The Delinquents: A Beginner’s Guide to ‘The Eternal Warrior’ and ‘Ivar, Timewalker’
Valiant Comics‘ shared superhero universe is smaller and less familiar than those of its major rivals, but even a small shared universe can offer a lot to learn about. To help those readers looking to take the plunge into the Valiant Universe, we’ve assembled our own team of delinquents to break things down. Steve Morris knows Valiant inside out; J.A. Micheline is new to the universe. Micheline has the questions, and Morris has the answers.
Last month, JAM and Steve raced round the world with the buddy-comedy duo of Archer & Armstrong, but this month the two have decided to keep it in the family as they discuss JAM’s latest assignment: Armstrong’s brothers Gilad, AKA The Eternal Warrior, and Ivar, Timewalker.
Steve: JAM! This time around we're looking at The Eternal Warrior and Ivar, Timewalker, the two brothers who each got their own solo series at Valiant after appearing in Archer and Armstrong. Those appearances made an impression on you, which is why this time round we're looking at the first two trades of The Eternal Warrior Vol 1, by Greg Pak, Trevor Hairsine, Clayton Crain, et al; and the first two trades of the current ongoing series Ivar, Timewalker, by Fred Van Lente, Clayton Henry, et al.
I suppose the big question here is: which one of the two did you pick to read first?
JAM: I picked Ivar first! I think because you mentioned him first in the last column, but also because I was most interested in the time travel stuff to start with! The Eternal Warrior stuff sounded cool, but not as cool as all the wild time things that were happening in Archer & Armstrong, so that was the book I was looking forward to the most. What about you?
Steve: I went for Ivar too! I prefer time-travelling silliness to the more primal stuff that I tend to associate with Gilad.
Ivar's book is written by Fred Van Lente, too, who wrote Archer & Armstrong, so I reckoned there'd be more a sense of continuity between the two books than if I went to The Eternal Warrior. Ultimately, though, I think it was just that Ivar had more time to breathe as a protagonist in the issues we've previously read, whereas Gilad was an aggressor for most of the story he appeared in, and didn't get as much time to develop into more empathetic areas.
JAM: Definitely true. Aram/Armstrong doesn't get along with Gilad, so we don't really get to see him through a more neutral filter! I didn't think about that. When it came to him, I was much more drawn to the Eternal Warrior concept and seeing myself in him than I was the individual character. Ivar had the edge of the concept plus the friendly character, as you said.
But anyway, it didn't really matter, because reading them both I immediately realized I had a crush on each protagonist, so the outcome was the same and both of them are a Capital-P-Problem.
I dunno, man, firstly, you have Ivar who's walking around in suits for some reason and is really charming and kind and handsome and trying to look after everyone and I just---
Steve, Ivar is a Problem.
Steve: Well problems are there to be solved, and clearly Ivar will require a lot of study. What kind of a character did you find him to be, when you weren't aggressively wolf-whistling at the comic?
JAM: Really kind! That's my lasting impression of him: kindness. He knows way too much about everything and is just doing his best to be as kind as possible to Neela, who is both the scientist who gets this whole time travel thing started, and the person that Ivar loves most. There's also a deep sadness to him too, of course --- the kind of horror and exhaustion of seeing non-linear time but ultimately being confined by determinism.
I love time travel romance, in case that wasn't already clear.
One of the things I like about the comic is how it answers a lot of the questions people have about time travel without showing its hand too much. Neela being introduced to determinism via "Let's Not Kill Hitler" is a touch on the nose, but overall I think the creative team still managed to sell it. I like that they highlight questions about future travel and how they handle questions of cause and effect. Things must be done because they were done, even if they don't happen at the right time --- which is so interesting!
But then that makes me wonder about Ivar too. There are or will be inevitable comparisons to Doctor Who and other time travel stories, but I think the deterministic element here is played so tightly that it distinguishes itself from its peers. Everything has already happened --- so is Ivar bored by having to fulfill certain tasks that he already knows must be completed? What's driving him if everything is inevitable?
On the one hand it was definitely smart to have Ivar as hero but not protagonist --- but on the other, I think I'd almost rather see what he's grappling with a little more intimately. The twist with Neela (at least as far as the first two trades goes) is pretty predictable --- in fact, it's basically a rule when it comes to time travel narrative. Ivar's approach and this world's time travel rules are what we haven't seen before, so I wish there was a little more emphasis on that.
Steve: Yeah, the series does seem like it's aimed at a Doctor Who-loving audience, although it's a relief to see the usual Doctor-companion dynamic shifted around with almost immediately. I like Neela, who doesn't ask for as much hand-holding through the storyline as somebody in her role would usually need, although sometimes the romance didn't really land particularly; whispers and intimations rather than any really strong chemistry between the two.
