Written by: Joshua Dysart
Lettered by: Rob Steen
Colored by: Ian Hanin
Written by: Fred Van Lente
Illustrated by: Clayton Henry
Lettered by: Dave Lanpheer
Colored by: Matt Milla
Written by: Duane Swiercyznski
Lettered by: Rob Steen
Colored by: Ian Hanin and Moose Bauman
I’ll admit it…when the first wave of Valiant comic books started appearing in the early 1990’s I wasn’t into them at all. There was enough comic product out there already vying for my attention and despite the good word of mouth that the Valiant books got I was too busy mired in the Image revolution and swimming through tides of “X-books” to notice them. I’d kept hearing how solid the stories were in the Valiant books but there was something a bit old fashioned about the art style that kept me from getting fully absorbed in their line of comics. Yes, it’s true, I was all about the artwork back then but to be really honest my tastes weren’t fully developed so it was easy for the latest Image crosshatching artist to grab my attention with several well placed ink lines. So Harbinger, Archer and Armstrong, Magnus Robot Fighter, etc. never really got added to my collection when I was younger. I did pick up a trade of Harbinger back in the day and found it to be interesting but it didn’t captivate my attention enough for me to become a full-fledged fan. I was a bit of a style over substance comic fan in my youth and maybe that’s a big reason why Valiant never sucked me in.
So when the internet exploded last year with the news that Valiant Entertainment was going to be making a big comeback I responded with a big, “Meh.” I had no nostalgic love for the company or their characters. If anything Valiant and its universe were always just a curiosity that I never really felt like exploring. By last year it had been more than a decade since Valiant had produced anything and in all honesty I’d pretty much forgotten about them. I’d also pretty much given up on weekly books or pull lists last year so the idea of a “new” line of comics for me to track down and collect wasn’t really an appealing prospect to me.
However, when the Valiant books did begin to show up on the shelves in mid-2012 they were all pretty much greeted with universal critical acclaim. Just about every comic book review outlet agreed that the return of Valiant was a triumphant success. I personally chalked this up to a bit of nostalgia on the reviewers’ parts. Almost every review I read had the writer espousing about the good ol’ days of Valiant Comics and how great it was to see new takes on old concepts. Being the cynic that I am I also saw the mass of positive reviews as a bit of bandwagon climbing. In my opinion, the comic press, much like the rest of the media, tends to get a little slobbery over the shiny new thing coming over the horizon. Despite all of those feelings I did decide to possibly check out some of these new Valiant titles once they were collected in trade. The surge of positivity toward the books Valiant was producing plus the fact that the preview artwork for their comics was really some impressive looking stuff piqued my curiosity. What can I say? While I do believe that my taste in comic books has evolved over the years I still am, after all this time, a sucker for some pretty artwork. Who isn’t?
While I was planning my trip to Wondercon a couple a weeks ago I decided that if I could find some of the Valiant trade paperbacks somewhere I would take a risk and actually pick some of them up. I was able to find the Valiant booth quite easily and before I left the con for the day I managed to stop off and check out some of their stuff. I decided that I’d just grab a couple of them and go with my gut as far as what I would decide to buy. I actually ended up picking up three of the four trades that they had in stock. I would have bought all four but I kind of felt I was already pressing my luck by purchasing three books of three different series that I was going into blindly. The three collections I picked up were Harbinger, Archer and Armstrong, and Bloodshot. Initially I was going to pick up just the first two but when I leafed through the Bloodshot trade I was hooked from my first glance at the artwork. So I grabbed my three trades and headed off not knowing what to really expect from what I’d just bought. Sometimes in comics, much like in life, you have to take a bit of a risk and that’s just what I’d decided to do with Valiant.
So while I realize that much has been written about these three titles in other media outlets I figured I’d just take the time to jot my impressions down about these comics from Valiant. I found them mostly to be very remarkable and I felt that if a comic company could impress me as much as Valiant did with this crop of books I might as well take the time to write a bit about them. I’ll get started with…
This was the first of the three books I read. I’m going to say this right off the bat…when I read this book it made me think, “uh-oh.” When I read this first collection of Harbinger I began to feel that my suspicions about the hype surrounding their books was correct. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s not. It’s just that it’s just so typical of everything out there in the comic book universe right now. Part of what I was expecting from Valiant Entertainment was a bit of originality and Harbinger really didn’t have that. There was nothing really all that new to it. It was another tale of a teen with superpowers on the run from bad government/corporate forces who seek to manipulate his powers for their own ends. Obviously there is a bit more to it than that. Harbinger isn’t necessarily that basic in its execution but it did come off to me as a bit of an X-Men knockoff. A vagabond teen who lacks focus and is cursed by his powers gets taken into a school that will teach him how to use his abilities…etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. It all seemed a bit, “Been there, done that,” to me. While the implementation of the story is not quite as cardboard cutout as I’m making it sound, it just wasn’t different enough to make that much of an impression on me. From everything I’d read on the web these new Valiant books were something akin to the second coming of Marvel comics. Reading the opening pages of this book I started to feel as though Valiant might have been the second coming of early Image Comics. This was mostly because Image was basically copying Marvel’s formula when they initially launched their line of books. Joshua Dysart actually does an outstanding job of fleshing out the world of Harbinger but, again, the concept itself was just a bit too similar to too many things that had come before it. That’s not completely Dysart’s fault. After all, while he did “revamp” the Harbinger concept for a new generation, he was hamstrung from the start with its core premise: that of superpowered adolescents on the run. Harbinger’s greatest saving grace was the skill of its artist Khari Evans. Evans’s artwork along with Ian Hannin’s colors really makes this comic one of the more beautifully illustrated books in the comics market today. If anything Harbinger is great to look at and it’s an interesting enough read that I’ll probably be picking up the next collection whenever it comes out.
