Writer: Matt Kindt
Artist: Doug Braithwaite
Reviewers: Ambush Bug & Rob Patey (aka Optimous Douche -Ain’t It Cool News)
OPTIMOUS DOUCHE (OD): With no Rai or Solar–basically anything future-focused in the new Valiant–I truly wondered how they would satiate the nostalgia this title invokes from the old while updating for a new age. The short answer is, simply, “fuck nostalgia.” Where UNITY once meant a conjoining and intermingling of time periods that spanned 19 titles and 7,000 years of history, this new UNITY (at least based on the first issue) is solidarity in the here and now. A more teaming-up title than an esoteric exploration of time and continuity course corrections.
AMBUSH BUG (BUG): I love it how Valiant keeps on flipping expectation on its ear and how they’re keeping their big events tight and well plotted. The fact that this basically is a crossover between Harada, Eternal Warrior, and Ninjak squaring off against what I think is Valiant’s most iconic character in X-O Manowar makes me remember why I used to love crossovers so much and why I hate the bloated sales machines of the crossovers from the Big Two so much.
OD: Valiant definitely moves with a story versus sales purpose, but they couldn’t work any other way. Even back during UNITY 1, though it was 19 titles they all served a purpose. Like a puzzle of the Mona Lisa, as opposed to the big two where two thirds of the puzzle is sky. I did love this story; I think having the name UNITY, though, was a mistake. Many need to leverage nostalgia to make sales. Valiant doesn’t need that. The name, dare I say, might be a distraction for some. Or they could blow out to the whole time stream in issue 2; after all, Harada was nuzzling up to the Eternal Warrior, which was a shock.
BUG: Well, this is just the beginning of this crossover. It may tear open the timestream yet. But personally, I like that it is uniting a lot of forces, much like “The Harbinger Wars” crossover, and reminding us that there is a whole universe of characters out there. Even though the Valiant Universe is relatively small compared to the Big Two in characters, I’m looking forward to seeing what new iconic characters they can create and not just rehash some of the older ones. I’m digging the rehashes, but the crucial part now is when they’ve run out of characters to resurrect and they have to start making up new ones. But back to this issue–I think it was a solid jumping-on point for new readers. Everything you need to know is on that first interior page.
OD: Yeah, I’ve always loved them taking the infographic approach instead of straight text for the catch up. Those things can be wicked hard to create and require true collaboration with the writer – it’s just another extra mile thing Valiant does for readers.
I still want some time shenanigans though, especially with the way they introduced the Lost Land over in ARCHER & ARMSTRONG during the last arc. This needs to be more than a team-up title if they are going to pull from the same well of gravitas that was the last UNITY.
BUG: Agreed, but at this point, I don’t think the Valiant Universe is cohesive enough to do some kind of all-encompassing crossover. I’m sure it’s coming, but these tight crossovers are my favorites and always the most successful, which goes back to the point that UNITY might not be the right title for this event. Maybe UNIFICATION or UNITE or something to tease us to something bigger.
Did you have a favorite part in this issue?
OD: Actually it was more than a favorite part, it was redemption. When Harada’s elite decided to call themselves Unity complete with battle-cry I almost chucked the book. This is it? This is the big dick fucking Unity we’ve heard so much about? Then Aric kills them all like three seconds later in ways specific to their powers. Beautiful. How about you? I can’t guess since there was no Bleeding Monk.
BUG: No Bleeding Monk…yet. But I think the ass-whuppin Ninjak gets was pretty awesome. As much as I like the character, seeing X-O open up a can of whup-ninja was pretty sweet, especially after the lead-up to the encounter which made Ninjak look so cool. That’s the thing about this issue–it really does highlight how cool a lot of these characters are.
OD: Ninjak has the potential to be Valiant’s Fantomex, except he can do all the cool things Fantomex can’t because he’s not in 17,000 freaking titles. I applaud Valiant for using restraint on this character. They rushed him into his own title back in the 90s and the title never had the same zing and cohesion as the others.
BUG: Agreed, but I’m sure he’ll be getting his own title soon. In the meantime, I like it that he had his ass handed to him so easily here. It makes the character more interesting that he’s got a couple of losses. I brought this up in the podcast, but Harada’s weaknesses as highlighted in the recent issue of HARBINGER I think are coming into play here as well, as he is making some shit poor decisions as far as attacking X-0 in this issue.
OD: What was truly interesting were Harada’s government ties. I always thought he was a rogue entity merely out for himself, especially after we learned the PRS connection to Uncle Sam during the HARBINGER WARS. These little intricacies are what make Valiant great: the fact that we can have these conversations without a renew or reNOW mucking up the works is what gives this universe true skin in the game of comics.
