Earlier this month, news broke that there’s a new contender in the realm of cinematic superheroes—Valiant Entertainment. There’s a problem with that, though: The superheroes Valiant owns aren’t really household names. That’s a real shame too, because over three short years, Valiant has become one of the most exciting publishers in superhero comics. They may have even built one of the most accessible and new-reader friendly comic book universes since Stan Lee and Jack Kirby cooked up the Marvel Universe in the ’60s.
Part of this is simply time—Valiant as it exists today didn’t start telling stories 75 years ago, but in 2012. The publisher, which was founded in the early 90s, had been more or less defunct since the mid-2000s, a victim of corporate consolidation. With its revival, the reborn Valiant decided to rebuild its superhero universe from square one, with modern sensibilities and an exciting roster of writers and artists. The results have been spectacular.
Okay, you say, that’s great. But there are still too many damn superhero movies coming out. Why get excited for more?
Glad you asked! What has made the comics coming out of Valiant’s revival exciting enough to jump to the top of my read pile is this: they’re only kind of superhero books. On the whole, their characters are ones that look deceptively like things you’re familiar with from elsewhere, but end up being wildly different.
Take their flagship character, X-O Manowar, for example. He’s a guy in a suit of armor that fires lasers and junk. He’s just like Iron Man! Except he’s not a genius billionaire playboy philanthropist, but a Visigoth warrior from the Fifth Century who finds an alien suit of armor and somehow ends up in the present. He’s like Khal Drogo in Iron Man’s armor, who’s kind of a hero, but really just wants to like, raze Romania and bring his ancient kingdom back. (Believe it or not, you really do root for this guy).
Another thing: most Valiant books span a range of genres and styles, from the hilarious buddy comedy of Quantum and Woody (billed as “The world’s worst superhero team”) to the supernatural Death-Defying Doctor Mirage, an occult-tinged love story about grief and moving on.
Then there’s the wild stuff like Archer & Armstrong, which might be one of the best high-concept pairings ever: a teen assassin raised by a fundamentalist Christian cult (in a Biblical theme park!) who teams up with the immortal alcoholic he is sent to assassinate when he discovers the cult who raised him was a front for an evil conspiracy that wants to end the world. (That’s one of the movies we’ll be getting from this deal, by the way. I’m excited.)
One of the biggest problems with getting into super hero comics is that there are just so damn many. Say you come out of Avengers: Age of Ultron and you want to start reading Avengers comics—while I’m sure Marvel will make sure plenty of books are friendly to new readers (like the forthcoming Avengers: Rage of Ultron graphic novel), where does one go from there? You need a guide—either a friend or a personable comic shop employee.
That’s just how things get when a publisher has been telling a number of continuous stories for decades. Things get complicated. But that’s also what makes comics unique as a medium—the combination of bold new ideas with smartly implemented use of their publishing history can do wonderful things for readers that have been diving deep into comics for an extended period of time. Getting into comics, in that sense, is a bit like spelunking. You ask a friend to tether you up, and you dive in. So where do you dive in with Valiant?
As we’ve already illustrated, Valiant doesn’t really sell books with decades of continuity informing their events—just the past three years. The publisher has also been extremely smart about the way that it builds out its universe—with the exception of the occasional team book (like Unity, or the Harbinger books) there really isn’t much of an emphasis placed on how everything is connected. You’ll start to see and appreciate the connections the more you read Valiant books, but the wider universe is an ancillary perk.
That said, there are three ways you can start exploring the new Valiant universe.
From the beginning. This is fun for people who want to see a comic book superhero universe come together in real time—which is a pretty rare treat. Think of it like a TV binge, and start with Valiant’s first four titles: X-O Manowar (which is still running), Harbinger (which is still running, but has changed titles and numbering a few times), Archer & Armstrong (same as Harbinger) and Bloodshot (which ran for two years, and is about to relaunch next month with Bloodshot Reborn). From there, follow what you like, drop what you don’t, and enjoy the ride.
Get ready for those movies. Announced in the press release that accompanied Valiant’s film financing were the first titles to be adapted for the big screen: Bloodshot (which had been previously announced in partnership with Sony), Shadwoman, and Archer & Armstrong. Respectively, they are an unkillable action hero, a voodoo-powered mystic, and the weirdest duo in comics. I’m extremely partial to Archer & Armstrong—we don’t have movies that are anything like Archer & Armstrong.
Be all about the here and now. Valiant kicked off 2015 in a big way with their Valiant Next initiative, a new wave of titles with the express purpose of being a fresh jumping on points. Start with The Valiant, a four-part miniseries by the dream team of Matt Kindt, Jeff Lemire, Paolo Rivera, and Joe Rivera. It’s a taut, creepy story that doubles as a grand tour of the Valiant universe. From there, you’ll be ready to dive right into the rest of the Valiant Next books which include Divinity (a Soviet cosmonaut gets all the powers of God), Ivar, Timewalker (like Doctor Who, but evil), and Imperium (just wait and see).
If Valiant’s big-screen ambitions are as successful as its comics revival has been, we could be in for a real treat. I’d love nothing more than a big-screen Quantum & Woody. Quantum & Woody is great. Oh, and if you want to read that one, go ahead and go back to the 1997 original. It’s totally worth it.