Archer and Armstrong
Now this, this is the book that restored my faith in my fellow internet reviewers. As much as I was initially, “Meh, “about Harbinger I was completely wowed by Archer and Armstrong. From the opening chapter of this trade collection I was in love with this book. It’s smart, it’s action packed, and, best of all, it’s funny. It’s action hero satire at its finest. It captures the spirit of every great buddy cop movie you ever adored in your youth, wraps it up in a bow, and presents it in one fantastically charming comic book package. Archer and Armstrong was a pure joy for me to read as it has a freshness to it that I haven’t seen in a comic book in a long time. When I finished this book I got what all the hype around Valiant was about. As far as I was concerned, all of Valiant’s other books could have sucked to high heaven. Just the fact that Valiant put out a comic series like this would have garnered them a ton of respect from me. I don’t want to go into plot details in this review but I will say that writer Fred Van Lente crafted a story that just took me on a ride that I wasn’t expecting to take. The closest thing I can compare reading Archer and Armstrong to was the first time I saw the film La Femme Nikita. When I went in to see that movie I had no idea what I was going to see. When I came out I was a changed man. I saw what action movies could be. After I read Archer and Armstrong I felt very close to how I felt when I came out of that screening of Nikita. Like I’d seen something new and exciting and that anything that came after it would have a lot to live up to. Yes, my friends, Archer and Armstrong is that good. It sets a new standard and raises the bar a bit higher.
Artist Clayton Henry is a master comic storyteller as far as I’m concerned. His work is absolutely terrific in this book. His style and storytelling ability uplift what is already an impressive script. Henry seems to be one of a rare breed of comic artists that just seems to be able to capture the tension of a fight scene and make it work for the page. There is a flexibility to his poses and his panel work that just impressed me beyond belief. With just about every page I would just become absorbed with his illustrative style. If Clayton Henry isn’t a comic superstar already he will be soon. This guy is the real deal and his work along with Fred Van Lente’s writing have made Archer and Armstrong an absolute must buy purchase for me from now on.
Bloodshot was a real pleasant surprise. After the high bar that had been set by Archer and Armstrong I was fully expecting to be let down a bit by the last of my Valiant picks. While I can’t say that I found Bloodshot to be as pleasing to me as Archer and Armstrong, I will say that I still found the book to be entertaining as hell. But to compare this book to A and A is a bit unfair because it’s a bit like comparing apples to oranges as the concepts behind both comics are completely different. To tell the truth, I wasn’t expecting to like Bloodshot as much as I did. I thought the artwork in the book was absolutely stunning when I leafed through the pages to see if I should by it. Upon first glance, though, Bloodshot looked like a bit of a Punisher knockoff to me. Boy, could I have not been more wrong about a comic.
Take the movie Universal Soldier (or the core concept behind Captain America) and mix it in with a bit of John Carpenter’s The Thing and add a dash of The Manchurian Candidate and you’ve got the central concepts behind the stew that makes up Bloodshot. Sound good? It should sound good and that’s because it is. Much like in my preceding entry for Archer and Armstrong, I’d rather not give away too much of the story here. I will say that writer Duane Swiercyznski has crafted probably one of the best military thrillers ever to grace the pages of a comic book. Bloodshot is filled with action, tension, and intrigue. It grabbed me from its opening pages and did not let me go. It’s a really original take on the super soldier genre that refuses to let up on the tension it establishes from the beginning of the comic. It’s a book that moves at a breakneck pace and out of the three Valiant books that I read I have to say that I think it’s probably the property that’s most ready for a big screen Hollywood adaptation. Widescreen comics was a term that came into common use when The Ultimates made their debut several years ago. It was used to describe comic books that gave you the feeling of watching a movie on the big screen…of watching a big budget, over the top, Steven Spielberg production. Well Bloodshot is widescreen comics at their best. It’s a series that seems ready to leap off the page and onto the screen of the local cinema. Although I hope I’m not insulting the creators behind Bloodshot as it’s a much better piece of work than anything Hollywood’s putting out these days.
Artists Manuel Garcia and Arturo Lozzi do a great job with the art chores on this book. I will say this about Valiant: they seem to be able to find artists that are perfectly suited to the books that they are working on. Garcia and Lozzi’s styles are a perfect fit for this book. They have a very strong technique and are incredibly well suited for the type of action piece that Bloodshot is. At the same time, they’re also able to build tension with their storytelling abilities. Bloodshot is an incredibly compelling piece of comic work because the Garcia and Lozzi art team has a strength to it that carries the tale through its many powerful paces. Both are incredibly skilled artists and it’s their work that makes Bloodshot fulfill its promise.
In the end, I do have to say that I’m more than impressed with these first three Valiant trades that I’ve read. I’ve put all three on my “must buy” list and I’m very curious to see how this Valiant Universe develops. I know that I’ll be picking up X-O Manowar as soon as I get the chance and from what I understand a Shadowman trade is due to be released soon as well. If the quality of those books is as good as these three then Valiant may have made a full time fanboy out of this Part-Time Fanboy.