BUG: What’s funny is that in ARCHER & ARMSTRONG they reference the fourth Harbinger War, so maybe our complaints about this being a little too small-scale are going to be trumped as these HARBINGER WAR and UNITY crossovers intensify with each one. If that happens, I’m on board. That’s the most exciting thing about these books: the potential and so far the payoff has been completely satisfying.
What’d you think of the art?
OD: Most people know by now I’m art-tarded, so subtle analysis escapes me. The art was more than serviceable, and was outright fantastic during the scenes where the short-lived team Unity was given their comeuppance. Personally, I would like to see them go off the reservation a bit–get their version of Barry Windsor Smith.
BUG: Braithwaite is good. I especially like the scene where X-0 blows one of the guy’s heads off and through the other guy’s chest behind him. Improbable? Yes. Cool? HELLZ YES!
That said, for some reason, he draws Eternal Warrior too sketchily. Maybe he’s trying to convey his age, but I think a good inker would have done this issue some justice. As is, it’s Braithwaite’s pencils and then the colors and everything seems too ghost-like.
OD: Sure, that’s exactly what I was thinking. Here’s the thing I hate about reviewing (outside of my editor): we have all these questions, and we now have to read other issues that take place before these events, plus we have to wait longer to get the goods on follow-up issues. Hopefully we’ll get some clues in the lead-up issues, especially in ARCHER & ARMSTRONG, that will give hints of a wider scope beyond what we saw in UNITY #1. It’s a great crossover; I still want a wider lens, though.
BUG: Agreed, but as far as this issue goes, it’s a great start. I have a feeling this isn’t going to be small scale for long.
Writer: Duane Swierczynski
Artist: Barry Kitson
Reviewer: Rob Patey (aka Optimous Douche – Ain’t It Cool News)
I’ve sung the praises of Valiant so many times now I’m waiting for the “house that Shooter built” to send me custom knee-pads with a big red V embroidered on the front. I’ll be the first to admit I have a pulled-punch approach at times because I love comics so. And I’ll also admit I can be viewed as sycophantic if you’ve never read one of my scathing reviews. I can’t stress enough though; I’m not pandering with Valiant. In the course of one short year they have resurrected from the ashes of the 90s like a phoenix with two nacelles strapped to its ass for a warp 9 ascent to greatness.
Valiant is a salvation from the convoluted and inconsequential continuity at the big houses. To be fair they don’t have as much history to carry, but even at an individual issue level Valiant is trumping the best efforts of other publishers. They are adult without being bawdy, dialog is genuine instead of camp and the universe is carefully orchestrated by meticulous editors instead of a bunch of guys looking for individual title glory. Case in point: the big yet contained crossover HARBINGER WARS, which is now serving as the undercurrent for the titles BLOODSHOT and HARBINGER.
BLOODSHOT 11 is the perfect encapsulation of how a crossover should be managed. It is the space between the raindrops of HARBINGER WARS. It’s a focal point without being required reading, it adds new information, but not so much that those on limited budgets would be punished if they aren’t reading the rest of the series. Quite simply, it cares about a good story first and serving the event second.
If you’ve never read BLOODSHOT or Valiant before, I’m amazed you’ve read this far into the review. For all of you Valiant Virgins here’s the skinny on the story without getting too spoliery. Harbingers are Valiant’s answer to mutants, these next generation humans started when we nuked Japan and irradiated the Omega level Toyo Harada. Today new harbingers are cropping up all over the globe; HARBINGER WARS is the power play to see who will control them.
The two main puppet masters are of course corporations, a sad but accurate reflection of the age we live in. In one corner is the aforementioned Toyo Harada’s Harbinger Foundation, a multinational conglomerate that rose to power in the 20th century thanks in no small part to Harada’s Xavier like mental capabilities. In the other corner is Project Rising Spirit (PRS), an organization more clandestine than Harada and infinitely less virtuous. Harada is the villain you love to hate; he leaves room for sympathy in the fact that he does bad things towards a possible good end. PRS is basically Blackwater, a government contractor that will do anything for any government if the price is right.
BLOODSHOT is the PRS weapon of choice. A man with nanotech in his blood and a host of constructed memories meant to control him. And as we find out in this issue, he’s more than a rogue HARBINGER hunter, he’s also PRS’ final fail-safe to stop Harada.
HARBINGER WARS unfolded a deep history between Harada and PRS and it’s not a good one. Apparently back in the 60’s these two warring entities were once friends…or at the very least in co-opitition. Now though, as the race to see who can collect the most Harbinger kiddies continues to accelerate, each organization seeks to put the other permanently in the red.
