The Delinquents: A Beginner’s Guide to the Valiant Universe
When it comes to shared comics universes, most people turn their mind straight to Marvel and DC, publishers that have mastered the concept over several decades. But a few years ago, Valiant Comics came roaring back, relaunching themselves for a contemporary audience, and providing a simpler superhero universe to get to grips with. Yet even a small shared universe can feel like a lot to learn about, and readers may have held back from taking the plunge.
To help those readers whose curiosity has been piqued, we've assembled our own team of 'delinquents' to break things down. Steve Morris knows the Valiant Universe inside out; J.A. Micheline is completely new to the universe. Micheline has the questions, like what exactly is a "psiot", and who is that bloke in the blue and yellow helmet, and why is everybody so afraid of a goat; and Morris has answers. We hope.
Steve: So, JAM, to start off: what do you know about the Valiant Universe?
JAM: A big heaping pile of... nothing, basically. I first heard of Valiant through Tumblr --- there's someone I follow who's a fan --- and then since then, most of my knowledge has come through Twitter. Even before I was aware of comics-as-books, Marvel and DC had the advantage of cartoons, so jumping in was a little bit easier there than it feels for Valiant.
Basically, I know that Valiant exists and I know that there's a cinematic universe coming, but I don't know how all the moving parts work. I'm kind of assuming it's similar to DC and Marvel in that it's mainly superhero stuff, but I know there's also some humorous stuff in there. I think Quantum & Woody is supposed to be funny? And there's also a ninja called Ninjak, which I find highly suspect.
Oh and I tried reading issue #1 of The Valiant once, but that didn't really take since I had no idea what was going on.
Steve: The Valiant was announced as being a jump-on 'prestige' series, but it pinned itself around several characters and concepts that would likely sail straight over the head of new readers. We'll get to it later, but it's certainly not the place I'd suggest if you want to get a real look at the tone and style of Valiant as a company! Sure, everybody is in it --- but there's a whole lot of set-up you'd want to know if you want to really enjoy the continuity and push-forward that the miniseries gave Valiant overall.
The best thing about Valiant is that their shared universe is fairly simple to piece together, and even their longest-running books are still only at around their thirtieth issue at this point. Rather than the fifty-odd books a month you get elsewhere, Valiant only has about six different titles running at once, so there's no feeling that you're being overwhelmed.
JAM: I started out reading manga, which is all self-contained, so the transition to American/British comics was a rough one. The first one I ever read, the run of Teen Titans written by Geoff Johns, involved Superboy getting killed off during an event in another book. So one page he's there, and then I turn the page, and suddenly we're mourning him!
I think that experience kind of soured me on events as a whole, if I'm really honest, so I'm looking forward to reading material that's largely independent.
Steve: There's a little of that crossover problem with Valiant, but for the most part it does keep its comics independent. Matter of fact, I'd say Valiant splits its comics up into one of four categories, each of which keep themselves largely apart from the others.
First up are the political comics --- the ones that offer political commentary and tend to aim themselves as thrillers rather than superhero stories. These include Harbinger and Bloodshot, which will coincidentally be the two properties heading to film as a result of Valiant's recent movie deal.
JAM: What are Harbinger and Bloodshot's deals? The latter sounds like an assassin and I just watched The Bourne Identity again last night so I am ready.
Steve: That's... really not far off, actually! Bloodshot is a mindwiped assassin with a healing factor that allows him to withstand brutal levels of punishment. And boy does he take brutal levels of punishment.
The character has appeared consistently at Valiant since it relaunched, first in his own series, which ran 23 issues. The first half focused on him trying to work out who he is, and how he was turned into the Government's most dangerous mercenary --- the second half then sees his attempts to reassert control over his life. These are quite grisly comics, especially the opening ones written by Duane Swierczynski.
JAM: So Bloodshot actually is comics Jason Bourne. Okay, then. I am interested in that.
Steve: Meanwhile, Harbinger is basically the Valiant version of X-Men, focusing as it does on 'psiots' who each have incredible powers. But where the X-Men are all about helping the world, the Harbinger project is run by a man called Toyo Harada, who uses the kids for his own purposes. Harada is possibly the most important character in the whole of the Valiant Universe, an evil Charles Xavier who maintains control of everyone and everything.
The two series cross over early on for an event called Harbinger War, which is the precise moment when the shared universe starts to really reveal itself for Valiant. From that point on, storylines are set up that will later impact Archer & Armstrong, Unity, Imperium, and many other titles.
