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Friday, August 2, 2013

On Valiant

Late night write-up, aw yiss.

Technically, the issue I'm looking at tonight didn't come out this week, but a few weeks back. I only just decided to find it and give it a go, but since it is the first issue it still works.

Tonight I look at Valiant Entertainment's Quantum and Woody, written by James Asmus and penciled by Tom Fowler. But first, a bit about Valiant. Valiant was a comics publisher in the 90's and had a nice corner of the comics market besides the big two publishers. They fell off the map once the 00's came around with some of their characters bought up by Acclaim (such as Turok: Dinosaur Hunter which turned into a pretty rad N64 game, but other properties weren't so lucky). But now they are back, with most of their characters getting a reboot. They started off their relaunch with "The Summer of Valiant 2012", where each month or so they released a new #1 issue for a handful of new ongoing series with their 90's characters. These were Harbinger, Bloodshot, X-O Manowar, and Shadowman (in no particular order), and each is written by some of the industry's top talent (such as Duane Swierczynski on Bloodshot) and each has received nearly universal praise. 

Having read the first trades (each with 4-5 issues) for the four mentioned titles, I can attest to this. Each book delivers a solid hook to get people interested, as I mentioned Shadowman and X-O Manowar in previous posts. Bloodshot gives us the story of a government-controlled super soldier who begins thinking for himself and is faced with an identity crisis while messily gunning down the different players who want to control him. Think Punisher meets Captain America meets Jason Bourne, but with nanites in his blood that give him super powers and limited shape shifting. Harbinger is the sort of teenage drama you'd get from the good X-Men books, but psiots use their mental abilities to shape their reality, and instead of the mostly good guy Charles Xavier the guy gathering them is kind of an asshole (along with basically everyone else).

But on to Quantum and Woody. This is the story of Eric Henderson and his adopted brother Woody (billed as "The World's Worst Superheroes" from the get go). They were very close as kids and got into many shenanigans, as is illustrated in this first issue. But fast forward to the present day and they ain't exactly that close anymore, with Eric being ex-military and Woody being a wandering grifter and heavily-implied conman. They are once again brought together with the information that their father has passed away. But early on in the issue we are shown the elder Mr. Henderson and is it quite clear his death was no accident. It becomes clear to Eric and Woody as well, as they decide to, individually, take this into their own hands, but meet up yet again with each other.

The issue ends with them breaking into their late father's place of work, a hush-hush-looking research lab. Bumbling and bickering, they accidentally activate one of the experimental machines, with both of them waking up naked (except for mysterious golden wristbands) in a pile of rubble with the city's police department arresting them.

This is how you grab someone with the first issue. Asmus' clever writing and witty banter make this duo shine from the beginning while Fowler's characters have the slight cartoonishness that keeps this from being too serious-looking. If not from the cover illustration alone, I got a good Booster Gold and Blue Beetle vibe from these two. The first page gives us a preview of what to expect from these two while the rest of the issue is a flashback to how they got there. This looks to provide a more light-hearted story than the other Valiant titles.

Valiant seems to be playing all their cards right with this reboot. It seems like each of their books are a hit with readers, which is actually a better success rate than DC or Marvel. DC's New52 reboot was largely, in my opinion, a failure. They managed to condense some titles down and reboot a large amount of their continuity but they are falling into exactly the kind of thing they were doing before it. There are a lot of rushed crossovers and bad writing decisions by editorial that prevent a lot of their better writers from getting the stories that they want to write done. Granted, where DC succeeds they succeed well, such as Animal Man, Batman, among others. But when HALF of their titles they launched two years ago are cancelled and they pump out other titles to keep them at 52 books the quality is very low. Marvel on the other hand didn't reboot their books but instead launched a bunch of #1s under the "Marvel NOW!" banner, which basically started a new era in the Marvel universe after the "Avengers vs. X-Men" event. They released new #1s at the pace of a few each month instead of DC doing all 52 new titles in one month. This gave readers a slower transition and, I think, had a much higher rate of success. Most Marvel NOW! books have gotten praise from critics, with a few duds like Thunderbolts here and there. So they had a better plan of attack, but to be fair, DC did a COMPLETE reboot of continuity whereas Marvel just relaunched their characters in a new status quo. 

But Valiant, although on a much smaller scale, has shown how to do a reboot right. One new book each month, each #1 setting up an old 90's character in a totally new light for new readers with top talent, each title receiving large amounts of praise. I have never read any of Valiant's old stuff. Ever. But with the few issues of the reboot I have read I feel like I've know these characters for as long as I've been reading comics. Maybe I'll pick up some of their older stories and compare their new versions to the old.

Good night/good early early morning everyone.

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