This was an invaluable resource in the background of Voyager Communications and Valiant Comics; though, it is all from Shooter's point of view. However, in the absence of much of anything from anyone else, it is what I have to go on. Most of it has the ring of truth, though you still have a lot of Shooter's "I did this and I did that." Maybe he did; but, he has been called out on that in the past. With Marvel, i don't take much of what he said at face value; with Valiant, I'm more inclined to believe his story (in general terms) until I see more evidence to the contrary. His departure from Valiant is a bit more contentious than the beginnings; so, that will be a different story.
I'm going to take this pretty much in stages, covering Shooter's period, until the end. Then, post-Shooter to the Acclaim buyout and the rebranding and demise of Acclaim Comics. Valiant 2.0 will be saved for the epilogue.
"Fortunately, ah keep mah feathers numbered for just such an emergency!"
Post by codystarbuck on Nov 21, 2018 17:38:56 GMT -5
So, Nintendo and WWF Battlemania proved to be less than hot items. Finally, Shooter gets to go ahead with the Gold Key revival. In doing so, he sets a lot of precedents that will soon be copied by many and also demonstrates that while he might have been an HR nightmare (depending on who's telling the story) he knew some things about how to tell comic book stories and how to sell them. Let's take a moment to look at some of the things that helped Valiant stand out, on very crowded comic racks. The first is the company logo....
It's a nice, relatively simple design, which immediately identifies them, and also, subtly, includes their initial. It's a good brand logo, much like the Marvel box. Next, the series logos. Shooter knew they had to grab attention, when often all you could see was the masthead area. Thus, logos needed to be distinct and eye-catching. Simplicity stood out, in a time when everyone was going gonzo with lettering. Shooter conceived of a uniform box logo, with more distinctive interior lettering, matching the theme of the book. Janet Jackson (aka JayJay, letterer and assistant to Shooter) talks about the designing here. Look at these early books......
In an instant, you can spot a Valiant book. It's a great bit of branding, which helps promote Valiant as a company, just as much as the individual titles. That was part of the success of Marvel; Stan promoted the brand as much as any issue of Spider-Man, if not more. As things changed, that branding was constant. Now, imagine the flood of titles on the stand, in the early 90s; not just DC and Marvel (and flood was accurate, from them); but, also Dark Horse, Eclipse, Malibu, Fantagraphics, Kitchen Sink, Tundra, Mirage, etc, etc.... You have a sea of covers and logos; some basic, some elaborate. Valiant attracted your eye with simplicity and uniformity, while also capturing the feel of the book, through specific elements (the bird in Barbinger, the electric pulse of Magnus, the flare of Solar, etc).
Next, you have the coloring. Valiant had some great subtleties to the coloring, with fading shades and blends. Barry Windsor-Smith had given Solar a prismatic effect, with light and the colors popped out on the effect. And this was without computers! Valiant was still using traditional coloring methods, though with a much greater technical skill than DC and Marvel were using. A lot of that has been credited to Kathryn Bolinger, who was the main colorist, of the early days (along with BWS). They achieved fantastic effects on miniscule budgets. Shooter put together a good team and he stressed the details of packaging the books.
Next, let's look at the team. Shooter oversaw everything. He conceived the characters (as presented in the Valiant books, while adapting they core elements from Gold Key), plotted the series, wrote the scripts, drew some covers and full issues (!!), handled business meetings, talked to printers and comic press, wrote press releases, mentored young talent (writers and artists) and dealt with his financial backers (Triumph Capital). He hired, as his office manager, an old friend, Debra Fix, who he knew from Pittsburgh (and who he used as a character in Starbrand). She kept the place running, handled the administrative stuff, and cooked Thanksgiving meals for people who were working on a deadline. Janet Jackson (not Michael's little sister) was a letterer and graphic designer who Shooter recruited from Marvel. She designed many of the logos, lettered many of the comics, and assisted the editors and production people, and a thousand other things, working 7 days a week in Valiant's original offices (a loft, on 26th). When Shooter was fired by Triumph and Steve Massarsky, Debra and JayJay were also immediately fired. They were his loyal lieutenants and they were treated like the back end of Lockjaw. They also were responsible for packing up whatever belonged to Shooter, as he was barred from the offices, by armed security guards (lest he walk in and crush everyone with his giant feet and toss refrigerators around the offices).
Joining this nucleus were three veterans who were on the outs with Marvel (according to Shooter): Bob Layton (Iron Man, Hercules), Don Perlin (Moon Knight, Defenders) and Barry Windsor Smith (like I need to cite examples....). BWS was a coup, as he had a name with fandom, far more than Layton (though his Iron man work was always a fan favorite and hercules was a cult hit). Bary didn't come aboard easily (he was unhappy with the work-for-hire methods of the Big Two), nor cheaply; but, came he did. he and Shooter often had competing ideas of telling a story (Shooter looking more for basic mechanics, Smith looking for artistic expression). they found a compromise which did much to shape the Valiant house style. Shooter wanted a house style, like early Marvel, where you could identify the company by just looking at a page. That style also helped to develop the young talent, who became known as Knob Row. It started with Layton, who worked with many of them, and referred to them as "knobs", who needed to be "turned." The name stuck. Perlin would take over working for them, as Layton became more involved with X-O Manowar. He had taken over from John Romita in developing the young production people at Marvel (Romita's Raiders, which became Perlin's Pirates) and became Art Director for Valiant, as well as an editor (as was Layton). Layton did some of the early inking, as did Perlin, though often assisted by one of the newbies, especially Jade Moede.
Knob Row were all young, all inexperienced. many were Kubert School graduates, who Shooter credited with teaching them discipline, professionalism and how to meet a deadline. He felt they were the foundations for good young talent, which could then be molded into something bigger. A few came from nowhere, including Valiant's first artistic sensation, David Lapham. Lapham's first professional job was an issue of WWF Battlemania (my sympathies); but, soon, he was drawing the Rai segment of Magnus, Robot Fighter and then writing and co-plotting (and co-creating) Harbinger. Art Nichols was another from Marvel, having worked on things like Web of Spider-Man. Then, there was Paul Creddick, who was prolific, in the early days. Paul can be seen on some covers and the early issues of Magnus. He had been working in comics since he was a teenager, on DC's Legion of Superheroes. Paul Creddick was Jim Shooter. He used his brother-in-law's name, for pencilling work. How detailed his work was, I don't know, as he was inked by people like Layton and Perlin, who probably did a lot of finishing. However, Shooter had some art credits at Marvel and certainly kew how to lay out a page, based on his own theories of storytelling.
So, that's the background; now, on to the books.
The Valiant Universe begins with Magnus, Robot Fighter. Shaxper will tell you, Magnus was the creation of Russ Manning and was one of the most popular of the Gold Key books (after a certain Son of Stone, who fought "honkers."). Manning's slick art, dynamic stories, sexy women, and inventive stories were great favorites of old fans and Shooter pretty much picked up where Manning left off, in the futuristic utopia that was Magnus' world. It's a world where robots handle all the menial tasks and humans enjoy a life of luxury. Except, Shooter threw the cold waer of reality onto Manning's sci-fi utopia. In Manning's world, some robots malfunctioned and went rogue, either due to glitches or the machinations of would-be conquerors. In Shooter's world, they broke programming and became sentient. They demanded the right to decide their own destiny. They developed free will. It started small, then grew exponentially.Magnus is sent out to deal with the rising problem, as the human population is ill-equipped to deal with anything much, beyond basic biological functions. Senator Clane see the free will robots as a threat to society and his pleasure-seeking daughter, Leeja, agrees. Magnus is curious as to how the robots are becoming sentient and isn't so quick to want to destroy them.
In the opening storyline, "Steel Nation," the free will robots have a sort of underground movement. As robots become sentient, others guide them to groupings. One of the leaders is a robot, called O1X. He seeks freedom for his kind and he doesn't care if they have to achieve it through violence. We also see a waiter robot, W23, who encounters Magnus at a restaurant, while he fights a rogue. At one point, Magnus encounters W23, discovers he is a free will, yet poses no threat, and lets him go. This touches feelings within W23. He abhors the violence that O1X and some of the others are preaching, yet he wants to go on "living."
Magnus traces the rogues to the "Goph" level, the lower bowels of the megacity that is NorthAm, and finds a gathering of them, confronting them. he was sent to destroy them; but, he tries reason, instead. O1X is defiant, yet W23 is drawn to Magnus. Military and civil forces smash into the gathering and begin slaughtering the free wills. Robot tries to stop them and is branded a traitor. He is forced to hide in the Goph areas, while seeking to stop the free wills from destroying human society. magnus tries to find a peaceful solution; but, is caught between the fires of rebellion, fanned by O1X, the political machinations of Senator Clane, and the military, represented by General Mimsy. Leeja becomes involved and Magnus is forced into choices. The Steel nation destroys the MainBrain, the central system that directed robot activities. Human society is thrown into chaos, Magnus is declared a traitor and Clane becomes the President of NorthAm. O1X becomes the robot Malcolm X, a martyr to the cause. W23 undergoes a transformation, taking on a unique identity, as Tekla, with a decidedly female form.