What's interesting to me about your description of Ivar is how that closely connects to The Eternal Warrior. At first glimpse, I thought the two characters couldn't be more different, but your mention of the way Ivar is stuck within a pre-determined timeline actually starts to connect the brothers together in a really interesting way. Gilad's also dealing with that idea, in his first series (which we'll get to later) but especially in his second series, which I won't be spoiling for you at this point.
My impression from when I read a few issues of Ivar, Timewalker as it first came out was that it was highly comedic --- but in fact, it's weirdly not, in a lot of ways? Ivar's got charm, but the story is surprisingly hard at times, and I think that's where a lot of the tension and interest is drummed up by the creative team: seeing Ivar and Neela, both ostensibly nice people, getting themselves enveloped in this greater, more problematic world. What did you make of the tone of the book?
JAM: Yeah, this is definitely much closer to what I was looking for out of a book with this premise. There's definitely humor, but it's tempered by these more serious moments, which I find is a better balance. I actually kind of wish the humor was a little less... I dunno, easy and crass sometimes. This is a relatively complicated book plot- and theme-wise, and I wish the humor would match that a bit better. But, as I've said before, my sense of humor is off from most.
You're right, though, about Ivar and Gilad. They're both burdened by inevitability, but in different ways. And Armstrong even had that angle too, but it wasn't shown off as much as it could be. But yeah, this theme is crushing and I love it --- I love people struggling against something that they know to be impossible, but feeling like they have to go forward anyway. I love that. Ivar puts a smiling face on against this determinism whereas Gilad, despite loving the constant fight, eventually can't do that anymore and gets angry. And I love both of those responses.
I loved reading these comics. I breathed them in deep, for real.
Steve: Tidy! Glad to hear it. When I was drawing up the plan for what books we'd look at in which order, I didn't have either of these two as 'essentials' for you to read. But actually, perhaps that might be part of the appeal of these two, which wasn't present in more 'important' Valiant titles. These are both largely disconnected from the greater Valiant Universe (or at least, the present-day, recognisable Valiant Universe), so do you think that might be part of what you've enjoyed about the books?
JAM: I bet it is, but I don't know if I can articulate why. This has been a common thread with me and comics that participate in a larger universe that I almost always shy away from books that are deep in events or crossovers.
My guess is that it's because I started out with manga, whose form leans much more towards a single, contained narrative just by virtue of the publishing method. I'm consistently drawn to the solo books that keep their drama relatively in-house: the Aja/Fraction/Hollingsworth Hawkeye, Bagenda/Fajardo Jr/King's current run on Omega Men, and now Ivar and Eternal Warrior --- though Ivar's book still is a little more involved than Eternal Warrior seems to be.
I think it's definitely a tone thing. I don't think Archer & Armstrong are objectively bad comics (insofar as such a thing is even possible), but instead comics that, to me, read a little more shallowly than most. I'm not emotionally engaged with them the way I found myself more with Ivar and completely with Eternal Warrior. I like humor in comics --- I mean, Hawkeye, right? --- but I think I'm wary of books whose focus is comedy. I guess I prefer books that are funny more than books that are trying to be funny, if that makes sense. That does sound kind of mean though, haha.
Steve: What do you think it was that worked so well for you in these comics which, for example, didn't work so well in Archer & Armstrong? You say you weren't such a fan of the humor in A&A or the jokes in Ivar, Timewalker, so do you think it's a matter of tone --- that you're more drawn to stories with a different style of humor, or even stories without that sense of humor at all perhaps. Because if we turn to The Eternal Warrior, Gilad... he's not got much of a sense of humor at all..
JAM: Yeah, man, as much as I dug Ivar, Timewalker --- it's imperfect, but it is one I like more and would continue reading --- I absolutely loved Eternal Warrior. I hope it's not a result of my being anti-fun, but maybe that's my secret; I'm never funny.
For real, though, I just felt a lot of compassion for Gilad. I understand the exhaustion related to fighting fights you feel like you can't win, despite being someone who loves to scrap.
My favorite part of that first issue isn't when you see him fighting in the beginning --- which is a fairly standard open --- but instead the final act, where we fast forward to him having given up and deciding to live quietly. The story feels so relaxed and calm and not-desperate --- which of course gets squandered by a come-with-me-if-you-want-to-
Finally, I get the comic I've been asking for, one with quiet confidence, and then the Direct Market rears its ugly head and says, "But here's a cliffhanger though, just in case you needed a dramatic reason to find out what happens next."
