"We have yet to have a big flop."
January 4, 2015 8:09 AM   Subscribe

“I guess I don’t hate superheroes. I just hate the kind of superhero books that are usually out." The death and rebirth of Valiant Entertainment, superhero comics' strangest success story.

And perhaps most important, Valiant is dependable. As of this month, it's put out 18 different comics series, comprising 202 individual comics issues, and every single one of them has shipped on time — something unheard of for the Big Two.
posted by mediareport (25 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Also a weird publisher when I was growing up: Neal Adams and his Continuity Comics, many books he drew himself. It seems he is a proponent of ...uh...expanding earth theory now.
posted by reiichiroh at 8:19 AM on January 4, 2015

Neal Adams is as mad as a hatter and he wears it well. If you're in the New Orleans area he's going to be making appearances at the local comic shops this week and you shouldn't miss out.
posted by djeo at 8:26 AM on January 4, 2015

Oh! I loved Quantum and Woody when it first came out. Maybe I'll check out the new version.
posted by Greg Nog at 8:43 AM on January 4, 2015

I picked up a couple of the first trades (X-O Manowar and Harbinger) out of pure '90s nostalgia, having particularly loved X-O, Solar and Magnus from the old Valiant. Any suggestions for where to go from there? Valiant seems to have a downright plethora of titles to pick from, a bit of paralysis by analysis being the biggest obstacle I can see right now.
posted by graymouser at 8:44 AM on January 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

I miss Milestone Media: Static, Icon, Hardware and weirdies like Xombi and Shadow Cabinet. That was good stuff.
posted by SPrintF at 8:54 AM on January 4, 2015 [7 favorites]

I wish they'd bring back Troublemakers, my favorite Acclaim-era Valiant title. I should give it a reread to see if the suck fairy has visited it since the last time I read it (it's one of the few things I saved when I sold the rest of my comics, since it's not like it's ever getting reprinted.) It had a lot in common with several of the Marvel team comics but seemed more earnest and had a more coherent, less stupid backstory.
posted by asperity at 9:09 AM on January 4, 2015

I had heard something about a new Quantum and Woody. I guess I'll have to take a look. I still have my goat action figure.
posted by immlass at 9:15 AM on January 4, 2015

That's inaction figure.
posted by MartinWisse at 9:19 AM on January 4, 2015

So, I was working for a store that sold comics (among many other things) when Valiant launched, and I think the reason Valiant failed was kind of the reason it succeeded for a bit -- in the early 90s, the comic market became convinced that everything was collectable -- you just needed a gimmick (special covers, trading cards, "milestone" story events, etc) to make buys grab up multiple copies. There may have been good stories or art or there may not have been (I never saw a Valiant title I wanted to follow, but I was not much interested in the superhero comics at that time), but that was really beside the point. It was a managerial disease that had DC, Marvel, and Valiant (and many of the smaller companies) by the throat even while pretty much everybody watching the industry said "this can't last." Of course, when the bubble collapsed, everybody was completely shocked.

Anyway, without that environment, I can't imagine a new Valiant having the same trajectory, but, if there are people who long to read more of those stories, I wish them well.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:25 AM on January 4, 2015

The article talks about the speculator boom, GenjiandProust:

Valiant had helped inflate a now-infamous speculators’ bubble in the comics industry. Every month brought more silly promotional schemes from Marvel, DC, Image, and Valiant: Readers were told to collect and resell “special edition” printings of issues, “collectors’ edition” issues were held up as an investment item, and comics shops popped up all over the U.S. just to cash in on the trend. The bubble slowly burst and the industry fell into a horrible slump in the late ’90s. Valiant’s investors sold it to a video-game company called Acclaim. There was a failed attempt at a reboot in 1996. Scattered issues trickled out until 2002, when publication ceased.
posted by mediareport at 9:33 AM on January 4, 2015

Few of its titles star women (and the ones that do are either team books or limited series), and its creative staff is overwhelmingly male.

