When DC started their game-changing New 52 initiative a year ago next month, it didn’t just provide a boost to DC’s sales (one that is looking less and less temporary as time goes on) – it changed how people are looking at comics. There was an air of despair around the industry before all that happened – the other major media industries had almost completed their switch to digital, and comics – long the last holdout of a print-dominated medium – were starting the long plunge into non-corporeality (pretty sure I just made up a new word there). But instead of a long slide into obsolescence, comic shops are instead faced with a drastic speedup of the digital conversion process, coupled with a sharp increase in physical sales, providing – for the first-time since the pre-bust period of the mid-90s – a real light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.
Out of this newfound sense of optimism have come several trends from outside of the big two – a huge increase in both the number and popularity of creator-owned titles published by Image and Dark Horse, a revitalization of the previously-ailing area of licensed books, and – most interestingly, in my opinion – the return of a publisher that embodies, depending on who you ask, either the best or the worst of the boom and bust years of the 90s. Most people are already at least passingly familiar with “The Valiant story”, but for those who aren’t, a brief summary: After Jim Shooter, a brilliant EIC and comic brand-manager, but also an extremely difficult man to work for or with, was ousted from Marvel, he rounded up a few other corporate expatriates, got in touch with a venture capital firm, and started up his own vision of the “perfect” comic line – a universe much more firmly grounded in reality than most of its contemporaries, with strong continuity enforced across the board, and a definite sense of each book having consequences on everything around it.
This, of course, seemed an extremely novel idea to an industry just flexing its muscles in the years following the advent of books like Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns. Despite starting small, the books picked up considerably in a very short span of time, due to both strong word of mouth, and innovative (some would say gimmick-y) marketing strategies. This culminated in a comic landscape where for a short period, we no longer had the Big two – replacing it with the Big 3. Marvel, DC, and Valiant. Unfortunately, this was also at the height of the speculation boom when some people were buying entire cases of a single issue, convinced they’d be able to recoup their investment with significant gains in a short period of time, and in short order, the company simply collapsed under its own weight, no longer able to meet the demands for new product, or keep the quality levels up on what they were already producing. And just as quickly as they arrived, they were gone.
Now, 20 years later, in an industry that’s just starting to feel it’s oats again, Valiant has returned. And boy, have they! To date, only 3 titles have been released, with a grand total of six issues between them, but if what’s been released so far is any indication of what’s to come, then readers are in for a treat, and shops may once again be able to order the books of another company in “Marvel/DC numbers”. The new Valiant has attracted a creative juggernaut of talented to them, with a number of writers like Robert Venditti, Joshua Dysart, and Joshua Jordan attached to titles, who’ve seen lots of critical acclaim, but little commercial success thus far – and joining them are both underappreciated old-guard artists like Cary Nord and Patrick Zircher, along with some new unknowns like Mico Suayan and Arturo Lozzi who’ve been blowing me away with their output.
In my professional opinion, this is the most exciting thing to happen since The New 52 rocked everyone’s world last year. If you’ve dropped a few DC or Marvel books lately, or are just hungering for something new, I simply can’t recommend these Valiant books enough. For those wondering, Archer and Armstrong will debut its first issue August 8th, Bloodshot and Harbinger will release their second and third issues respectively on August 15, and X-O Manowar releases its 4th issue on August 29th. As for previous issues, Ground Zero has been trying to keep them in stock as best as possible, but we can’t make any promises as far as availability at any given time – just check and see what’s in stock. Also, coming in November is the debut of Valiant’s fifth ongoing title, the return of fan-favorite comic and video game star Shadow Man!