Shooter peeled away the utopian facade to reveal that it was built on mechanical slavery, mimicking the development of the Planet of the Apes film series, where Caesar, the son of Cornelius and Zira, sees apes used as slave labor in a city, years after the murder of his parents (Conquest of the POTA). Like Caesar, O1X leads a revolt of his people and Magnus becomes like MacDonald, the sympathetic black aide to the city governor, who lets Casar go and saves him from electrocution. Magnus is changed by his encounters with the free wills and the poorer Gophs, who leave below the gleaming "milespires". He falls in with a dancer, who takes care of orphan gophs. He also develops a friendship with Tekla, who becomes a sort of robot transgender metaphor, which was a rather daring idea (though Mike Barr had already had Tristram reborn as a woman, in Camelot 3000).
The next storyline, Invasion, finds Magnus recruited by a Japanese envoy, to help save the people from their own rogue, Grandmother, a sentient construct that encompasses all of the Japanese islands. As the population grew, technology allowed for a megacity, that was run by an AI, Grandmother. However, the envoy says the AI is rogue and threatens all existence. In Japan, we see that Grandmother has her own fighter, Rai, a warrior trained from birth to physical and mental perfection, able to channel energy into weapons. The role of Rai is handed down from father to son, for generations. The current Rai is mortally wounded and muss pass on to his son, Tohru, who has a wife and a new son, Takashi. Tohru sought to escape the role of Rai, but is forced into it. There are forces, the Anti-Grannies, who seek to destroy the AI, leaving only the environmental features, allowing humans to re-exert control. It turns out that this is the faction that has recruited Magnus. However, magnus doesn't like their approach. he has had a visitation by Solar, Man of the Atom, who was thought to be dead, a few thousand years before. Solar warns of an alien invasion and Magnus unveils the Anti-Grannies as the pawns of alien agents. He and Rai face off, then work together to stop the aliens, as only Grandmother has the power to defeat them. The aliens are a spider-like race, who use armored battlesuits of varying strength. Grandmother is able to defeat them and Tohru remainsas the new Rai, spinning off into his own book.
Rai appears in his own segments, on the flipside of Magnus. One side was Magnus 5-8, featuring the story from his POV. The other side is Rai 1-4, with Rai's POV.
From there, Magnus deals with former enemy Xyrkol (from the Manning series), who had been psychologically rehabilitated; but is forcabley reversed to defeat the Steel Nation and destroy their city. Leeja is working with the free wills, though she is being driven by their extremist leader, E-7. Tekla is still exploring and developing; but soon sees the problem. Magnus tries to avert the destruction of the robots, ordered by president Clane. Leeja grows through her experiences, starting the series as a hedonist, pampered elite and ending up a daring fighter for justice, alongside Magnus.
In another revolutionary aspect of Magnus, Valiant inserted coupons, which were to be collected. They appeared in the first 8 issues and a redemption certificate was then added to issue 8. The coupons and certificate would then be mailed to Valiant to order a copy of the Magnus 0 issue. It was a unique gimmick, in an era where gimmicks were taking over from story and art. This was no foil cover or trading card, or useless pog; it was a method to get a free comic, with an all-new story. Valiant would use this with Harbinger and X-O. They also announced that Magnus 0 issue would be made available to retailers, with 1 copy per every 10 issues of the regular issue ordered. Mile High Comics announced an "exclusive offer" for these comics, which set off some heat. It was the same premium available to other retailers; but, Chuck Rozanski was a friend of Shooter and had helped break a monopoly on Marvel direct market distribution, held by Phil Seuling. However, Rozanski had been charged by some as trying to just replace Seuling's monopoly with his own, until rebuffed by Carol Kalish (per hazy memory of a Peter David column about Rozanski and Kalish, as well as Shooter, written in the wake of the Defiant press release controversy). Rozanski was a heavy early promoter of Valiant, in part due to his friendship with Shooter. Shooter elaborated that there was no exclusive offer; it was available to all retailers, based on order quantities. The thing to remember, though, is that the early issues of Valiant had low print runs and modest sales. They were struggling for a while. By Harniger #4, they were seeing a strong upswing, which grew to great heights with Unity and the promotion of their back issues by Wizard, as well as trumpeting the company in articles about their storylines. Valiant, at the time of the Magnus 0 issue, is still struggling, though gaining ground.
Issue 12 sees the introduction to the Lost Land, a time displaced dimension that exists at a sort of null point in the universe, where time moves slowly. Dinosaurs live side by side with mammals and hominoids. A group of future hippies has travelled there to escape the world of NorthAm. One of them, Willow, has come seeking Magnus' help, as they are threatened by savages. magnus travels with Willow to this dimension, where he finds the emigrants building a new version of their old world, in this prehistoric world. they are destroying the ecological balance. The "savages" who threaten them are responding to the destruction they are creating. The "savages" are led by a pair of Kiowa indians, who have been displaced to this world. Their names are Turok and Andar. The Son of Stone meets the Robot Fighter. Now, all three major components of the Gold Key comics are in place.
The next three issues lead into Unity, the company-wide crossover which brings all of the existing Valiant books together. Ernie Colon provides the art and Roger Stern comes on board to write, from Shooter's plots. However, after Unity, Shooter would be fired from the company and the books would move into new directions. While Shooter was there, he moved into exploring the younger days of Magnus. After he left, the book moved on to dealing with new wars and aliens, with Magnus getting a costume change.
The book is a terrific read through Unity. Steel Nation establishes the world with authority and both pays homage to Russ Manning, while giving things a more modern and realistic presentation. Magnus grows into a more complex character and we see that most utopias have a cancer at their core. Invasion expanded beyond NorthAm and introduced us to Rai, the "Magnus of Japan." Rai will be a link between the time periods of present day Valiant and the future inhabited by Magnus. It would also feature David Lapham's first work, beyond steroid monster wrestlers, as he handles the Rai chapters (though Rai 1 features the same credits as Magnus 5, which was on the reverse side, a situation that Shooter corrected in a subsequent editorial).
Magnus is where Shooter showed the Valiant approach to things, from design, to more mature storytelling. It was still Code-friendly; but, it had more realistic motivations. Those who did read them were impressed and soon became vocal about the quality of those early Valiants, before the comic press jumped on the bandwagon (especially Wizard). Shooter states that he was opposed to gimmicks, though his partners pushed for them, based on their success at the Big 2. Shooter was determined that any gimmicks added value to the books, such as the 0 issues, or the Magnus/Rai flipbooks.
Once Shooter is gone, the quality of the stories in Magnus drops. It becomes more of a standard sci-fi/superhero book. The social commentary is not as strong, nor is the vision. The book would continue through 5 years, before being canceled. It was revived in 1997, with the Acclaim relaunch; but, scratched through 17 issues. The glory days were in that first year and a half, as Shooter and his team built the Valiant Universe, taking us to Unity.
Post by codystarbuck on Nov 21, 2018 18:54:14 GMT -5
June, 1991 saw the launch of the second title in the Valiant Universe....
Dr Solar, Man of the Atom, was a bit more moderately successful, at Gold Key. It began as a scientist hero, but quickly put him in a red leotard and goggles, with green skin. The early issues had wonderful painted covers....
...but, the interior art was less spectacular (especially compared to Marvel). It stuck around for a while, though with large gaps between issue runs. The character was a scientist who is transformed by a nuclear accident into s powerful superhero. The costume helped contain his nuclear energy. he dealt with enemy agents and other menaces, without much distinction. His supporting cast was minimal, including girlfriend Gail. Shooter took this and twisted the heck out of it.
Valiant's Solar is Phil Seleski, a nuclear scientist working on a project is Muskogee, OK. Except he's not. He's another Phil Seleski, from another project, from another dimension. And, he is a comic book hero, from an actual comic book, which Phil read and collected. But he's not. He wears the comic costume, except when he doesn't. It's complicated.
The first ten issues of Solar form an extended novel, told in two parallel stories. The main story features art by Don Perlin and deals with Solar coming to Muskogee, buck naked. His world is gone. He comes to Phil's apartment, which is his apartment, as he is Phil. Except he runs into Phil, as he puts on clothing. Solar is actually from another dimension, where he helped create a fusion reactor, which led to a massive nuclear accident, which led to the destruction of Solar's world and thrust him through the dimensional rift into this world, where a different Phil is working on the same project. Solar works to stop the same accident from happening. Phil sees his other dimensional self and begins to question reality. He recognizes the Solar name, from his old comic books. Solar ends up splitting personalities, creating two separate bodies, one as Solar, one as the costumed Man of the Atom. The Man of the Atom thinks like the comic book hero and helps rescue a boy and ends up staying with the family. Solar investigates the project and meets Dr Erica Pierce, a colleague on the project, with a rather dysfunctional marriage. An event occurs, which affects Erica, unleashing abilities in her. Solar and Man of the Atom eventually reunite, though Phil is still a separate person. Things seem to head towards the same disaster as in Solar's world, until he stops it, causing the event that starts Erica's transformation. Along the way, he becomes aware of the alien presence and fights, in the future, against them, and also destroy's some of their agents, in the present. This ends up leading to the discovery of the alien abductees, from across time. One of these if a Visigoth warrior, named Aric, who will feature in a future book.