As the confrontation between Harada and PRS escalates over in HARBINGER WARS, BLOODSHOT 11 takes the time to expand on the protocols PRS embedded in their albino killing machine to take down the most powerful man on the planet. What was only a few pages become a full 22 as we shift from Harada’s POV to the little boy living in BLOODSHOT. No this isn’t a set-up for a Michael Jackson joke.
The original BLOODSHOT in Valiant universe 1.0 always left me unfulfilled. His blood of heroes was more back-story for the future samurai RAI versus being an engaging character himself. He still had nanotech coursing through his veins, but that is where the similarities ended. For Valiant 2.0 they made one small move that made a huge difference in the story: sentient nanotech. That’s right this blood talks and takes on the form of a small little boy, with a larger than life arrogance. For each Harada protocol released during the battle, the creators take us inside BLOODSHOT to see just how much this is fucking with his mind. An EMP blast, a purging of the nanotech akin to two-girls-one-cup and finally a head explosion that leaves you wondering whether BLOODSHOT’s regeneration can truly handle anything. This would be as good a time as any to give Kitson his kudos on switching between extreme gore and the sterile operating room of BLOODSHOT’S mind.
The Eisner award nominees were just released a few weeks ago and a stark trend is forming. While Valiant didn’t make the list, their indie counterparts dwarf the modicum of accolades bestowed upon the Big 2. This is a sign of our storytelling times. I consider Valiant and Image to be some of my top reads right now. Valiant satiates my thirst for an interwoven universe, where I turn to Image to deliver cool quick-hit concepts. Not three years ago I was being satisfied on both fronts by DC and Vertigo. The ability to dethrone a giant in the hearts’ of readers is probably the best compliment I can give Valiant and of course BLOODSHOT.
HARBINGER WARS 1
Writers: Joshua Dysart, Duane Swiercyznski
Artists: Clayton Henry, Clayton Crain, Mico Suyan
Reviewer: Rob Patey (aka Optimous Douche – Ain’t It Cool News)
A week or two ago I railed on the lack of inspiration in STORMWATCH. A team that used to be comprised of really cool powers doing bad ass stuff that has essentially been neutered by continuity. I have a message for DC right now, read the “official” introduction of the new Psiots in HARBINGER WARS 1 and try to buy the rights to this team. They are the coolest set of powers in town and this is the damned coolest book because it finally brings together two other big buckets of awesome sauce; Team HARBINGER and the super powered messiah BLOODSHOT.
As fans we bemoan crossovers, but really we’re the last that should complain. Crossovers are the zenith of fan service, while they truly shun new readers. It’s an amalgam of characters we love doing something epic. The trick is not to make a crossover required reading. Where the big 2 fall down as we’ve seen with the current AGE OF ULTRON is when the crossover hijacks an entire fucking universe in the pursuit of the coveted upsell. And don’t give me any, “well they did AU issues.” Nuh-uh, asking me to skip a month of a title is a worse sin than causing confusion because of crossover aversion.
HARBINGER WARS remembers this cardinal crossover rule. Of course I haven’t read the issues to come yet, so we’ll see if the Valiant boys can make those issues make sense sans HARBINGER WARS. I have the utmost faith though since for two iterations, spanning the course of twenty plus years, they have NEVER failed me.
All right, let’s talk about what actually is and what’s not, versus my fanboy soothsaying. I’m going to talk to Valiant fans, because if you’re coming in raw to Valiant turn the right the fuck around. I refuse to let you into our party; and frankly it’s for your own good. This is story is the perfect conclusion to the last arcs of BLOODSHOT and HARBINGER.
BLOODSHOT needed a place to end. We learned a Kardashain asston about this guy in the first arc. It was a discovery of self despite the perpetual mind wiping and implanted fagazi lives courtesy of Project Rising Spirit. It was then a brisk well-paced discovery of self, with a little help from his nanite sentient blood (nice upgrade from V1.0 BTW). Arc 2 though, was taking a hella long time to get in and out of one building. But we needed to be introduced to the Psiots and the fact Toyo Harada isn’t the only evil bastard to be packing next gen Harbinger powered humans. It was good, but again was milking it a little.
HARBINGER needed someplace to go. The introduction to this tale of anti-heroes was an origin for the ages. Pete Stanchek is a train-wreck of emotions with the power to change the course of humanity with his limitless mind. The morality grays this book paints are morosely beautiful. Kris, Pete’s victim of mind rape, is tied to the team of the damned or the land of the dead. Plus she bears the unenviable responsibility of being the only one who can control Pete. Her dedication to humanity is to be commended. Even the villain Toyo Harada makes one question whether evil means, actually means evil ways. After escaping Toyo’s initial grasp, arc 2 became a teammate magnet attracting the likes of the nerdly Zephyr the floater, Torque the true embodiment of Brodouche, and Flamingo the stripper with a heart of gold and supernova level ignition. But again they were just escaping from Toyo the whole time, they needed something new – they needed a purpose grander than mere survival.
