Thee Comic Column #125 – A Valiant Way of Doing Things

RaiLet me tell you about my trip to the comic shop the other day. As is my custom, I headed to Manhattan Beach’s branch of The Comic Bug on my way home from work, using the stop off as a welcome respite from the five-day a week insanity that is the Southbound 405 Freeway* at 3:00 PM on a weekday. Ah, the sights and sounds of a comic shop on new release day – it is pure, unadulterated joy to me. And on this particular day there was double the joy when I met one Andy Liegl, Sales Manager of Valiant Comics on my way to the register. Andy’s a friendly guy whose passion for comics runs as deep as my own, so within moments of his inquiry into what I had in my stack and the perfunctory small talk that revolved around the first issue of the new Luther Strode series and James Tynion, IV I knew that I wanted to hear what this man had to say. Andy had a table decked out with trades and single issues showcasing the Valiant Universe as it is today, almost three years after the re-launch that brought them back in 2012, about the same time a certain other comic company did their re-launch. But I’ll get back to that. So I inquired and Andy, Andy was only too happy to talk to me about what Valiant is doing – besides signing a nine-figure movie deal to open a movie division that is. I wanted to know about the comics, a company I’d been peripherally aware of since their inception in 1988  So Andy gave me his pitch and when all was said and done, I was impressed.

I’ve been peripherally aware of Valiant Comics since its inception in 1988, however at that time I was too young and too new to comics to strike out into unchartered waters with a new company. Years later when video game company Acclaim acquired and relaunched Valiant it was a shedding of the superhero books and a new interest in titles like Stray Bullets, Sandman and Preacher that had made me resistant to anything that wasn’t more in line with the Vertigo/mature themes aesthetic. Now however I’m in a totally different headspace; those mature-themed writers long ago infiltrated the superhero books and raised their bar as high or – in some cases – higher than they’ve ever been, so that even today’s most routine superhero books are more in line with the Watchmen/Dark Knight Returns ‘specialty’ books of the 80s and 90s. And being that I love comics, I’ve been curious for a while now how Valiant fit into this new world.

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One of the things about Valiant’s newest incarnation that struck an immediate chord with me is their writers. Matt Kindt, Justin Jordan, Peter Milligan, Joshua Dysart and Jeff Lemire, just to name a few. This tells me that Valiant has obviously gone out of their to work with people known for not only thinking outside the box with comics as a medium, but with archetypal characters as well. This speaks volumes, however it is further qualified by what I would call the company’s Economic Character Strategy. As Action Figure Insider Daniel Pickett said a few months ago on Drinking with Comics, the comic book industry is often a strip-mining industry. Character and title bloat constantly threaten everything and they have likewise made my relationship with Marvel tenuous at best, despite the fact that I LOVE their comics. These same outrageous methods are what, to me, completely killed DC’s initially extremely promising 2012 relaunch The New 52. The New 52 began strong, with a lot of the ideas aimed at revitalizing their bloated, often confusing continuity. Many of those best ideas quickly disappeared however, in what I would call a cash-grab frenzy. It was this disappointment that has driven the current spike between myself and DC and furthermore, it was this exact schism that I thought of as Andy told me about Valiant’s relaunch. Listening to Andy talk about Valiant’s conservative approach to adding titles and publishing events made me see that by the admittedly tough criteria I hold up as my preferred aesthetic for a comic book company, Valiant seems to have done everything right.

Allow me to elaborate for effect, using the New 52 as a direct juxtaposition to illustrate the superiority of Valiant’s approach in the media-frenzy age.

The first big harbinger of the philosophy that wrecked DCs current continuity for me was the fact that they hired a whole slew of A-list writers and then within about six months strangled them with editorial decisions that moved the books in a more unified direction. A direction that would promote crossovers, special tie-ins and multi-title character bloat (how many official canon Bat books are there?). Next, remember the idea going into the New 52 that it would be streamlined in such a way as to eliminate cross-contamination, i.e. you could choose the books that appealed to you and read them without fear of having to read a bunch of other books to keep up on the continuity? I didn’t either until someone reminded me of that recently. Well, Valiant set up the same systems and guess what? They’ve actually stuck to their guns. They also haven’t spun off multiple titles from popular characters, something even Marvel, still at the top of their game in my book, does on a monthly basis.

I mean, how many Avengers books are there right now? I love the Avengers, but I’d love them a lot more if there weren’t so much of them. Remember, absence makes the heart grow fonder.

As we spoke Andy blew me away with not only his knowledge of comics but with his passion for them as a medium of story first, an aesthetic apparently held in high regard at Valiant, proven when he told me that not only could a reader pick one Valiant title and follow it alone, without fear of missing any major plot points farmed out to other books, but that if one so chose, one could read Valiant’s entire Universe each month for about $35.

Whoah.

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My appreciation for comics has grown over the last five years so that I am not only a fan of the medium itself, but also for the business side of that medium as it adapts and infiltrates so many other mediums out here in the hyper-informed 21st century. What this means is that, for example, while I love almost every Marvel movie thus far, I’m more in love with the big picture they are creating with the MMU and how their successes with it have helped them streamline and improve their comics. This is what appealed to me about Valiant and initially saw me take Andy’s advice and pick up my first Valiant title, the opening collection of Rai. The choice was predicated on Matt Kindt as the writer but also on Clayton Crain’s art. If you read this column you know that although I will always give the artist their due, art is not usually a deciding factor when I buy a new book. In the case of Rai however, the way Crain’s art delivers the world he and Kindt have created, a kind of Blade Runner-meets-Akira future, was exactly the reason I chose to give this book a try. It’s gorgeous, in both conception and execution.

So I returned home with a stack of books that included two of my monthly heavies, the stuff I earmark as “Read Immediately”, specifically this week The Walking Dead #140 and Southern Bastards #8. TWD went down in a single, glorious bite as usual and then a funny thing happened. Before I could reach for the anxiously awaited next chapter in Southern Bastards my eye gravitated to that Rai trade. My hand hesitated for an instant and that was all it took. Next thing I knew I was an entire chapter into Rai: Welcome to New Japan and loving it. I’ll admit I felt a little over my head at first, however I very quickly grasped the lay of the land Kindt and Crain establish in this first trade. And no, I found that true to Andy’s word I really didn’t need to have any pre-existing knowledge of what had come before to fully enjoy not only the glorious art and design, but the story of Rai, which is less archetypal hero’s journey as it is modern tech-age paranoic disasterpiece. Secret cabals, a mysterious overseer and lies and agendas on top of lies and agendas. There’s the future-noir element that led to my Blade Runner comparison and a techno-organic body dysmorphia that led to the Akira one, but there’s also so much more going on here and I am absolutely thrilled to be in on the ground floor of it.

Thanks Andy, I’m in!

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* For non-Californians who know these roads as Expressways there is a reason that name is not employed ’round these parts.

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Can’t find a comic shop? You can always use old reliable Comic Shop Locator at 1-800-COMIC-BOOK. Or you can take some of my recommendations. If you live in the greater Chicagoland area I recommend any of the wonderful four locations of Amazing Fantasy Books. In Los Angeles it’s The Comic Bug. Las Vegas it’s Alternate Reality Comics. San Francisco? Try the Isotope Comic Lounge and if you happen to venture a little further North I’d say you have to visit The Escapist Comic Book Store in Berkley (with the wonderful Dark Carnival Books next door and owned by the same folks). Read on!!!

Shawn C Baker

Shawn C Baker

Shawn lives in Los Angeles where he co-hosts Drinking w/ Comics, writes screenplays and fiction and has been known to drink quite a bit of beer. Good beer.

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