The world of Solar seems very much like that of Dr Manhattan, in Watchmen. Solar has grown way beyond what he once was, into an immensely powerful being, who has lost touch with his humanity. Except, that he still clings to it and tries to recapture it. The release of the Man of the Atom personna is predicated on the guilt of having destroyed his world, creating a more positive, heroic personna. In his adventures, he comes into contact with Toyo Harada and the Harbinger Foundation, which recruits people with special abilities. Harad is an immensely powerful telepath and psionic, who uses Harbinger for the acquisition of his own personal power. They face off in battle and also fight the spider aliens. Harada will be central to the next Valiant book, Harbinger. The spider aliens will be central to the one that follows, X-O Manowar.
Solar features some fascinating character pieces, as we see Solar deal with the guilt of his world, while the Man of the Atom personna deals with the conflicting reality of this world and his built in knowledge of the fantasy of the comic book version. The mother of the rescued boy is attracted to Man of the Atom and he is conflicted by loneliness and knowledge that he is not what he seems. Phil is blinded by ambition to create and unnerved by the encounters with his other self. He confides in his psychiatrist Dr John Verhusen (inspired by Marvel production head John Verpoorten, and drawn to resemble him, physically). Erica Pierce is in a disaster of a marriage, and is struggling with alcoholism. The averted nuclear event unleashes power in her, which makes matter go from bad to disastrous. Her story will slowly build, leading into Unity, where she will be the antagonist.
While this was going down in the main component of the comic, a special insert feature, by Barry Windsor-Smith, featured the origin of Solar, in a piece called "Alpha and Omega." There, we see Phil Seleski's experiment go awry and he storms off to enter the disaster zone, hoping to stop a complete meltdown. He finds himself transformed by the radiation and averts the meltdown, though he is massively irradiated. He soon recovers and begins to display amazing powers, which, at first, are only noticed by Erica Pierce. She is attracted to the wonder oand power of his abilities. meanwhile, Phil's girlfriend, Gayle, moves farther away from im. He investigates the accident and finds a flaw in the construction and seeks to stop other plants from going on line, coming into conflict with his superior. It leads to a confrontation with government forces and the consumption of nuclear materials, for energy. He tries to show Gayle his new power and the world beyond her senses; but, she is repulsed. Instead, Erica asks to see and is changed. Solar grapples with the knowledge that he is like a god. When the government attacks him, he unleashes massive energy and loses control of it. It climaxes in 10-piece comic panel, showing the destruction of his surroundings, leading to a single black hole, which is consuming his universe. The climax, in issue 10, brought the two stories together and featured a black cover (for which BWS was still paid to draw)
This then led into Unity and Shooter was soon gone. Solar continued through 60 issues, before ending; but, nothing compared to those ten and Alpha and Omega.
Solar was reborn under Acclaim, with Warren Ellis writing, but only in a single issue. A second one shot and a mini followed, before the bottom fell out. The rights reverted back to Random House, who had purchased the assets of Golden Books, which included the Western Publishing original comic book properties. Solar and Magnus would appear again, from Dark Horse (who also reprinted the Gold Key material, in Archive editions) and Dynamite.
Magnus and Solar would also feature in reprint minis, at Valiant.
as would Turok.
Magnus would also co-star with Nexus and Predator....
Mike Baron & Steve Rude handled Magnus and their creation (Nexus) while John Ostrander scripted the Predator crossover, from Shooter's plot, with Lee Weeks on art. It was conceived before Shooter's firing; but, completed after. Magnus Nexus sees The Dude having a blast doing his Russ Manning pastiche on Magnus, mixing with his Toth Space Ghost approach to Nexus. It's a beautiful mini. The Dude never failed on one of these projects.
Next, we look at Harbinger and X-O, as we lead into Unity and the further expansion of the Valiant Universe.
"Fortunately, ah keep mah feathers numbered for just such an emergency!"
Post by codystarbuck on Nov 24, 2018 23:46:42 GMT -5
Valiant had two series going, based on the old Gold Key adventures series; so, we all know, logically, what the next series would be, right? Well, not quite.
Valiant's third adventure/superhero series would be Harbinger. Now, at the time it was announced, it was pretty easy to dismiss it as an X-Men derivative; and, it is, though more by way of one of the few relatively popular New Universe titles, DP7. That series featured young people with paranormal abilities, trying to deal with them. Same as X-Men, certainly; but, the emphasis was less on being costumed combatants and more on people grappling with newfound abilities. Harbinger was a similar concept. The focus is on the Harbinger Foundation, a secretive corporate entity, run by a man, named Toyo Harada. Harada is secretly the most powerful sionic on the Earth and has the ability to trigger latent abilities in people who possess that potential. Harbinger runs ads throughout the US and internationally, seeking people with extraordinary abilities. One of the people who answered these ads was Peter Stanchek, a young man who showed some mental abilities. It turns out, his potential power rivals Harad and he can also activate other Harbingers (as the potential candidates are known). He and Harada are referred as Omega Harbingers. Harbinger isolates Peter from friends and family, training him in the use of his powers. However, friends start noticing changes in him and the arrogant and dominating attitudes of the Harbinger people. Peter's best friend is murdered and Peter uses his abilities to learn that it was order by the Harbinger Foundation. He rebels and leaves the group, along with girlfriend, Kris, and goes on the run. Harbinger send its field team, the Eggbreakers to recapture Peter, after conventional agents prove ineffective.
Peter and Kris are typical teenagers, idealistic but rather naive. There is also the problem that Peter had unconsciously used his powers to push Kris into falling in love with him. Peter admits what he has done, before their escape. Also, Kris has no abilities. The pair eventually decide to find others like Pete, in an effort to build a group to counter Harbinger. The first person they encounter is Faith Herbert, a plu-size teenager who lives with her grandmother. Her wold is comic books, sci-fi novels, tv and movies, and related trappings. Faith has the ability to fly, and levitate others. She is ecstatic at the thought of being a superhero and even has her own costumes, and takes the name Zephyr. Next, they meet Charlene DuPre, aka Flamingo, who can generate fire. The last of the initial group is John Torkelson, a mechanic who turns out to have super strength and seems impervious to harm. He is called Torque, for short.
The group has problems from the start, not least of which as Torque doesn't like any of them, Flamingo acts like she is looking to bed the males, Faith thinks it is all like comic books, and Kris seems to be the only one to see reality. Harbinger proves more adept at combat and the first skirmish with the Eggbreakers leaves Pete's group in danger, until luck and sheer power (mostly Peter) allow them to escape. Slowly, the group comes to trust one another, as Torque begins to show his nicer side, as first Flamingo befriends him (beds him, more like), then Kris basically nails his insecurities and easily identifies his illiteracy. Zephyr befriends him, when she sees his gentler side. Torque begins to find the family he never had, growing up an abused orphan. Flamingo's mother is a religious fanatic and she rebelled by acting like a tramp, hiding a rather intelligent mind and sophisticated attraction to art. Zephyr's attraction to comics and sci-fi is a link to her deceased parents, who shared their interests with her and she clung to them as a reminder of them.
In short, the personalities and group dynamics were more important than superhero battles, though there was plenty of action.
One of the attractive features f the series was the art of David Lapham. Lapham had already produced art on Magnus 5-8, on the Rai flip side feature. Now, he was handling the art and contributing to the plot of the Harbinger series. He followed the Valiant house style; but quickly began growing beyond it. His work became noticed and Harbinger became Valiant's first break-out hit, around the 4th issue. It wasn't a massive hit; but, it was their first profitable book and its audience grew with each issue. The comic press took notice and the series garnered good reviews, both for the realistic handling of the characters and Lapham's growing skill.
Harbinger soon encountered Solar, which opened up a new world to them. They also met up with the spider aliens and helped fight them off. Their world was soon further disrupted by Kris' discovery that she was pregnant and the baby was Torque's. This revelation happens just before one of the team is killed in battle with the Eggbreakers. The team barely has a chance to start mourning, when they are pulled into the Unity event. Unty covers a lost section of time and Kris has the baby while the team is trapped in the Lost Land and the baby turns out to be massively important for the future. Kris is forced to return to their dimension, without the baby.
By this point, Shooter has been ousted from the company and David Lapham takes over scripting and art. A new Harbinger is introduced, as well as a rival to Harbinger, the HARD Corps. Then, Valiant's executives try to force David Lapham into a work-for-hire contract that would drastically limit his ability to profit from his work. Lapham balks at it and walks out of the company. He would go off and create his own crime series, the critically acclaimed Stray Bullets.
Lapham's departure would leave the series floundering and Valiant's biggest hit soon turns into one of their average titles, before the Acclaim relaunch, which significantly altered the series, to be more friendly to video game development. Quite frankly, you really only need to reed issues 0-13. That is the zenith of the series. After that, it becomes more of a generic X-Men-style series, with decreasing returns. It's still certainly readable; but, it isn't nearly the same level.
Harbinger had some interesting twists within the series. Peter, despite his powers, is unsure of himself and seems to struggle with more than just his powers and the battle with Harada. Shooter later revealed that Peter was intended to be gay, and that his relationship with Kris was his delusion of what kind of relationship he was supposed to have. Shooter's Unity 2000 script was going to have a seen where the female villain would ask Peter if he would prefer that she adopt a more pleasing male form. reading those early issues, you can see hints that Peter is not good at relationships with women, and is part of why his power came into play, subconsciously. All the teens are shown to have the normal insecurities and it iseven remarked that Harbinger powers seem to go hand in hand with social dysfunctions. It was a radical idea to suggest that super-powered beings were deeply flawed with psychological issues, beyond what Alan Moore had suggested, in Watchmen.