HARBINGER WARS pushes booth books in their needed directions, while simoultaneously amping up the threat between the world’s largest corporate superpowers. Opening with the aforementioned Psiots, we learn how deeply entrenched Project Rising Spirit is within the American Government. You know you’re dealing with true power when after unleashing a zombie plague on Chinese soil, the only questions is, “why weren’t you making it for Uncle Sam?” And of course they have to justify the four teen superpowers sent in to clean it up: Cronos, team leader and giver and taketh of life, Telic the girl who can see a few minutes from now, Hive the kid who will absorb and retain the mind of those he touches , and Traveler, the boy who can blink between space.
Before getting to HARBINGER AND BLOODSHOT’S place in all this now would be good time to talk art – perfect. Three artists is usually a sloppier experience than Kirstie Alley after a jog, but Valiant wisely chose to let each artist handle one of the three team experiences. The coolest part was that since none of the stories actually meet until the end, each artist could switch up mid-page as the story shifted without one clunky moment. And honestly I can’t pick a favorite; they all deliver the appropriate mood of each story.
And all three stories are starkly different while still serving the same narrative. HARBINGER’S part is morosely fun as the Bleeding Monk basically delivers Pete his ultimate destiny of having to topple Harada and play the Pied Piper of Psiots. The fun part comes from Torque of course. BLOODSHOT’S story collides when he runs into the Psiots with his merry band of mutants we saw him freeing last month. Looks like he is developing a bit of a messiah complex as well.
If I didn’t love this book enough, it also made me view the Valiant universe from a completely different angle. If you read HARBINGER, Harada is clearly a bad dude from the team’s point of view. Here though, his treatment towards his team of Eggbreakers seems almost noble when compared to the head-bomb implanting slavery imposed by Project Rising Spirit. When Harada confronts BLOODSHOT at the end, you almost wouldn’t blame BS for taking up the offer to work together. Given who Rai’s granddaddy was working for till now, Harada’s nefarious methods would still make him employer of the year.
All right I’ve spoiled the hell out of this book and I’m sorry. Just know that great dialog and seeing my descriptions executed by great storytellers still awaits you…along with that pretty pretty art. If you’re a Valiant Virgin and didn’t heed my warning before, I hope I entreated with you to go buy some trades to imbibe the maturity and majesty that is just this small corner of the Valiant universe.
Writer: Robert Venditti
Artist: Trevor Hairsine
Reviewer: Rob Patey (aka Optimous Douche – Ain’t It Cool)
I’m biased, I love Valiant. Their pragmatic approach to super-heroics gives the stories real world weight the Big 2 could never achieve at this point without flushing all that has come before. Because of this adoration, I can use my rapier wits to justify any issue being a great jumping on point, even if my objective side knows there are other issues better suited to new readers.
I say now though without bullshit, pretense, or bias – X-O MANOWAR 9 is a GREAT jumping on point for all of you who have turned deaf ears to the hundreds of reviewers heralding the angelic wings flying Valiant to the top of the indie comic world.
X-O MANOWAR is one of the Valiant titles that changed the least since Valiant 1.0. This isn’t laziness; it’s a testament to a good idea always being a good idea. Barbarian warriors, time travel based on real theories of relativity, subversive aliens manipulating our destiny, and a living piece of armor that thinks as well as destroys is a formula that simply requires little rejigging. There have been a few deck chairs moved around, but this wasn’t a Titanic reshuffling. Every minor change subtly caters to modern sensibilities, preys upon modern fears and necessarily speaks to modern aesthetics. As much as I love the likes of Barry Windsor Smith, his brand of creepy simply won’t get the kids too excited about a comic.
Now, I will say some of these subtle changes were necessary simply because of the loss of certain licenses from the 1.0 days. There are no dalliances with Solar or Turok, like X-O had in his beginning adventures of yore, but quite frankly I don’t miss them.
Aric of Dacia’s bloodlust is stronger, fueled by his abduction by the spider-like aliens, The Vine, and all they took from him – his people , his wife, his time – hell his entire life. The Vine are also changed, they are far more subversive in this new Valiant. Where in that time gone by their plans for taking over the Earth were blatant to reflect our real-world fears of the entire earth blowing up in an exchange of nukes. This time they reflect our modern fear of terror – that new horrid truth that our enemies are hiding in plain sight in front of us, willing to slit our throats over blowing up our cities. Even the turncoat Vine, Alexander, who befriends Aric is different. Before he was very much an opportunist, a reflection of the 80s desire for wealth and material goods. This new turncoat cares more about his adopted world and its people, and like many ex-pats feels a deeper kinship to his adopted land then where he sends his tax-man tithing.
