Several months ago, I managed to get my hands on a few hundred comics that I hadn’t read before, including a near complete set of Valiant comics titles. I read the first era of Valiant and just wanted to jot a few thoughts down.
The first era of Valiant ran from 1989 to 1996, started by Jim Shooter (of Marvel infamy) and Bob Layton these comics were published until 1996, two years after the company was bought out by Acclaim.
Valiant was a very different animal to the comic universes of the big two (DC and the Marvel). The first difference is that the head of the company was very used to working in a shared comic book universe and as a result Valiant had a cohesive and integrated continuity from day one, rather than cobbling it all together years later, which had been the method before then. Jim Shooter had learned the lessons from his time at Marvel and used the that model of a shared universe from the beginning of Valiant’s existence until it all ended. The second big difference was while there were code names and origin stories to an extent, the comics worked more as sci fi stories with super hero trappings. The bright costumes and secret identities were less of a thing than the adventures themselves. Another, vital difference was that it pretty much done in real time, months passed in regular time rather than the elastic retcon heavy time that the big two used.
Magnus Robot Fighter
Magnus was a retelling of a Gold Key series from 1963, about a man raised by a robot called 1A to defend humans against other robots, who had free will, much like 1A did. It was started off by Jim Shooter and Bob Layton with Art Nichols, but David Lapham, Roger Stern, Steve Ditko, John Ostrander and others all chipped in at one time or another. It was set in the 41st Century and followed the adventures of Magnus as he faced threats from humans, robots and aliens. He was sometimes loved, other times hated and distrusted. While not an original idea, so much done with it was interesting. This was less a super hero yarn and more something like Babylon 5, with an almost mythical long-form story going from 4001 to 4020. While not the title I enjoyed most, this was an interesting look at the future.
It also had two spin off titles, with Rai and the Future Force and Psi-Lords both spinning off from Magnus stories.
Solar: Man of the Atom
This was one of the break out series and one of the most interesting and thought provoking. Like Magnus, this was a reworking of a Gold Key comic, this time 1962’s Doctor Solar. This was a story about Phil Seleski, who was a physicist working on a reactor in Oklahoma. There was a silver age style accident, leaving Phil with the power to manipulate matter and energy. This wasn’t a silver age story and things went on from there, Phil became more and more powerful, disassociating with humanity at large and then something went wrong, destroying the world he lived on. He moved to a parallel world and merged with that universe’s Phil Seleski and tried to put things right, even falling in love with a colleague called Gayle, twice. This story was written by Jim Shooter with art from Dave Lapham and Barry Windsor-Smith. Although this series did have a costume and a secret identity thing in it, it was more about the psychology of someone who didn’t feel like a human being anymore, but still wanted to be in the world.
This was another one by Shooter and Lapham and is at once both the most like a Marvel Comic and yet the least at the same time. The series followed the idea of harbingers, which were the Valiant’s mutants, but not because we don’t want any legal issues. Born with super abilities, these harbingers were sought out and recruited by a Toyo Harada, head of the Harbinger Foundation who wanted to use them to expand his own power base, from taking charge of the world, to spreading his empire beyond it. It’s very much a ‘what if they X-Men were part of a corporate plot to take over the world’ sort of thing. Harada was ruthless and amoral and simply removed anyone who didn’t follow his plans. The story started out about a small group of renegades and then shifted to being about one of those renegades joining the Harbinger group before finally starting a resistance against them. Characters were routinely killed off, the book changed focus and direction often, feeling more like a tv series moving forward and less like a comic needing a status-quo.
This was a wonderfully bizarre concept. Jim Shooter and Barry Windsor-Smith brought us the story of Aric of Dacia, a 5th Century Visigoth (yeah the guys that sacked Rome) who was abdjucted by Spider-Aliens and held in suspended animation for 1500 or so years before escaping and stealing their X-O Manowar armour. Aric escaped into modern day Earth and slew the aliens, who controlled a massive multi-national called Orb. Aric, using the armour he referred to as the Good Skin, slew the aliens and with the help of a modern day person called Ken, took over the company. That’s right, a Visigoth was brought from Earth’s past, clad in an alien suit of armour, who then becomes the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. But this series was consistently good. Watching Aric adjust to modern life and try to apply his old world solutions to problems with varying degrees of success was fun. I enjoyed the hell out of this series.