Kris is completely powerless, yet she seems to have the greatest insight into all of the group. She pegs Torque as a scared little boy, who can't read, who puts on a threatening front, to keep people at arms length, est he be hurt. She is also jealous of Flamingo, at the start; but, recognizes her intelligence and empathy to others. Flamingo is the one who pegs that Kris is pregnant, when she talks about feeling ill over several days, immediately asking if she is late in her cycle. Faith proves to be a breakout character, as she was the prototype fanboy, though a girl. She wants desperately to believe the fantasy. However, her weight and her geeky pursuits have always made her an outsider and she first thinks that Peter and Kris are part of some cruel prank. However, Faith quickly matures, after facing deadly Harbingers, aliens, and time disruptions, as well as meeting immortals, god-like beings, and real dinosaurs. Faith proves to be a great center for the team. At first, orque mocks her as Zeppelin, rather than her chosen name of Zephyr. The others quickly adopt it; but, Torque threatens a new recruit when he uses the name, telling him to call her Zephyr. Faith soon grows beyond the name. She also provided a female character who wasn't the typical model or, given the look of 90s comics, a stripper. She didn't have Barbie proportions. In other words, she was more like a real person. It is that very reason that she has been at the center of the development for a proposed Harbinger movie, which is back in the works, again.
Like Magnus and X-O, Harbinger had a coupon redemption gimmick for a zero issue. The issue turned out to feature the story of how Peter came to the Harbinger Foundation and his rebellion against them, leading into issue 1, which started with them already on the run. Personally, I thought it was the best of the zero issues.
The spider alien storyline, which crossed from magnus to Solar to Harbinger would lead to the fourth title from Valiant, X-O Manowar, which will be our subject next time. Join us for Bob Layton's return to an armored hero and one who crossed Conan with Tony Stark, and a living suit of armor. We'll also look at Marvel's failed attempt to [email protected]#$ with Shooter, which proved to be a failure, though which didn't prevent them from trying it again, with Defiant.
"Fortunately, ah keep mah feathers numbered for just such an emergency!"
Post by codystarbuck on Nov 24, 2018 23:58:11 GMT -5
ps Toyo Harada was one of the more nuanced villains in comics (of the period). He was a WW2 survivor who saw the danger that the world faced, in the form of nuclear annihilation and the decimation of the environment. Harad seeks to save the world from itself and feels the best way to accomplish this is by conquering it. To that end, he seeks to build an army of Harbingers, to be able to counter the military might of the nations. Unlike Magneto, he doesn't seek to make his people secure by eliminating humanity. he seeks to save both people; but, by taking away liberty and forcing everyone to conform to his ideal world, whether right or wrong. That doesn't hide a atural arrogance in both himself and his people and a ruthlessness that holds few limits. However, Harada allows Harbinger to rescue one of his Eggbreakers, whose ability has grown out of his control. Peter is able to tap Solar's mind to determine how he controls his power and transfer that knowledge into the endangered one's head, giving him back his control. He also works to defeat the spider aliens, though mainly because they threaten his interests.
In fact, Valiant had far more nuanced villains than elsewhere, eschewing the costumed world conqueror in favor if people with extraordinary abilities and competing agendas. They would help set the tone for many villains to follow, who moved away from names like Dr Doom and more into using their own name.
"Fortunately, ah keep mah feathers numbered for just such an emergency!"
Post by codystarbuck on Nov 26, 2018 1:21:00 GMT -5
What do you get when you cross Conan the Barbarian with Tony Stark?
A corporate raider!
Seriously, what you sort of get, is Valiant's next release, and one of their stronger debuts and more popular series, over and extended period of time. I'm talking X-O Manowar (which is also what you get when you cross a mutant with a thoroughbred horse). According to Jim Shooter, he, Bob Layton and Jon Hartz were attending a Capital City Distribution conference and Layton and Hartz came to Shooter with the idea of doing a book about a guy with an exo-skeleton that gave him special abilities. Per shooter, Layton's idea was pretty much Iron man; a wealthy industrialist with a metal suit, with all kinds of weapons. Jon Hartz (again, per Shooter) wanted to do a Punisher character, with body armor and weapons and ammo bandoliers (it was the 90s). Shooter wasn't keen on either idea; but, he still liked the exo-skeleton concept. The idea was developed in story conferences, with (repeat the refrain, per Shooter) JayJay Jackson contributing as much as Bob Layton to the ultimate form that X-O would take. As was the standing formula for Valiant, the book got a tease, before it debuted.
The race of spider-aliens was seen in Magnus/Rai, Solar and Harbinger. Battles were fought against them in the present and the future. Now, they took center stage in the new book.
The first issue opens with a naked man, hacking into spider bodies, with an improvised axe. He talks of "fire-lights" (energy weapons) and hardskins (spider warriors in exo-skeletons). He has a map drawn on his hand and is searching for a specific place, within what we learn is an orbiting starship. he finds the place and sees what looks like a few pieces of armor, though not enough to provide much protection. The naked guy is looking for the ring he was told was the key to the armor. He finds it and it activates the armored piece, just as the spiders show up. Suddenly, a sort of liquid metal envelopes his skin and he is encased in a suit ofarticulated metal, which looks like muscle tissue. And, he has deadly weapons. The alien "fire'lights" can't penetrate the armor. His fire-light burns through theirs. He battles his way through and outside the ship, destroying it in the process, while he plummets to Earth. He survives re-entry and lands somewhere in South America. He sheds the armor and walks away, buck nekkid.
Our nudist is called Aric and he is a Visigoth warrior, from the 5th Century. He was part of Alaric's force, who sacked Rome. However, he and his people were taken prisoner by the spider-aliens, who experimented on them and used them as slave labor. Aric is a fighter and doesn't take this lightly. We later learn that a man, known as the mapmaker, gave him the info that led him to the exo-skeleton. Aric learns that he has returned to Earth, some 1500 years later, into a world he doesn't understand. We also learn that the spider-aliens have agents on the planet and are hunting for the armor, which they call Shanhara (must be Terry Brooks fans, who can't spell Shannara). The agents kill the people of a village that sheltered Aric, to draw him out. he then slaughters the alien base and reclaims the armor (he still had the control ring). He meets an American who helps get him to the US, to go after the aliens, who have a front corporation, Orb Industries, which Aric attacks. He ends up becoming the major shareholder, along with his American friend, of Orb industries, giving us the Tony Stark element (as if the armor wasn't enough).
X-O had a lot of hands involved, with writing from Jim Shooter and Bob Layton, to art from Barry Windsor-Smith (first issue) and Bob Layton, to Sal Velutto, to some of the young talent at Valiant. Through the series, we see how Aric is the baddest dude around and technology doesn't phase him and people constantly underestimate him, including his partner, Ken. Ken is an intriguing character, who has been on both sides of the alien conflict. He's also a gay man, prone to making comments. Unfortunately, he's a bit of a gay stereotype, which led to at least one printed letter, taking Valiant to task for using a gay stereotype, though the writer (who was gay) aplauded the addition of a gay character. Shooter responded with the fact that Ken is one type of gay man, which was well known (even the writer knew people with that personality and affectations). He also pointed out that Ken wasn't the only gay character in the Valiant Universe, though who else might be was not yet revealed and would be down the road (it was supposed to be Peter Stanchek, of Harbinger). Apart from that letter, it didn't seem to draw much controversy.
X-O battled his way through the first batch of spider-alien agents, in his first 4 issues (the Valiant standard, for the introductory storyline), then met up with the Harbinger kids, then got swept up in Unity, where he was a major factor in the battle against Erica pierce's forces. After Unity, Solar returned him to his own time, where his armor helped kick some Roman but, though he finds that armor doesn't change politics. Disgusted, he buries himself in a hole, only to re-emerge 1500 years later (the armor feeds him and keeps him in stasis), renewing his fight.
I continued X-O for a little while after Unity and it was one of the few Valiant books I stuck with, for long, after Shooter was ousted. When Aric buried himself, the armor made modifications and when he re-emerged, the suit was altered. A storyline soon after sees him visit the alien homeworld and destroy any chance of creating another X-O Manowar class armor (it takes centuries and requires much, making them very limited). After a while, though, I lost interest in the book, as the more interesting elements gave way to more conventional stories. The suit taught Aric and he became more sophisticated quickly, over the initial issues; but, later became like anyone else. Early depictions of Aric weren't exactly consistent with the actual Visigoths (they had mail armor and metal helmets and did night fight naked battles), including making references to Lugh, who was an Irish god (the Visigoths weren't Celts). However, that was minor.
Again, the best material is up through Unity and Shooter's tenure, then turns conventional after he leaves. By the time Acclaim comes along and retools things, he's just another armored guy, blasting enemies. The basic concept was good enough to sustain the action, after Shooter was gone and the zero issue (with the requisite send-away premium) featured art from Joe Quesada, who was becoming a name to seek. A later issue, with a Turok crossover, featured art by Barry Sears; though, quite frankly, his art was evolving into something rather overblown, and it wasn't that subtle to start with.
Next, we look at Shadowman, the last piece of the puzzle that was Valiant, leading into the Unity event. he will be Valiant's first supernatural character and he will also turn out to be a fan favorite.
"Fortunately, ah keep mah feathers numbered for just such an emergency!"