Prelude to Planet Death will give you all of this insight, plus a somehow miraculous barrage of action amidst the exposition. When the X-O armor bonded with Aric so many months ago, it sent The Vine into apoplectic fits. The clerics that heralded the divinity of the armor see Aric as a Jesus rather than a simple slave gone uppity. The militants…merely see the greatest threat they have ever faced. Imagine if Clinton had to deal with Timothy McVeigh being armed with a Hydrogen bomb instead of a van of nitro glyceride. Aric’s escape, finding earth allies like Alexander and Ninjak, and some remember when moments back to the days when the Romans and not aliens were his mortal enemies filled subsequent issues as The Vine figured out an attack plan. Well, the plan is now in place as the Clerics have been sent back to their home world and all of the Vine’s military might is pointed at Aric and earth.
I can’t herald the virtues of Valiant enough. It’s kicking in the teeth of comic sameness and over engineered clustfuckery plaguing other continuity heavy companies. Unfettered access to a fully realized universe is a beautiful and rare thing in comics these days, please come and keep me company – you won’t be disappointed.
Writer: Joshua Dysart
Artist: Barry Kittson
Reviewer: Rob Patey (aka Optimous Douche – Ain’t It Cool news)
I know there will eventually come a time when I no longer harken back to the Ghost of Valiant past in my reviews. With the quality they keep churning out, they join the cast of “indies” who are anything but. Eventually Valiant will soar past its ancestral roots into new numbers, new stories, and a new mythology that will make the 1.0 world from so many years ago forgotten history.
For now though, in these beginning stages, they are playing the game right – keep what was wonderful from the old universe while extracting the dated elements to reflect modern mores and sensibilities.
Issue 7 follows its predecessors in not only darkening the HARBINGER mythos, but each mother-lovin character as well. I haven’t given this much adoration to a single series since ALL STAR SUPERMAN. Please don’t think they are the same book, they’re not. This is a series going for the long haul; epic is not the name of the game. However, it entertains me in the same sense it sits at the top of my read pile each week it come out, I can always find words about it, and damn if it doesn’t surprise me. It is one of the most stark, dark and honest portrayals of the mutant comic mythos. It’s Valiant Now in the truest sense of the word Now, I will also give it Valiant Here, because it truly feels like I’m watching our world evolve. Now after reviewing about three issues of this book I do have one gripe that I’ll get to in a minute.
This issue shows the true forming of a team for Pete Stancheck, his non-powered yet clearly the strongest of fortitude…let’s call her God Keeper…Kris, and the fat and floaty yet also endearingly innocent Zephyr. Now that they hhave completely uncovered the eeeevil plans of Toyo Harada and his fuel to rule the world by activating and employing every mutie on the planet the true game of a powers land grab can begin. Kind of like Far and Away minus bad acting and Enya.
This week we meet Flamingo. In Valliant 1.0 this small town cutie tweaked young Optimous nether regions with her skyscraper bangs, Daisy Duke cut offs and small town slut ways. Valiant portrays the same naughty, but like every girl of promiscuity story these days we now the learn why and for anyone who is not a sociopath it induces instant boner deflation. Dysart does a great job making the back-story of this stripper soon-to-be turned Flamethrower natural and perfectly flowing with the story today. Everything shitty in her life, from her job to her current abusive beau all stems from negligent and abusive daddy issues. And before some blowhard crises cliché from the parliament party of pain in the ass, go to a stripclub sometime and actually talk to these girls. If you’re average isn’t 7 out of 10, then you probably also found the one where the same number have degrees instead of “currently looking into Sociology.”
Real, timely and full of great yuck nugetts from Zephyr’s first experience in a house of dollar stuffing ill repute, to Kris truly realizing her place as leader of this group since she controls the heart and thus the will of living God Peter – HARBINGER 7 basically just makes me excited for HARBINGER 8.
Oh, wait I did say I have one gripe (and no not the art, Kittson is grand and really kept this issue sexy, yet clean, and also impactful when sexy time for Flamingo was over). My gripe is with Harada. And again I say this gripe because I come from the context of just rereading Jim Shooter’s SOLAR from Dark Horse a few years ago. Here’s the thing. I think Harada needs to be a little more sadistic like Shooter’s portrayal. Taiwanese hooker punching bags is all I’m going to say. After sixty plus years of being a living God, you go where you can for your kumbayayas. Show us the human and thus inhuman side of Harada in an issue. Right, we’ve only seen the business half of the character mullet – bring forth the oh so wrong party in the back please.