It's a horror. The Direct Market is a horror.
The rest of it mostly shakes that off, though.
Steve: It's really interesting, because the Valiant Universe is so predicated on being just that: a Universe. Superhero comics are fixated on expanding a universe and having an interconnected model where you need to have an awareness of the whole to be fully understanding of any single series. Yet every time, the books that seem to leap out most are the ones that keep their head down and just get on with being their own unique thing.
And Ivar and Eternal Warrior do feel fairly unique in style to the other books Valiant have. They should in theory be interconnected, as the characters are brothers, but unusually Valiant didn't choose to bring the two series together --- they don't have a crossover, and as far as I'm aware the characters keep apart. That's a choice I wouldn't have thought makes sense, but keeping them separate does mean they can actually grow individually, rather than remaining connected to Armstrong and being known only as "his brothers".
The art styles are very different in each --- especially that mix of Clayton Crain (whom Valiant struggled to place until he finally settled on their Rai series) and Trevor Hairsine on Eternal Warrior. How did you feel about the art in each book? Hairsine in particular feels like he's so well suited to sweaty handsome barbarian war stuff, and I think that really helps sell the Eternal Warrior series immediately. Ivar, by contrast, is a more dapper and groomed sort of person, and likewise the art in his is more clean, crisp, simple.
JAM: Even though I thought that Clayton Henry was the right choice for Archer & Armstrong --- where everything is kind of shiny and weird and loud --- it didn't feel tonally appropriate to Ivar, Timewalker. I think it's part of why the Ivar book was really good, but not great. The books have very different feels to them, so I'm kind of surprised that the same team was used for both. Not that artists or writers can't work on varied material, but what works for the Archer book is very much what isn't working for Ivar.
Meanwhile, what you said about Hairsine and Crain for Eternal Warrior is totally true. Hairsine, specifically, is the absolute perfect choice for this book and a huge contributor to the aforementioned problem. Everyone is super hot. Gilad is super hot. His son (as an adult) is super hot. Everyone just has me fanning myself. Even if the premise and the brooding warrior who's fought one battle too many isn't enough of a pull, the art definitely is. It's a great match that really enhances the storytelling.
And even when we evolve past the hot versions of everyone into volume two, it still really works. Hairsine moves past the shiny and kind of plastic-y look that Henry uses --- I don't mean this in a bad way, I think the action figure-style worked for Archer and Armstrong, like I said --- and cuts deeper into the characters. There's an emotional depth to the sequentials, to the expressions, to the shots, that I haven't felt come through in almost all the other Valiant books I've read thus far. Eternal Warrior really nails it.
Steve: I like how the battles feel hard and real, more than anything else. Having Henry continue on into Ivar, Timewalker halts a bit of that evolution that the character needed following Archer & Armstrong --- having the same creative team from that series head onto Ivar's next book means he's still somewhat defined by that post-story, unlike in Eternal Warrior where Gilad gets an overhaul artistically and a new writer with slightly different tics and flourishes. Really, I think it might just be that the coloring in Ivar’s book needed to be dirtier.
So okay, we're spoken about the ripplingly handsome Eternal Warrior, and his hot son, and the somewhat welcome problem he's been causing for you each time you read an issue. But beyond the dangerous levels of hotness, if possible, what do you see as the core of the character and his series? Greg Pak is one of the best around at adapting himself to an established character, whether it be Superman or Hulk or Gilad. People are coming to this column perhaps before they've gone anywhere near reading either of these comics, so what --- besides inherent swooniness --- does Eternal Warrior possess as a character?
JAM: I think it's the exhaustion and emotion that draws me to Eternal Warrior. We talked last time about why he's an interesting character and what themes he possesses, but the reason the comic is successful is that it's emotional. It's sad. It's angry. It's everything that lies between those two feelings. And it's personal.
The core of the series is this guy who's lived his life fighting and fighting and fighting and realizing he can't do it anymore, which I think can be extrapolated to almost every life experience in some degree. Though perhaps not literally, we've all got things we're fighting to try and achieve --- things we may be fighting our whole lives for and never see come to fruition. So I'm immediately able to empathize with that experience, that tiredness.
And the core of the series is making me believe it by largely keeping the narrative human and individual. The creative team puts much more emphasis on building Gilad as a character than they do on plot. In fact, the plot is the least interesting element out of the two trades, particularly the first one where they could have pulled back just a little bit. But they do this by keeping it personal --- by putting Gilad's feelings at the forefront, by emphasizing his familial relationships, by taking the time to show us who he is and why he is.