Post by codystarbuck on Dec 12, 2018 3:28:39 GMT -5
Time now for the last component of the Valiant Universe, at the inception: Shadowman.
Jack Boniface is a jazz musician, playing in New Orleans clubs, dreaming of hitting it big with a recording contract. He's noticed the same sultry woman, every night in the club. he strikes up a conversation, one thing leads to another (including a bedroom) and, wouldn't you know it, fangs are involved and Jack wakes up out of a dream, with some bloody marks on his neck. When night comes, he finds bigger problems than that (no, not SYDS, though how he missed that...). next thing you know, he's got a cast off carnival mask and he is rescuing women from muggers, who turn out to be "bloodrunners," with all kinds of supernatural connections. His housekeeper, Nettie, says he da' Shadowman, 'cause his shadow come out at night and hunts.
Um, yeah. Anyway, Jack hunts the bloodrunners, which eventually leads to Master Darque, a sort of Baron Samedi for the Valiant world. It's all dark and creepy and supernatural, with a lot of nighttime punk-kicking. It's Batman-meets-Blade, with a New Orleans jazz soundtrack. And, it was pretty much a bona fide hit, from the get go.
Shadowman was the product of Shooter and Steve Englehart, along with artist Mike Manley. Englehart drew heavily on his past of dark vigilante Batman and supernatural Marvel (and Epic), while Shooter tried to keep it tied to his expanding universe. Shooter handled the first few issues, before others came on board. However, Shooter wouldn't be around much longer and Shadowman evolved, over time. It maintained the supernatural aspect and Master Darque became a major villain in the Valiant Universe, leading to the next big crossover, after Unity. However, it grew more and more into a standard vigilante as time wore on. Violence within was high; but, it was the 90s and people ate it up. There is also a strong current of stereotyping within, with the black housekeeper who talks about loa and voodoo and all of that, along with the whole New Orleans after dark thing. To be fair, New orleans perpetuates those stereotypes for tourism and it permeated pop culture of the era, including Ann Rice's books, tv, movies and other media. My favorite band, Concrete Blonde, had their biggest selling album, Bloodletting, whose title song is all about New Orleans and vampires. The series captured that zeitgeist, for a while.
Now, the stage was set. All of the major players had been introduced and slowly brought together, with cameos and crossovers. Now it was time to bring it all together. Before he left Marvel, Shooter had made Secret Wars the template for everything at Marvel, with memos telling writers and artists to refer to the mini to see how stories are supposed to be told. Shooter took his own advice and crafted a company-wide crossover, calling it Unity.
This being the era of gimmicks (which valiant embraced, though with a bit more creativity), Unity launched with a gimmick. The zero issue was free! See that logo box, with the price? Free. Needless to say, comic shops ordered heavily on it. Valiant was betting that a free beginning would get everyone to buy the entire storyline, which meant buying every Valiant title. Unlike Crisis or Secret Wars (well, more the sequel and subsequent crossovers), that didn't mean buying dozens of titles. It meant buying 8 titles, aside from the two Unity bookends. Wait, 8 titles? Magnus, Solar, Harbinger, Rai, X-O, Shadowman......that's only 6; where are the other two?
Archer and Armstrong debuted with a zero issue, released just before Unity 0. Eternal Warrior premiered after Unity 0, as Gilad, the Eternal Warrior, is a central figure in the event. We'll get back to these guys, who are actually brothers.
Unity focuses on Erica Pierce, from Solar, the woman caught up in the nuclear event that launched Solar into the Valiant Universe, after the destruction of his own. Pierce has also gained powers and isn't psychologically equipped to deal with them. She discovers the Lost Land, as seen in Magnus 12. Unlike the original Turok Lost Land, this is not a hidden valley; it's a dimension "out of time." It exists in a sort of null point, separate from other time periods, with technology and prehistoric beasts. Erica sees it as the place to build her Unity Towers, which will bring an end to the universe. the story begins in the future of Magnus, then pulls back to the present. We learn that Geomancers were the guardians of the Earth, helping to watch over it and guide the warriors who protect it. Chief among these is Gilad Anni-Padda, the Eternal Warrior. he is an immortal, born in 3268 BC. He sees the rise and fall of civilizations, as he acts as Earth's "Fist of Steel." He is super strong and nigh invulnerable, ceasing to age, and impervious to disease. His people are destroyed by the Mesopotamians and Gilad wanders the globe, often taking on identities which will become legend. He acts in conjunction with the Geomancers. he eventually encounters the Immortal Enemy, General Cheng, who will repeatedly be reincarnated, to battle the Eternal Warrior. Gilad will be noted by his use of clawed weapons, with armor on his right arm. In ancient times, the armor is bone, and the claws are actual animal claws. In modern times, the armor is metal, as are the spikes in his gloves.
Unity begins in the future of Magnus and Rai, as Gilad is still alive and erica Pierce, who becomes known as the Mothergod, discovers the Lost Land and recognizes its strategic position in time, to launch her plan to destroy the universe. She begins construction of her Unity Towers. The Geomance Rokland Tate finds Gilad, who has been psycho-probed and robbed of his memories. Tate helps him remember, bringing back his identity as the Eternal Warrior. Solar and the 20th Century Geomancer, Geoff mcHenry, discover the remains of their Erica and learn of the existence of the "other" Erica. In the future, Magnus, Rai and the future Gilad arrive in the Lost Land. in the past, Solar and Geoff contact the Harbinger kids, Archer & Armstrong, Aric (X-O) and Shadowman and bring them to aid in the struggle. Turok serves Erica, though he sees the just cause in the others and changes sides. The initial battles fall to Erica, causing the heroes to regroup and return to the fight. Along the way, Kris, of Harbinger, has her baby (fathered by the deceased Torque). Armstrong acts as midwife and delivers a very healthy boy. geoff tells Kris that the baby will be a great hero; but, she must give him up. She reluctantly does. The baby is taken back to the world of the future, where he will be raised by 1-A and grow up to be Magnus, Robot Fighter.
The series capped the first year of Valiant and launched the second year of stories. Keeping with the age of gimmicks, the first month's titles featured linking covers by Frank Miller, while the second month had Walt Simonson covers.
As you can see, the covers combined to form a larger image.
Unity was both a critical and commercial success. by this point, Valiant was the hot property on the speculator market. Wizard had picked up the trumpet and sounded it as to the collectibility of Valiant, especially in light of their low print runs, on their initial launches. Unity brought in a large new audience and they went scrounging for the earlier issues. Prices skyrocketed, with the mail away zero issues reaching into the $100 range. Unity became the milestone for Valiant, as guides talked about pre-Unity issues, vs post-Unity, in terms of value. Valiant was making money and it was growing quickly.
Now joining the team, during the Unity event, were brothers Aram and Gilad, immortals from ancient history. Aram would become known as Armstrong and he would gain a partner, a young man named Obadiah Archer, the child of evangelical preachers, who were secretly murderous pedophiles. Young Obie, accidentally discovered that his parents were molesting and murdering children in their parrish, in perverted rituals. They beat him and bind him, leaving him to die in a fire. He prays to god to save him and he will devote himself to bringing his parents to justice. he has a dream of clouds and a bright light; but, he must turn away from the light to fulfill his vow. he wakes up in a hospital, having been rescued by a fireman. he knows what waits for him, with his parents and runs away from the hospital, ending up stowing away on a freighter, bound for Asia. he eventually ends up in Tibet, in a monastery, where he shows a keen ability to learn and execute martial arts and archery skills. His mission of vengeance is at odds with the monastery's teachings of peace and he is forced to leave. he arrives back in the US, where he gives a vagrant his last $5. That Vagrant is Armstrong, who takes him for a beer and tells tales of past deeds, before they are attacked by armed warriors.
Armstrong is a debauched blowhard, who just happens to be 5,000 years old and the brother of Gilad, the Eternal Warrior. he's actually the stronger of the two and was many legendary figures, including Herakles/Hercules. The warriors who attack Archer and Armstrong are part of a secret society, called The Sect, who have been hunting Armstrong for centuries. One of the warriors, Mahmud, tells Archer he is from a brother monastery and that Armstrong is a demon, out to destroy the world. The pair are taken prisoner and Armstrong tells Archer of the Sect, how they are evil and secretly control much of the world's governments and religious hierarchies, for their own power. They seek Armstrong's satchel, as it contains even greater power. Archer sides with Armstrong; and, together they fight the forces of The Sect.
The satchel is a major element of the series and it appears bottomless, containing artefacts from throughout the centuries, from legends and history. At one point, a gang member gets it and is able to command people to follow his every whim. It doesn't do the same for Armstrong, though. We eventually meet Armstrong's estranged wife, Andromeda, of Greek myth. Eventually, we will be introduced to a third Anni-Padda brother, Ivar, who is displaced in time.
Archer & Armstrong, in my estimation, was the best book that Valiant put out, in those early days. it was filled with action & adventure and lively, engaging characters. It also had a sense of humor that was sorely lacking in adventure comics of the 90s, Valiant included. Barry Windsor Smith was both writing and drawing and though the book wasn't his greatest artistic work, it was some of his best storytelling. Archer and Armstrong were alive on the page, making us laugh and thrill to their adventures. BWS had a complex world at his fingers and it greatly informed his next work, Barry Windsor Smith Storyteller. Both Freebooters and Paradoxman owe greatly to Archer & Armstrong, as the main character of Freebooters is very much Armstrong, who is, himself, a kind of elder, debauched Conan. The Conan connection is more pronounced in Storyteller; but, the personality there is pure Armstrong. Paradoxman is Ivar, the Timewalker, rewritten into a more sci-fi version. Ivar was barely introduced before BWS fell out with Valiant, so he could explore his ideas for the character in Storyteller.