Writer: Joshua Dysart
Artist: Phil Briones
Reviewer: Rob Patey (aka Optimous Douche – Ain’t It Cool News)
I consider it my personal mission to herald the virtues of great comics to the masses. While I like to spread this love across the entire industry, lately I can’t keep my eyes off Valiant. Their realistic, no bull-shit approach to the fantastical is almost impossible to emulate while wearing spandex and capes. Hey, I understand gritty realism isn’t for everybody; and even I with all my dark cynicism need my escapist dose of poses and dialog bubbles that are decrees instead of conversations, but Valiant cracks a nut that no “Reboot” or “ReNow” will ever be available to achieve simply by virtue of who they are.
I was all set to extol the virtues of X-O MANOWAR this week, and while this ancient Norseman in futuristic battle armor is a great read, X-O is mid-story right now. HARBINGER, the Valiant answer to the X-MEN starts a new arc this issue and with it Dysart reveals yet another layer to a book that was already several stratums deep. Basically, if you’re a fan of old Valiant you’re a fucking idiot for not imbibing Valiant 2.0. If you are too young to remember old Valiant or still don’t know a Shadowman from Dayman, I hope the following will entreat you to learn more.
HARBINGER is the new term for the age old problem of muties, mutates, freaks, basically the next generation of humanity that can control the world instead of being hapless victims to circumstance like all of us poor old Homo Sapiens. What’s different with HARBINGER is that it takes a pragmatic approach to this problem as the real world dictates, avoiding the exercise of making the real world transform to fit the narrative.
The bad guy in HARBINGER, Toyo Harada, was the first of this next gen. An early baby-boomer caught near grand zero when America ended WWII in a flash of light. He is also one of the most powerful of this next generation; he can manipulate minds on a global scale, transform reality, and activate anyone who is latently carrying the HARBINGER gene. All of these issues have been explored before in comics, but never with this stark level of realism. Instead of donning a cape and hat, getting five mutants together, and then destroying some high-profile target, Harada realized that power simply was not enough. In this complex age, he who has the money writes the rules. One can use far less power to control much more if they have a solid infrastructure in place before begin their power play. To that end Harada spends the better part of the 20th century using his power to build a global conglomerate before moving into his end-game of check mate.
The flip-side of Harada is Pete Stancheck, a young man on the same power scale as Harada with a millionth of the ambition. In fact, Stancheck is more afraid of his abilities than ready to embrace them. Rightly so, as a member of the “better parenting through pills” generation, Pete grew up believing that it wasn’t the blessing of power he carried, but rather the curse of insanity. Once Harada took notice of Peter in the early issues of HARBINGER, we begin to see the man Peter might become, but the journey will be long. As a member of Harada’s HARBINGER Foundation, Pete quickly realizes Harada’s power play and makes a hasty exit for freedom. Peter was greatly helped in this decision when he uncovered last issue that his insane friend, Joe, who Harada swore to protect, was merely a pawn in keeping Pete under control.
That’s things in a nutshell; all good stuff…but what makes it truly great? This is where we get into the infinite layers that clearly show Dysart has a clear plan instead of just throwing random superhero tropes onto the page.
Harada is more than a man of power; he is the embodiment of the at death’s doorstep Baby-Boomer generation. A generation that was able to ride the spoils their parents fought so hard for and lived a life of relative ease as a result. Alan Greenspan said thirty years ago that the next generation will not do as well as the Baby-Boomers. We all laughed at the time, but as the current state of the economy shows, where raises are a gift instead of an expectation, the legacy of the boomers could very well be a bust. Yes, this is part of the “stuff” of HARBINGER (not the Greenspan thing, that’s my value-add), Harada can slow the decay of time, but not stop it. And he is damned and determined to leave his final mark on the world.
A generation ago, when Gen X was far from middle-age, the kids who we are learning will be the renegade HARBINGERS (off Harada’s reservation), came together in a very different way by virtue of the time period. Twenty years ago life was much simpler, a tradesman could practice their craft and thrive, there was a freedom and prosperity when my generation was leaving High School and College that simply isn’t real anymore. Back then the HARBINGERS came together through happenstance as they all were searching for the adults they would one day become. The powers basically were secondary…at first In today’s world of heavy processes, and need for predictive ROI, very few young people hit the road searching for themselves.
