alcohol and a stronger sense of boredom over the millennia. Archer is an accomplished martial artist raised by a Christian cult that is a front for a hidden organization searching for the secret to Armstrong’s immortality. Archer is sent to kill Armstrong, but instead the two become partners to discover what’s really going on – providing they don’t kill each other first.
Just like the first Valiant, this version has a raft of accomplished creators, is beautifully drawn across the board and is enormously appealing. And just like the first Valiant, this group of titles can be read entirely independently, although there are already hints in the background how alien invaders, psionic mutants, high-tech assassins and immortal warriors all tie together. Hints that will only grow stronger as this universe grows, first with the much-anticipated return of mercenary intelligence agent Ninjak in September’s X-O Manowar #5, and the re-launch of Valiant’s voodoo warrior in November’s Shadowman #1.
Will this version of Valiant succeed where the others have failed? I hope so – because, just like good superheroes, good publishers shouldn’t stay dead forever.
Contact Andrew A. Smith of the Memphis Commercial Appeal at email@example.com.
X-O Manowar #4, Harbinger #3, Bloodshot #2 and Archer & Armstrong #1, all available in August.