Once BWS left Archer & Armstrong, the soul fell out of it. It was fun, for a bit; but, it was never the same and quality continued to erode.
Eternal Warrior follows Gilad in the present, though we get glimpses of the path. Among his associates is Neville Alcott, a British soldier that Gilad met at Dunkirk. Gilad works in close conjunction with Geoff McHenry and others, fighting threats that arise, including Master Darque. The book was set up to be the big attraction, coming out of Unity; but, it lacked the personality of Archer & Armstrong and was heavily overshadowed by it. it was harder-hitting action; but, it always disappointed me.
There was nothing original, in the character, as he is basically cribbed from Michael Moorcock's Eternal Champion. he doesn't exist in different realities; but lives through various ages. Rather than an agent of the balance between Order and Chaos, he is the Fist of Steel for the Earth, helping to bring down threats to the planet's existence. It never quite comes off. it featured art from legendary Australian cartoonist John Dixon, who created the seminal strip Air Hawk and The Flying Doctors, one of Australia's most popular home-grown comic strips. He ceased working on the series in 1986 and came to the US, where he was an art director in magazines. he returned to comics; but, DC and Marvel had no work for him. Shooter couldn't believe it and snapped him up (same with Stan Drake, an American comic strip legend). Eternal Warrior would carry connections to the British Empire, as he is seen, in flashbacks, serving with the british Army. The Eternal Warrior Yearbook would see him fighting with the Australians, at Gallipoli (which is like the Alamo, for Australia).
Valiant was now profitable and gaining territory, rising to become the third biggest publisher, in terms of market share, in comics (until Image unseated them). Wizard was promoting them and CBG sung their praises in reviews. The universe was, in part, a second draft for Marvel's New Universe. Shooter's initial vision for the New Universe was a brand new, interconnected creation, that would be its own entity. however, compromises and changes in budget led to it becoming, mostly, another line of books to flood the market. A few rose above this (Starbrand, DP7); but, sales were low and the line died after Shooter was fired. Valiant was his chance to show what he intended and it worked. Shooter vindicated his vision of storytelling, with a central continuity, overlapping series, epic crossovers, and well developed characters. The one area it lacked was in the art, to a certain degree. The absence of name talent (apart from Layton and BWS) meant that newcoers were used. This necessitated Shooter to set the artistic style for them, with Layton and Don Perlin teaching them to use Shooter's artistic templates as their guide, creating the Valiant house look. The only real standout of the youngsters was David Lapham, who quickly established a name, before following Shooter away from Valiant. Valiant would gain some names, like Ditko, Drake and Dixon, but mostly guys on the outs with the Big 2. However, when Valiant became a big deal, some of those name artists came over to work with the company, as they could afford to pay more. the future would see young developing superstars, like Bart Sears and Joe Quesada, and, eventually, old pros, like Paul Gulacy, Neal Adams and Mike Grell, who would do creator-owned work there.
Shooter made Valiant a success; but, his partners wanted the fast buck and they were ready to sell. Shooter didn't have the shares to dictate and they presented him with terms he found unacceptable, reducing his role in things, stripping him of authority in the production of the work, and eliminating creator participation in royalties. he refused to sign a new contract and was subsequently fired as editor-in-chief. He was threatened with devaluation of his shares and was forced into an arbitration to buy him out, which saw him receive relative pittance. He found that his loyal colleagues weren't so loyal, as Bob Layton sided with Valiant and maneuvered into his position (in Shooter's eyes). Don Perlin remained loyal; but, had a family and nowhere to go and remained. Shooter's assistant and production artist JJ Jackson were also fired and they rescued his belongings, after he was barred from entering the Valiant offices, by armed security.
Shooter was out and Valiant was moving forward, with Bob Layton at the helm of the comics, while the ruling partners looked for a buyer. It would take a bit of time, before they sold the company to Acclaim, for $65 million. Quality of storytelling eroded, while new titles would be added, and the company embraced gimmickry to the hilt. We will next explore the post-Unity, Post-Shooter Valiant, and look at their ill-fated inter-company crossover, with Image: the aptly named Deathmate. Come on back for late books, 3D covers, gold foil, new titles, and the same old stuff.
"Fortunately, ah keep mah feathers numbered for just such an emergency!"
Post by codystarbuck on Dec 12, 2018 3:34:57 GMT -5
ps, I forgot to mention a special crossover between Archer & Armstrong and Eternal Warrior. it occured in issue 8, which was a joint issue of both books.
The issue features a riff on Alexandre Dumas' classic adventure, the Three Musketeers, with Archer in the role of D'Artagnan, and the three Anni-Padda brothers; Aram, Gilad, and Ivar, as the Musketeers (Athos, Porthos and Aramis). It mostly follows the story, with its own little twists here and there, presenting one of the funnest comics of the 90s, mixing my then-favorite comic, and my all-time favorite adventure novel. One For All and All For One.....and Aram/Porthos is thirsty!
"Fortunately, ah keep mah feathers numbered for just such an emergency!"
Post by codystarbuck on Jan 5, 2019 2:43:39 GMT -5
Sorry for the delay; but, the Holiday season is pretty busy for me work wise. However, I must also confess less enthusiasm for the period I will now explore with Valiant.
So, in 1992, just as Valiant was hitting its stride and shaking up the marketplace, with Unity a big hit and the new books getting favorable reviews and bigger sales, Shooter was ousted. He was presented a new contract, which pretty much stripped him of any creator ownership of his work, undercut his authority by putting in clauses about dealing with other people, and further minimized his role asa partner. Shooter refused to sign and was fired. He was already a minority partner, thanks to Steve Massarsky's involvement with Melanie Okun, which led to the ousting of Winston Fowlkes. Voyager Communications (Massarsky) and Triumph Capital (Okun and partner Michael Nugent) were looking to sell, now that Valiant was a hit. Shooter stood in the way. They had courted Bob Layton, who pushed Shooter to sign the new contract and also maneuvered himself as the alternative Editor-In-Chief. Shooter was out and barred from entering the Valiant offices by security. JJ Jackson and Debbie Fix (Shooter's assistant) were also immediately fired and Don Perlin had been lined up; but had gotten a last minute reprieve (probably because he had been working closely with the young artists and production people, as well as editing. Shooter and his stalwarts were out. David Lapham would leave not long after, when he was presented with a new contract that was rather insulting, given he was their first breakout star. So, Valiant moved on, with Bob Layton at the helm. Layton was an artist and had done a bit of writing (the Hercules mini-series) and was editing some at Valiant. Originally, he was working with the young talent, the "knobs."
The Valiant Universe, post-Unity, left behind that interconnected continuity, though not at first. Gimmicks became more standard, though still more innovative, such as 3-D comics, which didn't need the old 3-D process, thanks to computer coloring. You could read the issues as standard 2-D; or, with the glasses, in 3-D. None of those blue and red lines around things. The glasses worked on other computer colored comics, as readers found out.
The first book of the post-Shooter Valiant was HARD Corps.
The book was actually created by Shooter and David Lapham, with their debut in Harbinger #10. The group is a strike team for Omen Enterprises, a rival to Toyo Harada's Harbinger Foundation. The acronym stood for Harbinger Active Resistance Division, and the team consisted of a group of Vietnam vets who were given brain implants that allow them to temporarily gain Harbinger abilities, via data transmission from Softcore, who is their controller, during mission. The team consists of Gunslinger, Shakespeare, Maniac and Hammerhead and they are outfitted in jumpsuits and given high tech small arms, to augment their Harbinger uploads. The book was a decent mix of military-style action and corporate intrigue, with a dash of X-Men dynamics (what didn't have that, in the 90s?).
David Lapham did the first issue; but Mike Leeke was the regular artist. David Michelinie was handling the scripting and co-plotted with Bob Layton, who edited the book and did some inking. The series was a decent book, mixing a bit of Iron Man corporate intrigue with GI JOE action, with yet another civilian writer trying to write military characters, with no experience. So, you got some military cliches; but, for the most part, it was an engaging series with some good characters. The idea that these guys were normals running up against super powered agents made it a bit different, even though the guys could power up. The idea of transmitting the powers was nothing new, as that was the concept behind The WEB, when DC published the Archie superheroes under the Impact imprint. Mike Leeke's pencilling lacked the polish and storytelling dynamics of Lapham; but, did a pretty decent job with the stories. His figures had somewhat elongated faces and he had troubles with certain poses and staging. Michelinie wrote the first year and nearly half (about 16 issues) before other hands came on board. Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning wrote a few issues, in the 20s, and Mike Baron wrote the last half dozen or so issues. Mike Leeke handled most of the first 10 issues, before other hands came on, with Yvel Guichet handling issues 11-16, Rick Levins 17-20, then a succession of short stints until the end, with issue #30.
Next came Bloodshot.