We can also attribute this lack of generational courage to helicopter parenting that does nothing to prepare kids for tomorrow and keeps them in Mom and Dad’s basement until their first prostate exam. Fellow renegade HARBINGER, the fabulously floating Zephyr is a prime example of this new molly coddling. She’s fat, she knows she’s fat, yet she embodies her Christian name of Faith at every turn. Twenty years ago, Faith was a big fat mess mentally, even though she tried to keep a firm upper lip. Now, she’s part of the home schooled generation that as soon as the going got tough the less than tough turned to Mom to become their HS principal. Now Dysart doesn’t specifically state Faith is home schooled, but by her Golden Retriever levels of trust in humanity, it’s clear she was sheltered versus Mooed at in the hallways of public High School. Don’t get me wrong I love Zephyr, a character that simply floats instead of flies are the deconstructions comic fans live for.
Finally rounding out the new renegade HARBINGERS is Kris, the young lady who Pete has imprinted on as his life mate. With Kris you see the starkest differences between Valiant 1.0 & 2.0. A generation ago these two were truly in love and Kris came with Pete willingly on his adventure of overthrowing Harada. In the 2.0 world, Kris and Pete only dated a few times, he thought more of it then she did, and in the first few issues he mind rapes her into loving him. Powerful stuff. Even more powerful was when he let her go, when he though the HARBINGER foundation was serving the greater good. Even powerfuller is the full circle this issue takes to bring Kris back into Pete’s arms and her altruism in taking on the babysitting of a living God.
I could continue to ferret out the details of HARBINGER; discussing in depth how each conversation has emotional resonance, how Briones’ art perfectly captures the moody scenes as well as the action with equal aplomb, but… wouldn’t you rather just read the book? Please say yes, my fingers are tired and I really want to get back to reading more Valiant books.
ARCHER & ARMSTRONG #3
Writer: Fred Van Lente
Artist: Clayton Henry
Reviewer: Rob Patey (aka Optimous Douche Ain’t It Cool News)
Secret sects, a mystery as old as human history, and a fat indestructible drunkard with his young Christian-compound raised martial arts expert at his side. How could I not love ARCHER & ARMSTRONG?
Well, I’ll tell you how: if I let myself get hung by the noose of nostalgia like sooooo many of my contemporaries. The benefit of being an aged fangeezer is that we’ve read almost every comic on the shelf. The downside to being an aged fangeezer is that we’ve read every book the shelf. Valiant books especially hold a sweet spot in my heart that harkens me back to the early days of the 1990s when all I had to do with my time was read comics and be a teenager. I relished every moment of Valiant 1.0; I loved, collected, and reread every title year after year right up until the turn of the millennium. They were my solace during the mid to late 90s comic apocalypse.
So I approached the re-launch of the Valiant universe with the greatest of trepidation. My nostalgia has been thoroughly raped in recent years by comics from CRISIS to AGE OF APOCALYPSE, the new has never been as sweet as the old.
Valiant deepened my worries since fundamental characters from the old universe have now had their copyrights spread to the four corners of comicdom: SOLAR, TUROK and MAGNUS were not only popular characters, they were fundamental to the birth of the universe and one of the best cross-overs ever, UNITY.
Well, now that we are a good five months into VALIANT 2.0 I can say without reservation life is about change, and change is exceptionally good – especially when change is being led by some of the newest and freshest voices in comics.
ARCHER & ARMSTRONG is different than before, but every change is steeped in deep reverence for the old series. This time Archer started working for his parents, a couple of one-percenters looking to take over the world using faith as their weapon of choice. Archer also no longer becomes disillusioned by his parent’s before running into Armstrong, this time around killing Armstrong is what sets Archer on his mission of discovery and ultimate disillusionment in his parents’ Machiavellian ways. Another welcome addition this time around is that all of Archer’s martial arts moves are explained in handy and informative call-out boxes. Read ARCHER & ARMSTRONG because it’s entertaining AND educational.
ARMSTRONG is pretty much the same, a drunken lout who has spent eternity…well just trying to get drunker and loutier.
When the two came together back in the 90s, it was a meeting without purpose until they run into “The Sect” trying to kill ARMSTRONG. This time the book is founded on much sturdier ground. Before ARMSTRONG was immortal a device called “The Boon” wiped out the old world (think mythological) and humanity started anew. Only ARMSTRONG was left from the devastation and he spent the next several thousand years hiding pieces of “The Boon” and then summarily killing the brain cells that remembered where the pieces were hidden.
Sounds like a lot to absorb? Well it is, this book is chock full of every conspiracy theory and piece of ancient lore since the beginning of time.
Van Lente does a great job getting new readers up to speed in the opening pages of the third issue, which takes our Odd Couple into the bowels of the Vatican where a piece of “The Boon” is guarded by a sect of Nuns that eventually get dubbed with the LOL name Nunjas in the heat of battle.
Also joining the pair is a wise nun who 100 years ago (not literally – though close) captured Armstrong’s heart. She acts as a mediator between Armstrong’s debauchery and Archer’s piousness, reminding both why they need one another. At one point she whispers a line to Archer about faith that was the wisest words I read in comics this week and probably all year.
