(w) Matt Kindt, Jeff Lemire (a) Paolo Rivera
Valiant Comics is a publisher that carries a lot of fanfare or a lot of ire, depending on when you became aware of the publisher. But for those that began following them since their relaunch in 2012, it has been a mostly enjoyable experience with very few hiccups. But while most of Valiant’s early titles were consistently good, none of them truly seemed to catch the attention of those outside the publisher’s core readership. That is, until The Valiant. With immense talent behind it, this four-issue miniseries felt like a true event. Matt Kindt’s Mind MGMT was a critical darling with a cult following, and Jeff Lemire was a rising star thanks to Sweet Tooth and Animal Man. Artist Paolo Rivera was a hot commodity thanks to his acclaimed work on Daredevil. With these three on board, The Valiant felt special. And upon looking back on it, it still is.
What makes The Valiant stand apart from the publisher’s other events at the time is its emphasis on being a stand-alone entry in the universe’s canon. Valiant had other events and crossovers during its revival, such as Harbinger Wars and Armor Hunters, but those committed the sin of having tie-ins to other ongoing titles. If readers haven’t been picking up Harbinger and Bloodshot, or X-O Manowar and Unity, you were missing out on the whole story. That has long been a problem as publishers have claimed to want to invite new readers in, only to maximize their profits by exploiting current readers’ desire to read. As an upstart publisher, it may have not been the best decision to adopt one of the most reviled practices of the Big Two. The Valiant remedied that. As a four-issue miniseries, it was completely self-contained. More importantly, it successfully accomplished what events set out to do: invite in new readers while being a catalyst for real change in the fictional universe. Most importantly, it’s very well-written and beautifully illustrated.
At its core, The Valiant centers on three characters: Bloodshot, Eternal Warrior, and Kay McHenry. While several of the publisher’s other characters get notable appearances, the decision to keep the focus this narrow proves to be a wise decision. This trio of characters provide the backbone for a story that would usher in the next phase of Valiant’s publishing line. While each of these three have their distinct parts to play, they all provide an emotional tether for readers to grasp on to.
The conflict that drives The Valiant is rooted in centuries of conflict between the Eternal Warrior and a foe referred to as the Immortal Enemy. Kindt and Lemire script this out the history of their centuries-long battle in a manner that gives readers the context necessary for the rest of the event. The Eternal Warrior, Gilad, has been charged with the mission of defending the Geomancer, who is in a way the Earth’s spirit incarnate. The Immortal Enemy’s purpose is to kill the Geomancer. And so time and again, these two come into conflict, with Gilad failing each time. The generations of defeat weigh heavily on Gilad, who is now protecting the current Geomancer, the aforementioned Kay.
While Kay was previously introduced in the pages of Archer & Armstrong, the writers do just as good a job letting readers know who she is and her personality without retreading well-worn ground. The idea of having the Immortal Enemy take on the form of its foes’ great fears is not the most wholly original idea, but it is effective nonetheless. In her case, the Immortal Enemy takes the form of Mr. Flay, a character from a childhood bedtime story that she still finds terrifying well into adulthood. Thematically, this storytelling technique proves effective by tapping into emotions and primal responses that are universally relatable.
Kay’s childhood memory includes a white knight that would protect the princess from Mr. Flay. While his historical role would make readers think of Gilad, it is actually the nanite infused Bloodshot that takes on that mantle, staying by Kay’s side for virtually the entire series. While the character’s pale visage fitting from a visual perspective, his role in the story allows him to undergo changes that would play a role in the subsequently released Bloodshot Reborn, written by Lemire.
As a character, Bloodshot shares a lot with another violent superhero with a hazy recollection of his past: Wolverine. Like Marvel’s short and hairy mutant, Bloodshot has a “healing factor” thanks to nanites in his bloodstream that can regenerate his wounds, no matter how extensive. Furthermore, he has a militaristic past and he doesn’t play well with others… which is where the comparisons end. Bloodshot continues to work for government agencies, hoping to have joined the “good guys” to atone for his past. That desire to do good leads him to Kay, and the two forge a bond that will last well past The Valiant.
As the series progresses, the theme of facing one’s fears becomes more and more prevalent. She spends much of the series running from Mr. Flay. Kay is understandably scared, but as the series progresses she becomes more and more introspective and reflective of the situation. It leads to a heroic last stand by Kay that is fully earned. The series’ finale is emotionally resonant thanks to the relationship she has forged with Bloodshot. While that relationship does continue beyond this series, the finale is executed in such a manner that tugs at readers’ hearts.
While Kindt and Lemire do a great job in fleshing out the core trio of characters, Paolo Rivera’s art is what fully fleshes out this world and gives other characters a chance to shine. One of the few characters that gets more than a cameo appearance is Ninjak. Rivera does a masterful job in showcasing his abilities as an awesome superspy in ninja garb. In a few short sequences, Rivera shows off what Ninjak is all about through fluid movements and confident body language. Even though he’s masked, Rivera is able to give him some visual expressiveness through his eyes. Some extended time is also spent with Armstrong, Gilad’s sloven older brother (also immortal). Once again, Rivera gives readers everything they need to know about his character through movement and expressiveness.
Though Rivera primarily excels in these character-building moments, he is unafraid to cut loose when the book calls for it. There is of course the big money shot of all of the Valiant Universe’s heroes charging into battle against the immortal enemy. It’s a gorgeous piece that does a pretty great job at playing to each character’s strengths. There are the flashbacks to Gilad’s previous failures, which form a visceral and captivating origin for the character’s distinct facial scars. And then there’s the grotesque imagery of the Immortal Enemy itself. Regardless of the form it takes, there is a sinister aura that is uncomfortable to look at – and that’s before its face splits open to reveal the horrors beneath.
The Valiant is event comics at its best. It is a showcase for an entire universe without being overwhelming thanks to a tight, focused narrative. Kindt, Lemire, and Rivera’s efforts result in a rewarding experience that brings fundamental change to Valiant’s publishing line. There is no need for a PhD in continuity required, just a willingness to go along for a ride. With a combination of bombastic action and an emotionally resonant narrative, The Valiant is the type of story that other publishers should take their cues from.