Missed Opportunities in The Valiant

The Valiant
Written by Jeff Lemire and Matt Kindt
Drawn by Paolo Rivera
Colored by Joe Rivera
Lettered by Dave Lanphear
Published by Valiant Entertainment

The best way to talk about The Valiant by Jeff Lemire, Matt Kindt, and Paolo Rivera may be in terms of the current crop of blockbuster movies. Simply put, this is The Avengers to all of the Iron Man, Captain America and Thor stories that Valiant has been doing the past couple of years. Lemire, Kindt and Rivera bring together various heroes of the Valiant universe to fight a threat that none of them could handle individually. And it’s even a threat tied into some shared history of a couple of the characters. It’s a classic template that is being followed here as The Valiant tries to makes its heroes and villains into something that tries to be equally classic to the story type.

Lemire and Kindt start the story out with a simple enough concept; there is an immortal enemy that keeps the immortal hero from fulfilling his duties to keep the protector of the Earth alive. Century after century, Gilad fights a monster whose only purpose is to kill the Geomancer. It’s an eternal struggle and it has same ending no matter what century or country the battle takes place in; the Geomancer gets killed. It happened a long time ago and it’s happening now. The current Geomancer, Kay McHenry, is still just trying to figure out what her role as Geomancer is. As she tells Gilad’s brother Armstrong, “... I couldn’t keep a houseplant alive. For real. And now I’m supposed to be the guardian of the earth somehow?” From there, a gathering of Valiant’s heroes Gilad, Bloodshot, Ninjak and Valiant's own who’s who of heroes gathers around Kay to protect her from the eternal enemy.

There’s a lot going on in The Valiant and unfortunately Lemire and Kindt don’t have the space to do everything the story needs. This comic is an ambitious project, linking together so many concepts and characters from a shared universe against a new big bad villain. They give every character their moment, easily defining them by what they do and say. In that way, The Valiant acts as primer for the Valiant universe. Each of the main characters has a strong, basic concept-- the eternal warrior, the modified soldier, the lost protector. Each character has a predefined role to play and they stick to it. Even the secondary and tertiary characters have their assigned roles and duties. It’s like the writers’ marching orders were to keep each of the characters as defined as possible without allowing much growth.

The lack of giving the characters space to operate gives The Valiant a constructed feel. Throughout the book, there’s a roadmap that the creators are sticking to that doesn’t give the story any room to stretch out or find its own way. And thanks to that, it ends up feeling rushed on its inevitable march to its conclusion. It so determinably knows where it is headed that it rushes there headlong without working to define the threat or the stakes of the story. The eternal villain, eventually given the moniker Mr. Flay, is given no reason or purpose for what he does other than he is evil. Kay’s role as Geomancer is so wishy-washy that we have no idea why it matters whether a Geomancer lives or dies. And the ending is such a big cheat that you have to think that a fifth chapter of this book was somehow left out of it, explaining the pulled out of thin air twist to the ending. A few more panels or pages given to any of these story elements would have made The Valiant a story worth caring about.

Paolo Rivera may be the best thing about this comic but he may not have been the best choice of artist for it. Rivera is a thoroughly modern artist but he has such classic superhero sensibilities. His clean and smooth artwork really recalls the timeless line and storytelling of John Romita Sr. Like Romita Sr., Rivera has an assured and controlled flow to his artwork. Rivera’s restrained classicism gives the story a timeless feel because his drawings are so simple. Compared to a lot of modern artists, his relative minimalism focuses you more on the storytelling than on any grandstanding by the artist.

That quiet reserve in Rivera’s artwork keeps the attention on the characters but when Rivera is asked to draw big, action packed scenes, the book remains as quiet and subdued as it does when two characters are just talking. Neither the art or the story can be as big as they need and want to be. None of Lemire, Kindt or Rivera are ever able to let loose in this story and make the threats be anything threatening or the action be anything thrilling. The Valiant never makes you believe in the evil or the solution to that evil. Rivera’s design for the eternal enemy is fantastic but there is no reason that we scared by this threat other than the creators say we should be. There’s no reason we should buy into any of the relationships or buy into the stories’ ultimate resolution other than we hit the end of the story and have to accept that this is the way that the story ends.

The Valiant wants to be the comic book equivalent of a superhero movie (and how weird of a statement is that to type) and maybe it succeeds in being as unsatisfying as most superhero movies are. The comic fails to truly challenge its characters. They act and react more like the stereotypical roles out of some third-rate horror movie rather than as heroes and warriors. The thin writing is disappointing because nothing in the comic happens for any real reasons. And because there are no reasons, there are no consequences to the actions of the Eternal Warrior, the Geomancer or Mr. Flay.