James' Single-Minded for 1/21/15: A Valiant Effort

Ivar, Timewalker #1
Written by Fred Van Lente
Illustrated by Clayton Henry
Colors by Brian Reber
Letters by Dave Sharpe
Valiant Entertainment

Since its reemergence in 2012, Valiant Entertainment has been steadily building up a complex, interconnected universe of heroes, villains, aliens, exotic science and dark magic. Writer Fred Van Lente and artist Clayton Henry are important contributors to that effort, with their work on the series Archer & Armstrong which was funny, action-packed, ridiculous and heartfelt. They bring their same flair for absurd, high concept action and humor to the new series Ivar, Timewalker. If this first issue is any indication, the series should be a light-hearted, witty, trip through time that becomes even more rewarding the more familiar you are with the Valiant universe. 

You don't need to know a great deal about the Valiant universe in order to enjoy this book, but it helps to have a little background. Ivar Anni-Padda is thousands of years old, and the oldest of three brothers. His brother Aram is currently known as Armstrong and is an adventurer of his own and something of a Falstaffian figure in the Valiant universe. Their youngest brother Gilad is known as the Eternal Warrior and was also featured in his own series, showing his adventures and battles throughout time (more about him in the discussion about The Valiant below).  

Ivar, however, is different from both of his brothers. He's a more mysterious figure, and someone about whom the reader still has a lot to learn. In this issue, Ivar shows up at the lab of Doctor Neela Sethi, claiming that she's about to invent time travel, and that he's there to stop her in order to protect the universe. From there the action picks up, as (seemingly evil) people/golden robots show up to capture the doctor, and Ivar helps them escape by jumping into the past and then into the future. Ivar wants to recruit Neela to help him in the battle against future beings that want to use the discovery in her brain in order to take over all of existence.  Will she join him? Tune in next time to find out. 

This is a highly entertaining first issue. Van Lente and Henry strike a good balance here; if you're not a regular reader of Valiant books, they tell a fun story with engaging action and clear stakes. If you are more familiar with the Valiant universe, there are a number of different callbacks to other Valiant heroes and books in the issue that you'll appreciate without finding them to be a distraction. Ivar is an intriguing character, as he clearly comes across as a smooth operator, but someone who you don't feel you can entirely trust. But he certainly talks a good game, and Van Lente and Henry make him a charming, roguish figure. The creative team also gives Neela a strong introduction in this issue. She's highly intelligent, capable, and handles herself with quick thinking and humor in some pretty unusual circumstances. 

Van Lente crafts some genuinely funny, clever dialogue as well, particularly with respect to Neela. The Valiant universe is intended to be a little more like our own than the Marvel or DC universes; in our world, someone thrust into a time travel situation would naturally think first about time travel movies they've seen or books that they've read.  At this point, people are pretty familiar with the basics of time travel in fiction, and stories about people jumping through time to save the past, and preserve the future (there's a clever callback to The Terminator at one point). So, it's a funny ongoing bit that Neela is highly concerned throughout the issue about stepping on a weevil, or bumping into anyone, or creating any universe-altering paradoxes by having a conversation. Van Lente has a real skill for crafting a comic that's genuinely funny and includes pop-cultural humor, but its not done in a way that takes the reader out of the story or makes the reader feel like the characters or the reader are being mocked (a good skill to have). 

Henry and colorist Brian Reber do some very strong work in this issue. Reber provides effective, varied coloring in this issue. The initial pages in the present day have a more realistic feel to them, the past sequences have a bright, vibrant look to them (befitting their outdoor, nautical setting), and the future is made up of a darker, grayer, weirder palate. There's a nice variety of layouts from Henry, and in the quieter scenes the panels easily flow from one to another, with good shifts in perspective. Henry's depiction of action is great, as the panels become more jagged and effectively convey the frenetic pace and confusion that would come from jumping from one time period to another, and particularly jumping right into the middle of a naval battle(!). There's also a great two-page spread of the  characters jumping through a number of different time periods in order to escape their pursuers. It's a really fun sequence, as these different time periods become two-dimensional spaces that the characters must jump through. (Also on this page: A very clever explanation for what happens to commonly missing objects.(

There's a lot to enjoy in this issue, whether you're a veteran Valiant reader or newer to the books. If you're a fan of entertaining action, witty dialogue, and time travel stories (and why wouldn't you be?), Ivar, Timewalker is worth a look. 

