• Everything But Imaginary #427: Valiant Comics, You Dirty Tease


    Ah, Valiant Entertainment. You tease. You dirty, dirty tease.

    As I've documented in this column before, I've long been a fan of Valiant Comics. Back in the 90s, when the company was at its peak (both creatively and commercially) I went all-in and became a heavy reader of many, many Valiant Comics. I started with Magnus: Robot Fighter but I was, at various times, a faithful reader of X-O Manowar, Rai, Shadowman, Archer and Armstrong and several other titles. Those that I didn't read weren't because they weren't quality books, but because I was a high school student with no job and an extremely limited income. Then Valiant was bought by Acclaim, then the company spiraled down into oblivion. And as a fan, it hurt.

    Over the years, there's been hope. Many, many times, there has been hope. After Acclaim nearly killed the heroes the first time, they did a line-wide reboot (beating The New 52 by some some 14 years, but still trailing behind the first time DC did a relaunch with Barry Allen some 41 years prior) called Valiant Heroes. And some of those books were pretty good. One of those books, Quantum and Woody, was great. But too many of them were mediocre, and the line folded again. In 1999 Valiant announced Unity 2000, a new miniseries that would bridge the two iterations of the Valiant Universe (their own “Crisis on Two Earths,” I suppose) and also wrap up one of the outstanding plotlines of the original Valiant – namely the prophesied 1999 death of Jack Boniface, Shadowman. It published three issues out of six (the third in extremely limited quantities) before it collapsed, and that appeared to be the end of Valiant.

    Until 2007, when a new company came in. Valiant Entertainment swept in, like knights in armor, and announced that they had purchased the rights to the old universe, and had plans to start publishing comics again. There was much rejoicing: cheers, hoorahs, parades in the streets, and of course a prime-time television retrospective narrated by Morgan Freeman. Okay, maybe that only happened in my mind, but it should have happened. Instead, there was a little notice from comicdom as a whole and a big cry of excitement from the remaining old school Valiant fans, myself included.

    The excitement was short-lived, however. As VE began prepping whatever product they were going to create, suddenly they found themselves in a legal dispute with a company called Valiant Intellectual Properties. VIP claimed that Acclaim had failed to renew the trademarks for most of the Valiant library after they abandoned publication and VIP snapped them up. As a result, VE had the rights to – for example – publish a comic starring Aric of Dacia, who wore a suit of X-O Manowar armor, but VIP was the company claiming the legal right to publish a comic book titled X-O Manowar. Had this held up, it would have been a line-wide version of DC publishing the original Captain Marvel but always calling his books Shazam (although the rumor has it the character's name will change when he's reintroduced with the New 52).

    After much legal chicanery, most of which has remained firmly out of the public eye, VE eventually acquired not only the trademarks, but the services of Valiant founder Jim Shooter as their Editor-In-Chief. Shooter wrote new stories for hardcover collections of some of Valiant's most popular titles, including the aforementioned X-O, as well as Archer and Armstrong and Harbinger. With hardcover collections of the classic comics and new stories written by their co-creator, surely all-new Valiant comics would appear on the comic book shelves in no time, right?

    Riiiiiiiight.

    The last hardcover came out in 2008, and then there was a conspicuous lack of any new comics – or, for that matter, news – for a year. In 2009, Dark Horse Comics announced that they'd got the rights to publish new comics starring the same Western Comics characters that the original Valiant used for their launch – Magnus: Robot Fighter, Doctor Solar: Man of the Atom, and Turok: Son of Stone. This was a little disappointing, but not shocking. Although the characters had been part of the original Valiant Universe, Valiant never owned them, and there was little hope that they'd make it into the VE line. What was shocking, though, was the news that Jim Shooter would be writing the comics, even though he'd been working for Valiant Entertainment for some time. The only thing that would be more shocking would be if he was fired from VE and sued for breach of contract, which is pretty much what happened. The Dark Horse line came out last year and fizzled and died earlier this year, because the only thing more disappointing than the fact that Magnus and Solar wouldn't be part of the Valiant Universe was reading the mediocre Magnus and Solar comics that Dark Horse produced.

    And now, here we are again. Valiant Entertainment is once again promising a return to publication in 2012, and to prove it, they've announced a Free Comic Book Day title in May, Valiant 2012: No Really, This Time We Mean It, to reintroduce us to X-O Manowar and some of the other characters in the line. So far they haven't announced any of the writers or artists involved in the relaunch, save for one: former Marvel cover artist Jelena Kevic-Djurdjevic, who has redesigned X-O Manowar. And just to prove that any snark you may have noticed in this column is seasoned with a true love of the characters, let me say that I love the look. It's not a ground-up redesign, she's taken many of the classic elements of the armor and incorporated them, updating them just a tad, and rendering the suit in a way that fits in nicely with modern comic book art demands. (While old school Valiant very rarely had bad artists, the company's focus was clearly on story first, artwork second, and it often showed. They were the exact opposite of early Image Comics in that way.)

