by Wayne Markley
Many years ago, in the early 1990s, when I still working at Capital City Distribution, one of my favorite publishers was Valiant Comics. We had a very good working relationship with everyone there; from Jim Shooter to Bob Layton to Steve Massarsky (the publisher) to Fred Pierce to the all the various creators we got to meet there (my favorite being Steve Ditko, quite a surprise and honor). For a number of years I thought they were doing the best monthly books out there at the time. They were without question greatly helped by the speculator boom of the time and they did not shy away from doing variant covers and events and anything else to drive sales, but they did it in a very friendly way. This is to say they did not come into CCD and demand this or that; they would work with us to develop plans to sell and market their books. Over time Jim Shooter left the company as did Bob Layton and a number of other people we knew and were friends with. In my opinion, the books lost their tight continuity and the storytelling that they had under Jim Shooter slipped away, and something was lost in the books. Over time, they chugged along with different staff and management and eventually they folded.
Recently (after much planning to be fair), Valiant re-launched under former executive Fred Pierce and a new team of executives and creators. I sort of dismissed this when it was announced as “Gee, here is another attempt to capture past glory.” I am pleased and sort of embarrassed to say I was very, very wrong. So far the new Valiant has published new issues of X-O Manowar, Harbinger, Archer and Armstrong, Bloodshot, and they have more titles to come. I have read all of these new releases so far and I must say each and every one of these books is great. These are not the ‘90s Valiant, outside of the books titles, but the storytelling and art is just as good as it was in the prime of the best period of Valiant. I fear these books are not top ten sellers but they should be, although they are selling out and are getting new printings. I consider any of the new Valiant books as good, if not better, than any of DC’s New 52 (with one or two exceptions). I read each new issue and when I get to the last page I want more, which is the highest recommendation I can give any book.
Let’s look briefly at each of these new titles. Archer and Armstrong was one of my favorite books in the ‘90s under the guidance of Barry Windsor Smith. This new version is by Fred Van Lente and Clayton Henry. The first issue is out so there is not a lot of the story fleshed out so far, but what I read in the first issue was more than enough to draw me back for issues two and beyond. This story is very different from the original book, but it has enough similarities in tone and feels to make me feel like an old friend was back. Maybe more like a cousin of an old friend is a better analogy. It has both the conflict and humor of the original series as well as a certain charm. Since these books are still early in their runs I do not want to get too specific about the storylines in case you want to get these issues and discover the joy yourself.
Bloodshot came towards the later stages of the original Valiant, but with this re-launch, the book came out much sooner. This version features a lead character that comes from out of Project Bloodshot and what is real or not in his world is something that is being explored with each issue. Bloodshot is obviously one very tough character who loves to fight; his reasons for fighting are open to debate. With each issue we find out more about his background and the world he lives in is (which is very brutal), but he is being controlled by forces whose intentions are not yet known. It is written by Duane Swierczynski and the art is by Manuel Garcia. The art is particularly nice and appropriate for the title.
Harbinger is slowly unfolding to reveal a side of the Valiant world which, while not as violent as Bloodshot, is just as complex and compelling. I have read comparisons of this to the X-Men world, as there is a teenager as the lead character with psychic powers and he is sent to a “school” to learn how to use his powers. I can see this in a very general way, but I do not think it is a fair comparison. Again, the story is very early in its development, but so far it has greatly entertained me and made me want to read more. Each issue so far has been excellent. It is written by Joshua Dysart and the art is by Khari Evans. If you are a fan of the best periods of the X-Men, you might want to give this book a try.
Finally we have X-O Manowar. This is a unique book in that the story starts thousands of years in the past with Aric of Dacia, who has to fight for his life until he comes across the sentient X-O Manowar armor. From there the story goes on at a breakneck pace, telling the tale of how Aric and the Manowar suit can and do change history. In upcoming issues they are going to introduce Ninjak as he confronts Aric. I am assuming this will lead into an ongoing Ninjak book down the road. The creative team behind X-O Manowar is writer Robert Venditti and artists Cary Nord and Lee Garbett.
I have no doubt that Valiant will be doing collections of these early stories down the road and when they do, I highly recommend you go out and read them. All four of these books have been a real surprise to me and they are quickly rising to the top of my must read list. The early issues have sold out but there are second printings available if you want to read the floppies. It is really a treat to read books that bring back that old feeling of joy that the original Valiant books brought me back in the ‘90s. It may be almost 20 years later, but these are as good as the original Valiant titles, and as I tell anyone who asks me, if you read and enjoyed these books back in the day, do yourself a favor and try these new books.
The big news of this week, and perhaps the saddest news in a very long time, is the passing of Joe Kubert. Kubert was one of my favorite artists of all time and I have collected everything he ever did that I could find. I met him a number of times and he was always a gentleman and one of the nicest people you could ever meet. One of my favorite moments was talking with him about his early work and how it reminded me a lot of the great Mort Meskin. Joe told me, as if I should have known this (and I felt stupid not knowing this), that he was Meskin’s assistant for a long time when he was first breaking into the business. If you have never read any of Joe Kubert’s work, I beg you to read his Sgt. Rock (in Archive or Showcases) or his Hawkman or his non DC work such as Tex or Yossel. If there is only one Joe Kubert book you are going to read, then I cannot recommend highly enough his Tarzan run. Dark Horse has collected all of his Tarzan work into three beautiful hardcovers and I think it is one of the best comics ever done and without question the best Tarzan comic ever done (with apologies to Burne Hogarth, Russ Manning, Jesse Marsh, and many others). None are as good as Kubert’s. It was – and is – breathtaking.
As always, all the words and opinions here are mine and only mine. They do not reflect the thoughts or opinions of the employees of Westfield Comics. Any comments, thoughts or augments can be sent to MFBWAY@AOL.COM. Now go read some good books!