This was the only straight up super hero title as far as I could see. Jack Boniface was a Saxophone player in New Orleans, who was bitten by a Vampire, but instead of dying, or changing into a vampire, through Voodoo and something called the Darque power and ends up with enhanced strength and agility at night. Sounds fairly standard I know, but as time went on Jack grew more unstable and the divide between him and him as Shadowman became far greater than just a masked identity. Dark, but at times quite compelling.
Eternal Warrior/Archer & Armstrong
While these are two separate titles, there are linked by way of family. Eternal Warrior is the story of Gilad Anni-Paddi, a warrior who was walking around before recorded history. Strong, resilient and damn near unkillable. He and his younger brother Aram are the last survivors of their tribe. Gilad was a born warrior and fell in with in with the mystic guardians of the Earth, known as Geomancers, they have guided him since. Aram was less war inclined and spent his time doing….. pretty much whatever he felt like. A lover of women, food, music and art, his story shown in Archer and Armstrong, which was the story of Aram becoming the accidental mentor to a young spiritualist, who was seeking the meaning to his life, leading to a sort of buddy cop/road trip with misadventure after misadventure. Eternal Warrior was the dark and Archer and Armstrong was the light. Both were a lot of fun.
Rai & the Future Force
While this can be considered a spin off from Magnus: Robot Fighter, it was very much had it’s own quirky identity. Rai was the national super hero for the techno-utopia of Japan. Chosen, moulded and trained by Japan’s ruling AI Grandmother, Rai was able to channel energy into strength and semi solid weapons and fought to stabilise an over populated Japan. Another Rai showed up later on after the one from issue 1 died and he was different, not connected to Grandmother in any way, he developed his powers from the blood of heroes, which allowed him similar powers and also the ability to control machinery. This blood of heroes leads us to the last of these core titles.
Bloodshot was the story of a mob hitman, who was betrayed and sold to a japanese corporation who used him as a test subject for something called Rising Spirit, which was supposed to enhance human beings. The only problem is that this very quickly killed all the test subjects within a few days, all except this mobster. He was a harbinger and his innate control of technology allowed him to survive the process, all he lost was his memory. With no clue who was is and his body white as ivory, save for a large red dot on his chest, he was awoken and freed by a Geomancer to find himself looking very much like Rai, only 2,000 years before Rai. Able to control his bodily functions, enhancing his abilities and accelerating his healing and also able to interface with machines, Bloodshot escaped and sought revenge, eventually coming to work for a side division of British Intelligence. This was a 90’s action series with an interesting and fun character in the lead.
There were other titles, but these were the ones that started the whole thing off and the other titles acted as spin offs and off shoots from them. Each title had their own identity, but all were inexorably linked to one or other seperate title and there were often guest star issues, cross-overs and one or two cross over events. There was a sense that in the last two years or so, the wheels were coming off a bit, but to be honest, there was a lot of good stuff in there and it all sort of fit together.
The Spider-Aliens from X-O Manowar showed up in lots of different places, from ancient lands seen by Eternal Warrior, to 41st Century Earth, where they faced Rai and Magnus. The MI6 contact used by Eternal Warrior, also helped Ninjak and Bloodshot. The Eternal Warrior and Geomancers showed up in the 41st Century as did Armstrong and Magnus himself was the son of one of the kids from Harbinger. Bloodshot’s blood was the legendary blood of heroes and ended up being the source of power behind Rai. Harbinger’s Toyo Harada showed up all over the place, vexing many characters and helping others and it all mixed together into a ridiculously long form story taking us from pre recorded history to the dawn of the 41st Century.
Acclaim tried to reboot in 1996/1997 and there is a revival now over the last few years, but from my experience, there are a lot of comics here that people will enjoy and because of comics’ reliance on the big two and Valiant’s short life span, it’s often over-looked. But it is worth checking out.
Well that’s me for a bit. Catch you later.
Munky on Merseyside:
Living in Liverpool, so you don’t have to.