    We don't really know how much of a relaunch this will be – is it a total relaunch of the Valiant Universe again? Is it a “soft” reboot, with the new creators keeping the elements they like and tossing those they don't? Is this going to continue where the original Valiant Universe left off, minus the Western characters they don't own? I have no idea.

    But I do have some suggestions for Valiant Entertainment, if they happen to be reading this. (And I assume they are, because really, who doesn't?)

    • Keep the story first. Don't get me wrong, bringing in great artists is never a bad thing, and the one piece of artwork I've seen of the new line so far is a fine start. But before you have them draw a single line, workshop the hell out of every title and decide what works, what doesn't work, and exactly what you want it to be.

    • Don't try to do too much too fast. DC Comics managed to launch 52 titles all at the same time because they're the second-biggest publisher in the industry (first biggest for the last three months), because their characters are recognized all over the world, and because they spent a dump truck full of money on advertising and promotion. With all due respect, Valiant, you don't have any of those advantages. And if we've learned anything from the graveyard of defunct 90s publishers, it's that trying to put out too many new books at once is a death sentence. If people feel overwhelmed, they decide to just walk away. In a way, that even helped sink Acclaim's Valiant Heroes. The original Valiant started small, with a few titles, and they slowly grew over the next couple of years. It worked for a reason.

    • Don't neglect digital. Ah, it pains me to say this, because I still don't personally care for digital comics, but there's clearly an audience out there. Have a solid digital platform in place at the same time as your first print comics come out. And assuming you have all the proper rights to do so, consider putting out some of those original Valiant comics for sale in the digital store. 99-cent classics seem to be popular among those digital readers.

    • Listen to the fans and learn from the past. Let's face it, you'll never be able to please everybody, but there's an extraordinarily devoted core of Valiant fans out there. You're probably noticed them, they're all the hell over the Internet. And while they may not be enough to make Valiant Entertainment crack the top five publishers in 2012, if you find a way to appeal to them, you've got a built-in audience that wants to support you while you work on drawing in those new readers who started reading comics after Valiant went away. And don't do what Valiant Heroes did – throw out stuff that didn't need to be changed just for the sake of being “different.” If there's a character, a costume, a concept that you know fans are dying to see, find a way to give it to them. I know there's an adage that what the fans say they want and what they really want isn't always the same thing, and there's a lot of truth to that. But if you don't give them anything they want up-front, they're not going to stick around to see how awesome the new stuff you've come up with is.

    • Quantum and Woody. I know they weren't part of the original Valiant Universe, but they're the best thing to come out of Acclaim's purchase of the company, and they've got fans who want them back too. Including a lot of fans who probably aren't currently interested in any other Valiant title. Putting them in the new universe may help change that. If DC can work the Wildstorm heroes into the DC Universe, you can find a way to bring Quantum and Woody into the Valiant Universe.

    • Ignore the naysayers. You know them, you've heard them, these relentless sayers of Nay. The internet is even more the hell full of them. Go on any message board or comment thread and you'll find people saying that Valiant was stupid in the first place (90 percent of these people weren't born when Valiant was in its heyday), that nobody cares about the characters anymore (demonstrably not true) and that the new venture is destined to fail (which could be a self-fulfilling prophecy if you listen to it). These are the same jerks who would have stood around at Kitty Hawk telling Orville and Wilbur they were just going to crash and they should go back to delivering their tiny bags of peanuts via bicycle.

    • Remember that there are people out there rooting for you. Myself included. I can't promise I'll get every title you publish (you still haven't told us how many there will be or which ones there are or who's going to be writing or drawing them, after all), but I can promise I'm going to want to at least sample everything, and hope the cream rises to the top.

    The Valiant Universe was a rich, exciting, entertaining place for many years. With the right people shaping it, it could be that again.

    Here's hoping.

    Blake M. Petit is the author of the superhero comedy novel, Other People’s Heroes, the suspense novel The Beginner and the Christmas-themed eBook A Long November. He’s also the co-host, with whoever the hell is available that week, of the 2 in 1 Showcase Podcast. E-mail him at BlakeMPetit@gmail.com and visit him on the web at Evertime Realms. Read past columns at the Everything But Imaginary Archive Page.