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Friday, December 12, 2014

Comics Spotlight Review: The Valiant #1

The Valiant #1: A Day Unlike Any Other


In many ways, Matt Kindt's Unity signaled a sea-change in what we could expect from popular new publisher Valiant. After spending more than a year letting the characters breathe in their own books, linked only by small-scale crossovers like Harbinger Wars, Unity was a book that brought together a number of the most powerful, interesting supporting characters from its various books and united them against a common threat: signature Valiant hero X-O Manowar. While the series has continued beyond this basic beginning, it was still a statement of purpose. Valiant was no longer a collection of critically-acclaimed titles sharing a publisher, but a shared universe, one where the actions of one book would have world-shaking reverberations in others.

It was only a matter of time before we got to the Avengers of the Valiant Universe, and The Valiant brings us to that point.

There is always a Geomancer, a priest or priestess in direct communication with the Earth who must speak for it, keep it safe. And so long as there is a Geomancer, there will be the Eternal Warrior, an immortal dedicated to keeping her safe as she grows into her power. But through the ages, there is a force that hunts Geomancers, and when it slays them, it brings about an age of great darkness. Now, with a new Geomancer coming into her powers, the Immortal Enemy has returned, and the Eternal Warrior has to try yet again to prevent Earth from falling into a new Dark Age. To do so, the Eternal Warrior must team up with some of the greatest heroes of the Valiant Universe. If Unity was West Coast Avengers, The Valiant promises the real deal.

For longtime Valiant readers, The Valiant #1 is obviously a must-read comic. But will new readers be quite as drawn-in by this epic team-up from some of the company's biggest characters?

"The world's changed."


It was a day unlike any other.

Except, as The Valiant's prologue illustrates, it wasn't. The Immortal Enemy, a shapeshifting foe gently pushing the world towards chaos down the centuries, has defeated the Eternal Warrior and slain his Geomancer three times over the millennia, no matter how fine the human warriors Gilad has gathered to help keep his charge safe. Valiant's books have always been particularly interested in time, in the sins of the father passing down into the son. It's the backbone of the stories of Archer & Armstrong, The Eternal Warrior, X-O Manowar and more, and it's telling that The Valiant's core cast involves every major time traveler and immortal who has ever had his own book. Here, the sin passed down is Gilad's failure, again and again, and the havoc it has wreaked upon the world.

But, as with so many other Valiant books, the passage of time has changed the world in some fairly fundamental ways, changed the way business must be done. Today, Gilad lives in a world of incredible heroes and unearthly technology, and that changes things. As Armstrong, carefree immortal carouser and lead of Valiant's best title, Archer & Amstrong, tells the Geomancer, the world is different from the one Gilad knows, and part of the tension of The Valiant is whether or not Gilad can adapt to those changes and use them to his benefit, or if he'll be swallowed up in the course of his own history.

Of course, it's a conflict that only begins to shine through in The Valiant #1, a book that has to spend a lot of time setting up its pieces. To my surprise, I found the table-setting to be the most enjoyable aspect of the story. Lemire and Kindt have a great handle on these characters, and while they have an unfortunate tendency to speak in monologue, they're still interesting characters who bounce off each other well and have an interesting friction with the world around them.

The issue's weakest point was its rote action sequence - quick and engaging, but largely weightless - featuring Bloodshot, a character who at first blush, at least, doesn't quite fit in with the rest of the cast. Gilad, Armstrong, Kay, and Aric are all involved in this struggle by issue's end; Bloodshot is not. The other four are all characters with deep ties to the past; Bloodshot is a man without a past. While I can't imagine this thematic break was accidental on the part of writers as talented and careful as Kindt and Lemire, in The Valiant #1, at least, Bloodshot stands as the odd man out.

"An age of great darkness followed..."


If there's anything that'll bring new readers to the series and keep them engaged, it's the art from Paolo Rivera, who makes The Valiant one of the most gorgeous books on the shelves.

Paolo has been working for some time, but he made his name on Mark Waid's groundbreaking Daredevil run, assisting in a redesign for the character that would change the way Marvel's character-focused books would look and feel for years to come. In The Valiant, he brings an earthy charm that manages to ground the book's more fantastical elements. Paired with fantastic creature designs and an eye for action composition, and Rivera makes a strong case for being one of the premiere artists working in Western comics today.

Of particular note is Paolo's design for the book's Big Bad, an ancient, implacable evil known only as the Immortal Enemy. The creature looks different every time we meet him, taking visual cues from legends of the time, but the key design element is the way he can peel back the flesh of his face to reveal the ghastly, grinning visage beneath. It's a large part of what transforms him from a rampaging beast into a careful, thoughtful enemy. Anyone who has been reading comics for more than an hour has seen a hundred ancient conquerors and murderous monsters, but Rivera's design and colors make the Immortal Enemy stand tall in that crowd.

Paolo's color palette is muted, giving the book a lush, earthy realism without descending into a grittiness that wouldn't fit the story being told. Valiant's titles have always been very careful about choosing artists that would fit the material at hand, so bringing in these characters from very disparate genres and very different styles could be a dangerous clash of tones. Rivera's grounding influence is essential to longtime Valiant readers, while also subtly signifying that no matter how big the team gets and how outsized their personalities, this book ultimately belongs to the Eternal Warrior and the Geomancer, the company's two most down-to-earth characters.

The Valiant #1 is a gorgeous book. It's too short, particularly given the length of the series and the scale of the conflict, but by and large, Lemire, Kindt, and Rivera make the most of their space.



The Valiant #1 (of 4) is written by Jeff Lemire and Matt Kindt, with Paolo Rivera and Joe Rivera on art and David Lanphear on letters. Published by Valiant, The Valiant #1 was released on December 10th in comic shops everywhere.
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