Bloodshot grew out of Rai and was introduced in the Rai 0 issue, though the character's first full appearance, in the final form, was in Eternal Warrior #4. Rai 0 was conceived by Shooter, David Lapham and Bob Layton and laid out the Valiant Universe history, including the connection between Bloodshot and Rai. However, it was altered after Shooter's ousting. Bloodshot was launched by Kevin Van Hook (who was writing Eternal Warrior), Don Perlin and Bob Layton. Bloodshot is Angelo Mortalli, a mafia hitman who turned state's evidence and went into the Witness Protection Program. he was kidnapped by Project Rising Spirit, which was an attempt to create the perfect warrior, which stretched back to WW2. They eventually developed nanite technology which inhabited Bloodshot's bloodstream, giving him advanced healing abilities, the ability to interface with computers and to partially shape-shift his mass. Mortalli is released, thanks to the Geomancer Geoff McHenry and seeks both revenge and his past. Bloodshot would eventually become the foundation for Rai, in the future, with his memories carried forward, via the technology.
Bloodshot would prove to be one of Valiant's most popular titles, lasting 51 issues, before the Acclaim reboot, and another 16 after. Basically, he taps into the same vibe as the Punisher (which swiped from the Executioner vigilante novels), while adding a cyborg/sci-fi element (ala Deathlok, with newer technological basis). The first issue featured a gold foil cover and, with Valiant's status as both a hot company and a hot collector property, the first issue sold massive numbers to readers and speculators. The violent nature of the book and the regular gunplay fit well with the 90s aesthetic. Perlin handled the art well and was able to stretch his muscles more than superheroes at Marvel had allowed. Van Hook remained as writer for some time, giving the series a continuity lacking in some of Valiant's books. Perlin stayed on for the first year and a half, then other artists came on board. given the profile of the series, some top names worked on it, including Norm breyfogle, Paul Gulacy and newspaper strip veteran Stan Drake (who inked a few issues).
My tolerance for gun-toting vigilantes was low and I bailed on Bloodshot fairly quickly, with HARD Corps much the same. However, if you enjoy stuff like the Punisher, Bloodshot is a pretty good read, better than stuff like Deathblow. HARD Corps first year is also pretty good, as these things go.
Valiant's next entry was another big speculator issue, though for a character who dated back to the 1950s: Turok
Turok was late to the party, considering he was first seen in Magnus #12 and was an integral part of Unity. However, it was April of 1993 before he got his own series, Turok, Dinosaur Hunter. The catch was that Turok wasn't in the Lost Valley or the other-dimensional Limbo; he is in the modern world, using high tech weapons, to hunt down cybernetically modified, intelligent dinosaurs. Jurassic Park came out in 1993 and this series rode the bandwagon, with velociraptors being the hot dinosaurs, rather than the classic T-Rex, triceratops, pterodactyl and stegosaurus, as in the old series. The first issue had script by Michelinie and art by hot artist Bart Sears (who had been doing Justice League Europe). Sears didn't stick around long and neither did Michelinie. Tim Truman soon became the regular writer, before Mike Baron came on board and Truman would bounce in and out. Rags Morales became the regular penciller and would also bounce in an out, as Truman also did some art and Howard Simpson did several issues. Mike Grell even did some writing here and Paul Gulacy did a few issues.
Turok's concept didn't do much for me and I only read the first few issues; but, Truman's a good writer and Morales was developing. The concept is a bit much to swallow; but, there is good adventure here and it has a rather pulpy air to it, though with more modern stylings.
Turok would prove the thing that would change Valiant as it was one of the books that was developed into a video game, by Acclaim. the game proved to be a bigger hint and led to Acclaim acquiring the company, in 1994, in an effort to control IP for further game development and exploitation in other media. However, Turok was still owned by Golden Books, which controlled the Western/Gold Key character rights.
Around this time, Valiant and Image launched their ill-fated crossover, Deathmate.
This thing was a fiasco, almost from the start. As I wrote in the Image segments, Image proved completely incapable of getting their end of things out on time. Their final issue, Deathmate Red, came out after the Epilogue, which was supposed to be the concluding chapter. As it was, Bob Layton had to fly to California and sit on Rob Liefeld's doorstep to get his pages for the Prologue; then, sit in a hotel room and rush the inking. Valiant got their books out on time; but, the delays by Image killed all momentum and Red and Epilogue were met by the sounds of crickets. Speculators snapped up the early issues; but, the delays led to lots of unsold copies and unhappy retailers. It made them wary of future crossovers, even when Image wasn't involved. Also, the approaches of the two companies did not gel very well, as Valiant had a bit more realistic approach to their stories, while Image was mostly fantasy, with inconsistent writing and greater emphasis on big splash pages, whether it made story sense or not. Image stories tended to be pretty shallow, with big action scenes, while Valiant was more writer-driven, with stronger characterization and more of a house style to the art. Quite frankly, you aren't missing anything if you haven't read these. The Valiant issues are decent; but, the Image stuff varies wildly. Archie Meets the Punisher might have been the most absurd-sounding crossover of the 90s; but, it was a fantastic read. This was the hot inter-company crossover and it damaged both companies and was the poster child for the 90s speculator-driven comics, with little substance to them.
Next time, we will continue with Valiant, Phase 2, as we look at The Second Life of Doctor Mirage, Secret Weapons, Armorines, Geomancer, Ninjak, Timewalker, The Visitor and the crossover The Chaos Effect.
Post by codystarbuck on Jan 6, 2019 1:44:50 GMT -5
So, the next Valiant title to appear was the Second Life of Doctor Mirage, about a guy who spends all of his time playing a virtual reality online game, ten years before it was actually created.
Well, possibly, it was about a guy who never took off his ski wear and gear. No? Well, that is a bit closer. Actually, the series is about husband and wife parapsychologists, Hwen Mirage (uh hunh) and Carmen Ruiz. They have been hired to check in on a couple of corpses, when the bodies attack them. This leads them on an investigation that will bring them to Tibet (where they climb around in ski boots and neoprene snowsuits (despite the Himalayas not exactly being a skiing kind of mountain range), where Dr Mirage runs up against Master Darque (from Shadowman), who pretty much kills hime, except his love for Carmen keeps him within this world. Dr Mirage finds that he can manipulate energy and cancel out Master Darque's power.
On the surface, this was yet another mystical series, trying to draw on Dr Strange and Dr Fate and similar characters. Except, it wasn't, exactly. Oh, it had touches f it; but, it was also kind of a mystical Nick and Nora Charles, though without the same level of witty banter (Layton tried; but, he was no Dashiell Hammett). The series was about the couple, as they ace mystical threats and investigate, while battling Master Darque and his minions. This was part of the increased profile for Master Darque, as he became the next big threat to the Valiant Universe, which led to their second crossover, Chaos Effect.
Bernard Chang brought a livelier, more stylistic flair to the art, compared to the Valiant house style, which helped set it apart. Carmen had supermodel proportions, which let Chang pose her in all kinds of ways that appealed to the young male audience out there, while the relationship between Hwen and Carmen was meant to appeal to women. However, female comics fan were not in huge supply in this era, with books like Sandman and Love & Rockets attracting far more than most and certainly more than Valiant. I suspect this factor had a lot to do with its shorter life, as it lasted just 18 issues.
Actually, I should backtrack, as debuting before Dr Mirage was secret Weapons.
Essentially, this was Valiant's attempt at creating a Justice League for the Valiant Universe, as various characters are brought together to battle Master Darque and Dr Eclipse, who Darque has transformed, to be a sort of anti-Solar. It was written and drawn by Joe St Pierre and I picked up the first issue and no more. It did nothing for me. After the first 10 issues, it was retooled into a book about a British Intelligence strike team, which also failed to set the world on fire and it came to an end in issue 21, with the story carrying over into Bloodshot. Ninjak turned up quite a bit, in those later issues. Which takes us on to our next book....
Ninjak was launched in November, 1993, with a gimmick foil cover and Joe Quesada interior art, which led the speculators to wet themselves. It sold nearly 1 million copies and Wizard was smooching it and Quesada's backside, big time. Quesada had become the next hot property, thanks to a high profile and well received gig on Batman: Sword of Azrael, where he co-created the character that would drive Batman fans nuts, when he took over for broke-back Bruce Wayne. Quesada, first caught notice with the surprise hit, The Ray, at DC, working with Jack C Harris. Now, he was an up and comer and this was a first issue, with a gimmick cover. That was like free crack to speculators.
The character debuted in Bloodshot and was British spy Colin King, who is a ninja, cause being James Bond isn't cool enough. Yeah, it was post-Miller and ninjas bred like rabbits. Anyway, Quesada did the first three issues, then other hands took over. Heck, for a while, it was inked by Stan Drake. yep, Stan Drake, as in Juliet Jones, Blondie, and the really sweet Kelly Green graphic novels, for Dargaud. He did a bit of comic book work (including the Pitt, where Marvel blew up Jim Shooter's home town, after he was fired) and several Valiant titles. Valiant had also given work to John Dixon, who was a comic strip legend in Australia, when US publishers didn't know from him.
Anyway, Ninjak was fairly popular and lasted 26 issues, before the Acclaim buyout and relaunch, then had another 12, with Kurt Busiek contributing to that run. He is part of the current era Valiant, as well. It was decent action/adventure; but, I was done with Valiant, by this point and was more than happy not to see another ninja.