The Valiant #2
Written by Jeff Lemire and Matt Kindt
Art by Paolo Rivera with Joe Rivera
(plus a cameo from Lemire and Kindt)
Letters by Dave Lanphear
Valiant Entertainment

The Valiant is a shaping up as a highly entertaining, strong miniseries, and it's clear that Valiant is bringing their A-game to this book. With Matt Kindt and Jeff Lemire co-writing and the majority of the art by Paolo Rivera, this is a book with top level talent. Thus far the book delivers on the promise of that talent, and provides an engaging, epic superhero story.

I hate that there are things that I want to accomplish but for whatever reason, I never get around to it. For example I want to learn to play chess but, I just don't seem to dedicate the time to do it.  Similarly, Gilad Anni-Padda (a/k/a the Eternal Warrior, I told you we'd come back to him) has been trying (and failing) to protect a person known as a Geomancer (a person who periodically emerges and has a mystical connection to the Earth) from being killed by the Immortal Enemy.  Any time that the Immortal Enemy kills a Geomancer, it plunges the world into an era of darkness. So, very similar to my failure to learn how to play chess.

The first issue of The Valiant sets up the thousands of years-old conflict between Gilad, the Geomancer (whoever it happens to be), and the Immortal Enemy, along with showing the efforts of Gilad's allies MI-6 and Bloodshot (a hard-edged soldier/assassin with cybernetic implants that allow him to recover from virtually any injury) to recover an ancient artifact that may hold clues to how to defeat the Immortal Enemy. The first issue also introduces Kay McHenry, a former PR executive and the current Geomancer.

Issue 2 broadens the focus away from just Gilad and onto his allies, including Ninjak (a supremely badass, purple-clad ninja) and Bloodshot. Meanwhile, Kay confronts the Immortal Enemy in a powerful, scary sequence, and both she and her allies (and the reader) realize what a formidable foe he is.  As the second issue ends, it's clear that the story is going to continue to expand and bring in a number of the different heroes from throughout the Valiant universe (and that they're going to need all the help they can get).

Valiant has been successfully telling big, exciting and varied superhero stories for several years now, but this story consciously feels like something more; from the choice of creative team, to the name of the series, to the heavy card stock that they've used for the covers, it's clear that this series is meant to be epic and important.  Both Kindt and Lemire know something about telling stories with large casts involving epic, large-scale confrontations, and they bring that skill here. They have a great partner in Paolo Rivera, who provides some spectacular sequential storytelling, beginning on the first page of the comic (shown above), as Ninjak's assessment of the situation is juxtaposed with his swiftly and silently (but brutally) dispatching the two agents that are protecting the code breaker. While the plot is relatively straightforward, it's engaging, and it leaves the reader looking forward to seeing how this is all going to come together.

There's some even more masterful sequential storytelling as Kay McHenry is confronted by the Immortal Enemy, who takes the form of "Mr. Flay," the (very creepy) villain from a children's story that Kay loved as a kid. Here, Kindt and Lemire take advantage of the fact that they both happen to themselves be accomplished artists, and Lemire illustrated (with colors from Kindt) panels depicting scenes from the children's book. Lemire's sad, deceptively simple lines are a dramatic contrast to Rivera's rich, comprehensively illustrated work, and provide for haunting, unsettling imagery as Kay's childhood nightmare comes to life.

Rivera also gets to show off his range, as when Ninjak approaches the battle, we see the nightmares and fears in his head come to life, and those are depicted in a style more reminiscent of Hokusai or other classical Japanese artists. He also shows his skill in facial acting (as he emotions on all of the characters, particularly the fear on Kay's face) is skillfully done, and his action sequences (as when Ninjak lets loose) are memorable, visceral, and explosively colored.

It's great, compelling work, and the team is doing a very effective job of pulling together
a varied group of heroes in the Valiant universe and giving them all a good reason to be there. Like Ivar, Timewalker, The Valiant works well as an introduction to the Valiant universe, but your reading of it will only be enhanced by seeking out other Valiant titles (which I highly recommend you doing).