Still waiting for that alternative...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 9:34 AM on January 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

I missed Valiant the first time. What they published was the exact opposite of what I was looking for from comics in the post-Watchmen/pre-Vertigo era, when I read nothing but mature readers weird horror/fantasy stuff (and, um, the Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League). But I'm pretty impressed by everything I've seen from the new Valiant.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:35 AM on January 4, 2015

No love for Valiant's Nintendo Comics System? The company published several books featuring Nintendo characters in 1990-91 including Super Mario, Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Punch-Out, and even Captain N.

Disclaimer: all self-links. Support your local gaming blogger/podcaster.
posted by Servo5678 at 9:38 AM on January 4, 2015 [4 favorites]

in the early 90s, the comic market became convinced that everything was collectable

I very distinctly remember standing in line to get the chromium cover Turok: Dinosaur Hunter #1. People acted like the thing was printed on sterling silver. There were 1.75 million copies printed. That book, of course, winds up in the dollar bins now – a noteworthy depreciation from the $3.50 cover price.

Some Googling reveals that the new Valiant embraces the original Valiant's mantra of "Dead means dead." It was one of the original run's greatest marketing slogans; in an era when the ballyhooed death of Superman only lasted a few months, and resurrection the norm to the point where only a few characters didn't come back, Valiant would kill characters and leave them deceased.
posted by graymouser at 9:41 AM on January 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

(and, um, the Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League).

That was the best of them all. That series was true, upbeat fun under very trying circumstances. Blue Beetle was perfect....
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 9:56 AM on January 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

Something else they do fairly well, in comparison with Marvel at least, is to mostly have characters that aren't just zany snark machines. Other than the military woman who is their equivalent of the head of SHIELD, and Woody, nobody in the books I've read comes across as gratingly unrealistic.
posted by aaronetc at 10:48 AM on January 4, 2015

The article talks about the speculator boom, GenjiandProust:

Yeah, the article did. My point (possibly badly expressed) was that, at the bottom, there was nothing to Valiant beyond the speculator market. Jim Shooter is not a man remembered for his deep love of comics, after all. Shooter was always about market share, moving units, looking for formulas, and protecting the IP. Say what you like about Image; it was driven by creators who had a deep (although sometimes misplaced) investment in their creations. Valiant was never like that.

I mean, "dead means dead" is a hill to die on for a comics company, but, at the end of the day, it's not a very interesting hill. Better than "thigh pouches and molars," but that's a low bar.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:04 AM on January 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

I love this crazy version of a 404 they are doing.
posted by clvrmnky at 11:34 AM on January 4, 2015

Jim Shooter is not a man remembered for his deep love of comics, after all. Shooter was always about market share, moving units, looking for formulas, and protecting the IP. Say what you like about Image; it was driven by creators who had a deep (although sometimes misplaced) investment in their creations. Valiant was never like that.

I don't really feel that's fair to Shooter -- I guess I've read a medium amount about the Shooter Age at Marvel (a baker's dozen articles, interviews, longform essays, etc.) and my lasting impression is somebody who loved comics deeply but also had an eye on the business side of things (including making some deeply unpopular fiscal decisions at a point when Marvel was in deep, deep trouble) and could be unpleasant to deal with if you weren't on the same page as him.

Whether he bought into the marketing/speculator stuff or not, Valiant (and Defiant) were opportunities for Shooter to build his own properties, and they had incredibly strong bones. Warriors of PLASM and XO Manowar would not have come from a company led simply by somebody in it for the cash grab.

Compare/contrast to early Image, which was created by people who loved comics but had, between them, maybe one aggregate creator who understood story. Early Image was, to put it bluntly, almost entirely derivative piles of absolute crap, and just as guilty (if not more so) of "collectoritis" as any other company out there. Any Image properties of any interest now are either created post-first-wave or are so radically different from their original versions that they're unrecognizable (looking at you, Prophet).

Proof in the pudding: I'll still read mid-'90s Shooter comics -- I'll pick up any old Valiant or Defiant titles and flip through them happily. You couldn't pay me to read original WildCATS/Supreme/Spawn/Youngblood/Wetworks runs.