I’m not blinded by affection for what was, ARCHER & ARMSTRONG and the rebooted HARBINGER are some of the best comics on the shelves right now. They have reinvented the voice of Valiant for the new millennium, without once forgetting the deep and different characterization that made a name for Valiant oh so many years ago.
X-O MANOWAR: BIRTH
Writers: Jim Shooter & Bob Layton
Artists: Barry Windsor-Smith, Joe Quesada
Reviewer: Rob Patey (aka Optimous Douche – Ain’t It Cool News)
Most comic book aficionados will agree that the early 90s was a veritable shit storm of bad ideas. Countless polybags, card inserts, multiple covers, nonsensical crossovers and issues with sub par material virtually collapsed the entire industry.
Then there was Valiant.
While the major houses were focused on increasing sales volume and Image was launching the age of anatomical monstrosities, Jim Shooter and company were laying the foundation for one of the most complex, intricate and well crafted universes to ever grace the stands of local comic shops.
Valiant hooked me from the very beginning. Being a mild obsessive compulsive it wasn’t the individual resurrected Gold Key titles like X-O, HARBINGER, SOLAR, ETERNAL WARRIOR and ARCHER & ARMSTRONG that intrigued me. Don’t get me wrong: the dialogue was sharp and witty, and the rendered realism of the characters was a refreshing departure from “the beautiful people, the beautiful people” that were being sketched in other comic books, but it was the continuity.
This universe was tighter than a nun’s vagina, and for a universe that covered all of human history from the beginning of civilization to the far distant future, this cross pollination of content was no easy task.
The first six issues of X-O MANOWAR, which can be found in this beautifully reprinted hardcover (along with a few other goodies) are a perfect example of this meticulous attention to a detailed universe and “ahead of its time” storytelling.
X-O kicks off seamlessly from the pages of its sister title SOLAR. Aric the barbarian is a man unstuck in time, cryogenically frozen for 1600 years and resurrected in the early 1990s. He awakens aboard a ship of spider-alien invaders; with the help of a mysterious cell mate and a diversion by Solar, he finds a way to abscond with the spiders’ most advanced version of X-O Armor, the Manowar class. This “good skin”, as Aric calls it, his barbaric mind only able to relate a technologically advanced war suit with a bear pelt, allows him to escape from the invader’s ship and lands him on a planet Earth very different than the world he once remembered. This is the “what”, the “how” is a story unto itself.
I mentioned earlier, during my schoolgirl adoration of Valiant’s continuity, that the actual storytelling was a feat unto it self and truly ahead of its time. From characterization to the actual dialogue, the foundation laid down by the team at Valiant resonates even today; in fact, I often wonder if today’s superstars could be telling their stories in the fashion they are without these books paving the way.
It seems today that a piece can’t be socially relevant or accepted without the insertion of a token homosexual character. Well before “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” made fat mid-western hausfraus accept the gay culture, Valiant took the bold steps to make a gay character a pivotal focal point of the X-O story with Aric’s right hand man Ken. However, unlike Marvel with Northstar, Valiant didn’t turn this into a media event, nor did they feel the need to let Ken’s sexuality define the character. At his core this human turncoat in the spider-alien organization is an opportunist, only taking sides with Aric once he realizes that this barbarian is going to lay waste to the entire spider-alien organization. It’s easy for a writer to craft stereotypes, but instead of having Ken sachet across the panels humming show tunes, they made him into a real character complete with foibles and other personality traits apart from his sexuality. This was damn brave way back in 1992.
I will admit that Valiant’s art is not to the liking of everyone, especially to those that weaned themselves from their mother’s teat to the sour milk found in the breast of early 90s Image. I liken what Valiant brought to the table to the renderings of Frank and Quitely. Nothing was hyper-stylized, everything felt real. Valiant valiantly portrayed characters’ flaws and wasn’t afraid to show the weathering that Father Time inflicts on all of us.
In addition to chronicling issues 0-6 of the original X-O series, updating the colors and laying out the book on today’s high gloss paper as opposed to the toilet paper of yore, Layton completes this saga with a brand new prequel tale showcasing the rise of the Spider-aliens, leader, Lydia. This is a nice denouement, but it’s also a bit of tease.
I’m thrilled that Valiant is reissuing and enhancing all of their old titles in hardcover. I offer two suggestions, guys: go ahead and skip the deluxe edition of H.A.R.D.corps, but seriously consider a reprint of UNITY. I would also be ecstatic if you could once again resurrect these characters with new ground breaking stories.
In the tarnished crown of early 90s comics, Valiant was the jewel that sparkled with the beacon of promise that comics could still be great.