I think that might be a bit too much to take in as your first foray into Valiant, though --- you're looking at a lot of comics to get the whole of Bloodshot/Harada's story. Matter of fact, their stories are continuing even now, in Bloodshot Reborn and Imperium respectively. A more friendly opening might be Valiant's flagship title, instead.
Steve: X-O Manowar, which leads us to the second group of comics at Valiant --- the sci-fi books.
Steve: X-O Manowar is a warrior from Roman times, who was abducted by an alien race just before the rest of his tribe were wiped out by said Romans. He spent years off Earth, trapped and used as a slave --- but he eventually finds an alien artifact that provides him with a nifty space suit, superpowers, and the chance to escape.
This is a really compelling series in general, actually, especially the first few arcs. If you want to compare Aric, the lead, to anyone else, it would be Captain America. There's that same sense of a life lost, although Valiant's more morally murky storytelling makes him a far more compelling (in my opinion) character.
Again, his series leads into Unity, and the character appears in several other Valiant titles. This is also the series where you'd get to find out more about Ninjak, the hunky British ninja-spy. Spninja?
JAM: That... also sounds kind of complicated. Maybe something I'd want to get into later, but probably not what I'd want to start with. What else have you got for me?
Steve: How about some of the funny books? Valiant has a real knack for humor, with two buddy comedies that race all round the world, causing havoc and making for some of the most fun stuff you'll find anywhere in comics.
Archer & Armstrong is a buddy comedy about an immortal drunk and a young extremist. Archer was raised in a militant church, trained to kill --- and the series kicks off with the church sending him off on a quest to end the millennia-old Armstrong once and for all.
This series is absolutely mad, but rooted in character and personality. Archer is the most empathetic character Valiant have, while Armstrong is one of the most likable.
Meanwhile, Quantum & Woody. What to say about Quantum & Woody? This is a book written by James Asmus, drawn by Tom Fowler, and one of my personal favorites.
This is another buddy comedy, this time featuring two adopted brothers who are accidentally given powers they can barely use. Quantum, one of the best African-American characters in comics period, is the star of the book, a wannabe stoic figure who actually stumbles clumsily from one mess to another --- most of which were caused by his brother Woody, a complete screw-up.
If you can tolerate douche characters being given a sympathetic angle, Woody's womanizing, cheating, stealing ways prove a perfect foil for Quantum's desire to be a real superhero. If not, this might be a series that gets on your nerves.
These characters spend most of their time in their own worlds, making them a decent way of jumping in to Valiant.
JAM: I'm conceptually into highly empathetic and likable characters...and I'm also kind of conceptually into douche characters who are a bit sympathetic, but I don't think I necessarily want to start with a comedy book? I love comedy in my books, but reading a book just for laughs tends to be a harder sell for me.
Still, you're doing a pretty great job at laying out what Valiant has to offer because it all does sound pretty appealing.
Steve: Okay, so I'm thinking we'll find success with the fourth and final line-up of Valiant titles, then --- their supernatural books.
The centrepiece of Valiant's supernatural world is Shadowman, one of its most well-known characters; the star of a great N64 game and also a second N64 game, Shadowman is Jack Boniface, a young man whose parents died and left him with a talisman. When he throws off the talisman one day in pique, we find out that there's this whole voodoo backstory going on. His father, it turns out, was the original Shadowman, who fights off the forces of darkness and protects Earth from a realm known as "Deadside." And with the talisman now gone, Jack is about to take on that role himself.
Dr Mirage shows up partway through the 16-issue series, the first 13 of which are by Justin Jordan and Patrick Zircher. Now she's a character I think you're really going to like.
Her miniseries, by Jen Van Meter and Roberto de la Torre, is the most acclaimed thing Valiant have put out to date, I'd say, and starts with a simple concept. Dr Mirage can talk to the dead, with one exception: her late husband. So the miniseries is a paranormal romance story where she tries to get past this, find her husband, and talk to him once more.
It's five issues long, and --- I would say --- the place for you to start reading Valiant. The Death-Defying Dr Mirage stands alone, but is a core part within the Valiant Universe. And if you're going to start somewhere, why not start with the best thing they've put out so far?
JAM: This sounds amazing. I'm really into romance right now (and, kind of, always) so it's right down my alley, I think! So, what's my homework?
Steve: Okay, we'll start with the supernatural side of Valiant, and move around over the subsequent few months. Let's start with Shadowman and Dr Mirage.
JAM: Perfect. See you in two weeks!
To be continued...
If you want to read along with our Delinquents, check out Shadowman #1-12 and The Death-Defying Dr Mirage #1-5, and join us back here in two weeks time!