He definitely wasn't perfect, and hewed too strongly to a single fixed idea of what made for good comics storytelling, but I think profiteer/bean-counter is way too reductive a role to box him into.
posted by Shepherd at 12:01 PM on January 4, 2015 [6 favorites]

Yeah--I think it would surprise most people to hear that Image was the company with artistic merit, rather than Valiant. From what I remember of the '90s is that Image and Valiant formed an indie Cartesian split: Image was all style and Valiant was all story--to the point where some Valiant fans I remember would brag about how badly drawn the comics were. From what I remember, many of the early staffers were comics veterans who used to work at the Big Two and got phased out in favor of Image-style spectacle. Most of the early selling points of Valiant were based on the writing, not the gimmicks:

-- Tight continuity: the sense that there actually was a shared universe and that crossovers and even small subtle guest appearances were very tightly plotted. Also the sense that the universe had so much narrative continuity that they could foreshadow to the 31st century! I remember one "gimmick" that was purely narrative-driven: a character who appears pretty much in the background of a few panels ended up being Ninjak a year later.

-- Realism: Harbingers was sold as X-Men done right and the characterization there of teenagers discovering their special abilities is probably better than any story arc from Uncanny X-Men. Also, the way that almost none of the Valiant characters had "costumes"--Archer wore blue jeans and Doctor Mirage wore a ski suit.

-- POC/Women representation: The actual Valiant staff was mostly white male, but the characters weren't. Harbingers had a number of varied, nuanced women, including one who defied traditional body image categories. Doctor Mirage, Shadowman and Turok were all people of color with their own titles.

-- Indie sensibility: My two favorite Valiant titles were Shadowman and Archer & Armstrong (by Barry Windsor Smith)--both of which one could describe as Vertigo titles with all the worst cliches of Vertigo taken out. BWS's Archer & Armstrong's first run was an incredible run--well-drawn, booze-filled, time-jumping, more like an Eddie Campbell comic than Jim Shooter '80s Marvel. I would definitely recommend it as one of the better comics of the 1990s. And Shadowman was an occult comic that combined New Orleans jazz and voodoo but unlike most of the Vertigo comics not written by the British Invasion all-stars (Gaiman, Morrison, etc.), it actually had a plot, characterization, and a rich, textured setting. I haven't read a Valiant comic in more than a decade, but it looks like the post-Valiant universe actually had a lot of Vertigo writers, like Garth Ennis and Peter Milligan...
posted by johnasdf at 1:24 PM on January 4, 2015 [5 favorites]

Glad to see Valiant getting some recognition! I loved their 90s releases and I had no idea they were back in some fashion. The Acclaim/Valiant reboots totally lost my interest, but I'm willing to give the new incarnation a shot.

Ninjak was my favorite title (but in retrospect probably one of the less adventurous ones); it was basically James Bond as a ninja. I'm really glad to hear that they're bringing that title back. Somewhere in storage I still have 3 sealed copies of Ninjak #1, with super-shiny foil cover and super-90s art by Joe Quesada.
posted by kryptondog at 2:20 PM on January 4, 2015

I think I might do a similar post on the revival of Archie Comics, which is even more far-fetched and mind-blowing than Valiant's revival. I'll wait and see if the Fiona Staples Archie series is any good.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 5:03 PM on January 4, 2015

Finally! I can't wait to offload these Deathmates I've been sitting on.
posted by klangklangston at 8:47 PM on January 4, 2015

No matter what comic store you're in, look in any given long box? Valiant. You're like dude, please. One overlooked Alan Moore Swamp Thing issue. Nope. Several dozen foiled X-O tho :)
posted by triage_lazarus at 11:22 PM on January 4, 2015

Jim Shooter's contribution to Legion of Super-Heroes should not be overlooked. He brought a lot of drama and personality to characters whose only power was: I point and then things happen.
posted by SPrintF at 5:03 PM on January 5, 2015

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