December 10, 2014

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Valiant's "The Valiant" Is a Gorgeous, New Reader Friendly Superhero Book

Written by Jeff Lemire and Matt Kindt
Line Art by Paolo Rivera and Joe Rivera
Color Art by Dave Lanphear
Published by Valiant Comics

When you're immortal, you get all the time in the world to ponder your mistakes. The Eternal Warrior is tasked with protecting the Geomancer, who is the voice of the Earth. But he also has to watch them die, over and over, at the hands of an Immortal Enemy, who pushes humanity head-long into dark ages, again and again. This time, though, the Warrior is recruiting help to stop his long-time foe once and for all. It's a tough task, even for...The Valiant.

I mentioned in my 2014 Gift Guide that Valiant is a great company for folks who love shared universes. This is a perfect example of that. Lemire and Kindt pick and choose from among the large--but not overwhelming--group of heroes to play with in a limited series that doesn't cross over to the entire line. You can read this, and that's it, if you like. Or you can read this and the books they come from. It's using your world smartly, and allows me to say, "Hey go read this, it's gorgeous" without a caveat of, "Well, you also need to read..."

I can't believe that Matt Kindt is becoming a major architect of a superhero universe. He's very involved in Valiant's line right now, and with Lemire on board, too, this makes this arguably the most indie-friendly superhero super-team book ever written. It's really well done, too--I love the idea of a force that tries to drag humanity down, and the time points that the pair pick (like having the Enemy manifest as Grendel) and being sure to include other, non-Western cultures, is exactly the type of little touches that take a series from being "interesting" to "awesome." 

After setting up the premise, we move to looking at the heroes who will be involved. Without dragging things down, the pair again shine, giving us a bit of insight into Armstrong, Bloodshot (don't blame them, it's a 1990s name, ok?), and the current Geomancer, a woman who used to do PR for some of the worst companies imaginable and is making up for lost time. They aren't all together yet, but you can see the plot wheels turning, and it's also a nice blend of action and discussion, paced nicely by the plot structure and the unbelievable art of the Riveras. By the time we see that the Eternal Warrior must once again face his greatest foe, most readers should be engaged enough in the story to be looking for the next issue, regardless of how many Valiant books they've already read.


As much as I enjoyed the plot here, it's the art that just blows this one out of the water. Paolo Rivera, inked by his father Joe is simply amazing here. Every time the Immortal Evil shows up, it's a creepy, looming beast, even when it takes a familiar form from mythology. The creature looks like it wants to bust out of the page and attack the reader, especially when cramped into a smaller panel, which cannot contain its essence. Its facial appearance has a consistent theme through the incarnations, and the way Paolo depicts this transformation is stellar, leaving you with an image you'll still see in your mind even after closing the comic.


It's simply amazing just how many different things Rivera is good at as an illustrator, especially with his father finishing his line work. The action scenes range from medieval combat to mechanized robot suits with skill-claws, bows and arrows to bullets, and Rivera makes each scene look better than the one that came before it. His sequence with Bloodshot, which includes an incredible two-page spread, is something you could study over and over for the details. The suits are big and bulky, showing how their unwieldy nature can be used against them. Bloodshot is getting hit by bullets but you can tell it doesn't effect him, giving any new reader a clue to the fact that he's got a type of healing factor. The bullets themselves are represented by streaks across the scene, and the bottom of the page features a nice running sound effect to give it framing. It's outstanding work, and I didn't even mention how the blades of jungle grass are individualized! (Okay, now I did.)


The action scenes are a lot of fun, it' true, but that doesn't mean Paolo skips on the characterization. His people feel extremely human, wincing, grunting, crying, and all those things you might expect when there's death and danger all around. He can portray Armstrong as a drunken, rude oaf, then switch immediately to Bloodshot's stern expression. The sequence where the new Geomancer unloads her issues to the reader in a series of head-shot panels is kept interesting by the fact that she never looks the same in any of them. Like a real human being, she shifts in her chair, runs fingers through her hair, and gestures at the reader.

I know I say this a lot, but those are the little things that take a comic and put it at the next level. When you combine them with strong storytelling in the plot and dialogue, and you get a book I'd recommend to anyone, even someone who's not a superhero fan. If you can get past that initial bias that many (justifiably) have about superhero books, and just take a moment to look at what's being done here in terms of the writing and the art, I think this is something any reader who likes adventure will enjoy.

There's so many things I could discuss here, but this is already a lot to say on just a single issue of a comic book. But it's so very rare that you see something like this. The Valiant is an event comic that anyone can pick up and read, being that rare combination which satisfies someone who's been reading Valiant's new books from the start and has the openness for a newbie who just grabbed this off the shelves. Whether you've been reading Fred Van Lente's take for 25 issues or think that Armstrong is that disgraced cyclist, and especially if you worry about anything called a "Bloodshot," this is the book for you, and is my personal pick of the week among a lot of great comics.

In short, give The Valiant a try, even if you normally wouldn't. The results might give you a new appreciation for superhero comics. It's sure reaffirmed for me why Valiant is one of my favorite publishers.