It's sounds simple and obvious when I say it like that, but so many comics, so many stories fail on that front. Even Ivar, Timewalker did, I think. The tone was better, but I don't feel like I understand what's important to Ivar or Neela in the same way I understand that about Gilad or the other supporting characters.
I just wish the structure for Eternal Warrior made any sense! Maybe you can explain this to me. The first trade basically shows us the start of Gilad and his daughter's attempt to destroy the gods and end the ongoing battle once and for all, which then kicks off them actually starting something way bigger. And then you go to the second trade and it's a different story entirely? Gilad's an old man and we're in a post-apocalyptic situation and he's looking after his granddaughter and has to go on a different mission?
Don't get me wrong, I actually love the second trade even more than the first, and think that it presents a much fresher take on the young girl and old man traveller angle than we've seen previously but... what?!
Steve: As far as I can tell from interviews Greg Pak has done, it seems he wanted to show off the 'eternal' aspect of The Eternal Warrior, by jumping around in time (which again, is a move quietly parallel to the structural work over on Ivar) and showing him at various stages in his life. I also get the feeling that this was to help lead the way towards the year 4001 AD for Valiant.
That's an important time period for Valiant, because it's when their hero Rai comes into existence... and it's also the name of the 2016 event comic storyline, coming this summer. As Valiant has moved forward, it's made more of a deal of the fact its Universe exists over centuries --- going back in time for Archer & Armstrong, X-O Manowar, and so on, but also jumping forward for series like Rai.
So I guess in some ways there is this tie-in to other comics at Valiant, and things are never as standalone as we might like.
JAM: Hmm. I can appreciate that effort on the creative team's part, but it didn't do much for the story. The first trade doesn't read as snapshots of his life so much as something unfinished. I suppose I'm meant to draw the conclusion that the apocalypse I see in the second trade might be the result of the implied war that begins in the first, but the connection isn't really strong enough. The connection between the two stories isn't very strong at all, beyond their having the same central character/concept.
I'd compare the attempt to what Kurt Busiek and Stuart Immonen did in Superman: Secret Identity. That team did little clips of Superman's life as he got older, but there seemed to be an overarching theme --- especially because they did it within the span of one trade rather than breaking each snapshot into its own book. I respect what Pak and the rest of the team were trying to do, but it didn't work as well as it should have. I would rather have had a commitment to one story or the other than an attempt to tell both in the same series.
Steve: In fairness it might be both: I don't think sales were great on the series.
Having read and liked both these books, would you say they're the first Valiant comics you'd consider following on beyond the issues you read for this column? Where we go next through the Valiant Universe is up to you: we could continue on with Gilad's story into Unity and The Book of Death; or take the detour into the world of Rai.
Or we could skip away to books set round the outskirts of the Valiant Universe, which don't have grand tie-ins to the rest of the comics. There's Divinity, and there's obviously Faith. There's Quantum & Woody. We're reaching a point now where we've covered most of the comics Valiant have in some form or another, so the Universe at this point is absolutely your oyster. So! I'll ‘clam’ up and take your lead onwards!
JAM: Oh, man. So many choices! I'm inclined to pick Divinity --- mainly because one of my friends told me that it's about Eternal Warrior and all the stuff I like about him --- but tell me more! I need more information! What's Unity? What's The Book of Death? What's Rai? What's Divinity?
Steve: So many questions that I'm not going to answer right now! Did I forget to tell you that I am English and therefore inherently an evil withholder, JAM?
However! There are some answers coming in the immediate future. Given the fact that The Eternal Warrior is now essentially your comics boyfriend, it's only right that we give you more opportunity to spend time with him.
Unity is an 'event' comic, in that each arc is billed as being a huge deal for the Valiant Universe, in a sense. A team made up of Harada, Livewire, Ninjak and, yes, The Eternal Warrior, come together in the first arc to try and stop a really ticked-off X-O Manowar from conquering Romania. From there it goes off in an interesting tangent, but the team remains somewhat similar going forward.
After reading two volumes of Unity, which is supremely connected to the rest of the Valiant line by design, you might want to take a step back and catch your breath: so let's also introduce the four-issue miniseries Divinity, which introduced a completely new character to the comics. Divinity is a Russian Cosmonaut who heads up into space... and then comes back.
That's all I can say about him! But I think Unity will provide a look at the Valiant Universe at its most interconnected and careful --- before Divinity takes you off in a totally new, totally unpredictable direction. So that's three trades in total, looking at the interconnected and disconnected nature of Valiant's comics as a whole!
JAM: All right, Unity and Divinity it is!
Make sure to pick up Unity Vol 1 & 2 as well as Divinity and follow along for when we return next month!