Why I read Valiant comics, and you should too (Part 1)
In the beginning…
I first started reading comics on the latter half of 1991 as I was introduced to the Avengers, Spider-Man and the X-Men by a cousin who ate, slept, and breathed Marvel. Now, I had read the odd Batman book here and there – I was a fan of the old Adam West TV series and incessantly watched reruns as a key – but it was with Marvel that I first became an avid reader. From there, I moved on to other series and publishers from DC, where I found characters I truly adored and which I still read to this day – again, really just in the Batman universe.
The following year was a big year for comics as the creator-owned market burst into existence and my love for Image and independent publishers began – and I read them all. Mind you I was only 11, so the only way for me to afford my growing hunger for new comics was to do a LOT of chores. Luckily, I had a booming business cutting grass and doing odd chores for neighbors which supplemented the small allowance I received from my parents. Then, in the summer of 1993 I found the book which would change my life and introduce me to the Valiant universe – X-O Manowar #0.
I won’t bore you with details or stray from the original topic of this article too much, but Valiant showed me how comic books should be done – a distinct yet cohesive universe with interesting characters that concentrated on story over anything else. Looking back, most of those books fail to hold up, but they planted a passion for the characters which remains with me until this day. As the original Valiant universe was starting to die down, I started to become interested in things other than comics – I was in high school by then – and so my comic collecting died down other than a few books which remained on my pull list until recently.
When I found Valiant again earlier this year, I went all in.
One cohesive universe, no bull
I won’t lie; I’m a sucker for big epic stories, but really, who isn’t? Two of my favorite storylines of the past several years are Blackest Night and its follow-up, Brightest Day. The scope of those stories is HUGE and had both important revelations and repercussions which spanned YEARS – because the stories took that long to tell, and spanned dozens of issues across multiple books. I ate these stories up, while in turn they ate my wallet up.
Was it worth it? As much as I enjoyed it the status quo at DC has changed, and thanks to the new 52 initiative, much of it didn’t even matter. That’s one reason Valiant is different.
Since publication resumed in 2012, Valiant has slowly been building a universe which is very tightly intertwined without subjecting readers to company wide crossovers, forcing readers to buy books they may never have considered picking up before. That’s not to say that characters haven’t crossed into other books, but when they did it made sense. Of course, the Eternal Warrior would appear in Archer and Armstrong – he and Armstrong are brothers with thousands of years of history. Of course, Bloodshot would appear in Harbinger, and Unity – his connections to Project Rising Spirit make it impossible for them to never cross paths. So what is the difference?
Valiant is a cohesive universe based on characters living in the same world, with shared histories, and while Valiant, the company, certainly wants to sell more books, it is doing so by creating characters readers want to care about instead of characters we are MADE to care about.
That’s not to say that Valiant has been shy about doing crossovers, but rarely have they last more than one arc – generally 4 issues. The two glaring exceptions to this rule were the fantastic Harbinger Wars crossover between Harbinger and Bloodshot, and the current Armor Hunters saga. Unlike other publishers, and by that I mean the big two, readers don’t have to pick up dozens of issues to get the full story. Looking at Armor Hunters, readers could easily pick up one particular tie-in book without ever having read the rest and still have a good idea of what’s going on while enjoying characters they care to read about. Would you get more pieces of the story by picking up more books? Absolutely, but unlike other crossover events, it is not required reading, making even this large, nearly company-wide crossover as new reader friendly as picking up any of the books at the start of nearly every story arc. This is a true testament to the vision guiding the publishing schedule and to the level in which everyone from Dinesh, to Warren and the editing staff, to each book’s creative team, is involved in making sure that each book provides a great level of quality that anyone can enjoy.
Does Valiant always succeed in this regard? While most fans would agreed that it does in most respects, there are always chinks in the armor, a prime example being Shadowman. Through various creative teams and story arcs, the company has arguably failed to make those characters become a part of this shared universe, though there is no doubt in my mind that seeds have been planted in the latest Shadowman: End Times miniseries, and through flashback scenes in the second arc of Unity, that Shadowman will make a triumphant return to Valiant as a major part of the universe.
**NOTE** Part 2 coming soon