Next, Valiant launched Armorines, in the pages of X-O Manowar, before their own series.
This was yet another para-military team, with actual government sanctioning, tasked to deal with the perceived threat of X-O. They ended up fighting the Spider Aliens, in their 13-issue lifespan. This is one that I saw the solicit, snorted in disgust, and flipped the page in Advance. I had no time for yet another pseudo-military series written by someone with no experience in the military and no research. That may have been a bit harsh; but, it was a fairly typical 90s series, with equal parts GI JOE and superhero cliches.
You may be noticing a pattern, at this point. i was done with Valiant by now, with Archer & Armstrong and Eternal Warrior as my last holdouts, before I gave up on them. The newer books weren't doing much for me, though in looking at them now, they aren't bad. There is just nothing to really distinguish them from the dozens of other books on the stands, at the time. This was when the comic book world went totally nuts. Everyone was jumping on the speculator bandwagon and was launching full color superhero universe left and right. Malibu had launched the Ultraverse, Image was spewing derivative X-Men titles, even Dark Horse had launched their Comics Greatest World. DC and Marvel were fighting back with stunts (Death & Return of Superman and the upcoming Knightfall) and flooding the market (Marvel UK titles, 2099 books, etc...). There was so much crap in the comic shop you couldn't keep your head above the rising tide. Some really good books got lost in the shuffle and a lot of bad ones got way more attention than they deserved. Some good books were seen and did well; so there were positives and negatives. For Valiant, it was more titles, with fewer original concepts. Bob Layton had them churning out more stuff, much of it reading like their version of the latest cliche. The more developed, carefully managed Valiant, under Shooter, was gone and the floodgates were open. A lot of material with Layton's involvement seemed to be yet another Iron Man-derived concept. Shooter has even stated that Layton's initial concept for X-O was little more than Tony Stark in different armor, though, take that with a grain of salt. It was true, though, that his vision and Shooter's were vastly different. Shooter tried to be different and stand out with the writing and deeper characterization. Layton seemed more content to jump on the bandwagon. Early Valiant was still highly sought after, due to scarcity. New Valiant was becoming more product in a choked market. They were also repeating themselves, as they recycled concepts into new books.
Psi-Lords grew out of HARD Corps and became their presence in the 41st century, of Magnus and rai. They were descendants of HARD Corps, who left Earth in 2999, after the death f Harada. They continued to develop their brain implants that allowed them temporary access to Harbinger powers and eventually developed nanite technology which made the abilities permanent. They conquered the Spider Alien world and returned to Earth, where they were mistrusted and feared. They had a cameo in magnus, then turned up in Rai, before their own series, which led into the second company-wide crossover.
Chaos Effects featured a portal which opened above Tibet, spewing forth ivar, the Timewalker, brother to Armstrong and Eternal Warrior. The Spider Aliens make another attack on the Earth, while Master Darque manipulates Chaos energy, which has been unleashed on Earth. magnus is drawn from the future to the 20th century, where he goes in search of his mother, Kris. He tells Faith that she is destined to lead the Harbinger resistance. Meanwhile, a mysterious hooded figure, called the Visitor, is dwelling with the Tibetan monks, who fought Master Darque, with Doctor Mirage. It crossed through the Valiant books and launched their next wave of titles. Ivar finally gets some attention, after some guest shots, though he is not quite the Timewalker of old. Solar is being affected and his split being, the destroyer, is loose. Geoff mchenry, the Geomancer, finds evidence of his coming future.
Chaos Effect did not have the affect that Unity had. For one thing, the line was too large to keep the story maintained tightly. In the end, it marked the end of some of the older Valiant titles, like Archer & Armstrong and launched a few new titles, which barely made a ripple.
Coming out of Chaos Effect we have Geomancer.
Geoff McHenry has disappeared and Eternal Warrior delivers the Book of the Geomancers to Geoff's uncle, Clay, a crooked cop who was blinded. When he touches the book he is flooded with the memories of past geomancers and takes up the mantle.
The series lasted 8 issues.
Also coming out of Chaos Effect was Timewalker, centering on Ivar.
Timewalker (finally) takes up the story of Ivar, brother of Armstrong (Aram) and the Eternal Warrior (Gilad). He had been seen before, though his full time entry into the Valiant Universe had been disrupted by Shooter's firing. Ivar could sense time and slip into different periods, though he had no control of where he would end up. The series eventually has Ivar in the middle of the Harbinger Wars, as the Resistance battles Harada. Ivar tries to stop the devastation it will create (as he saw in the future); but, ends up exacerbating things.
Timewalker lasted 15 issues, plus a Zero Issue.
The last book to discuss is The Visitor.
The Visitor is seen as a hooded figure, in the Tibetan lamasery, in Chaos Effect. here, we see him as a costumed superhero, having come from the future to stop harada. Eventually, at the end of the series, he is revealed to be the future Pete Stanchek.
If all of this sounds abrupt, it is because Valiant came to a crossroads. During the start of Chaos Effect, the sale of Valiant to Acclaim was finalized and the video game company took over. They continued as Valiant, for a time, then shut everything down to relaunch as Acclaim Comics. They purchased the company, based on the success of the Turok video game and sought to control IP for further game development and possible movie and tv exploitation. We will begin exploring the new titles launched under Acclaim, after first visiting a special imprint of Acclaim/Valiant: Windjammer. Come back for a look at Mike Grell's Bar Sinister and Neal Adams' Knighthawk and related books, as Valiant launched their creator-owned imprint, which would prove short-lived as Malibu's Bravura.
"Fortunately, ah keep mah feathers numbered for just such an emergency!"
Post by codystarbuck on Jan 9, 2019 15:51:49 GMT -5
So, Acclaim, who was pretty happy about how Turok did as a video game, bought the company (just not Turok; should have done the research). They wanted to control IP for exploitation in games and elsewhere. Same reason Disney bought Marvel and Star Wars. Funny thing, though; one of their early developments was a line of creator-owned, rather than company-owned titles. I have no idea if this was something that had already been in the works under the original ownership of came after the sale; but, it ended up bearing a similarity to another "independent" comic company: Pacific. The line became the home to comics by Mike Grell and Neal Adams, just as Pacific had. The only thing missing was Jack Kirby, who passed away the year before (and we were all missing him).
Starslayer, the Director's Cut, was a reprint of Mike Grell's Reverse Warlord (barbarian hero in a future world), which had been published in the early 80s, by Pacific Comics. At first, I was excited about seeing Starslayer reprinted and we were promised fresh material. Well, not quite. The bulk of it was a reprint, with a bit of juggling, of the 6 issues published by Pacific and the 7th issue, published by First Comics. Grell turned Starslayer over to other hands, at First (John Ostrander, as writer); but, did create an epilogue for his storyline. That all is included here, with a couple of expanded or reconfigured scenes. however, it proved to be a big disappointment, to me. The reproduction was very fuzzy. It turns out that they didn't have the original publication materials and had to work from scans. Clarke Hawbaker, who was fresh from acclaim for his art on Marvel's Nomad, where he showed a strong Grell influence (he even stuck a cameo of Travis Morgan, as a statue, in the series), was brought in to help touch up the art (Grell was busy with Shaman's Tears and another project, which I will get to, in a moment). It was fairly noticeable, though it was in service to the work. Unfortunately, the quality of reproduction varied from page to page.
Now, Starslayer wasn't the only Grell project here (told you I'd get to it)...
Bar Sinister was a spin-off from Shaman's Tears. Shaman's Tears featured a company that was doing genetic experiments, creating human-animal hybrids. Bar Sinister takes up the story of the hybrids, as they escape from their masters and try to both keep their freedom and help others of their kind. Grell was continuing to explore the themes of corporate research and development of genetically modified life, which they would then claim a patent on and ownership of. Grell provides a cautionary tale of how far some corporations might go, without limitations placed upon them by society, as well as man's folly of trying to demonstrate superiority over nature, which has a tendency to bite him in the hinder. It was something I had witnessed, while I was stationed in Charleston, SC. Developers had stripped natural sand dunes to put up beachfront dwellings, while also building luxury homes on what were known as the "barrier islands." both the dunes and the islands provided natural protection from storm damage. When Hurricane Hugo hit, these areas were torn up badly, with nature once again teaching man that it knew far more than he did.
The art was from Rick Hoberg and he did an excellent job; but, fans were expecting Grell and I'm sure that it had an effect on sales. Then again, Shaman's Tears wasn't setting the world on fire, good as it was. Grell was a storyteller who showed his artistic influences, trying to compete in a world where even basic anatomy had gone out the window. It wasn't what 90s comic buyer's wanted. Their loss, as it was better written and drawn than those long forgotten Image books, or the multiple knock-offs that emerged in their wake.
Bar Sinister is special to me, as that was where I had my first fan letter printed (aside from the Comic Buyer's Guide). I wrote it after the first issue came out, singing its praises. I don't recall it being anything special (my letter), which makes me believe Grell didn't receive a ton of mail on the book.
As I said above, another Pacific veteran joined Windjammer: Neal Adams. By this time, Continuity, as a publisher, was dead and buried. 1993 was a turbulent year for the comics market. In the wake of the speculator boom and the success of Image, new publishers flooded the market (as happened in 1986-87, during the Black & White Boom, and subsequent bust). However, the economic recession of the period and a glut of product brought the speculator boom to a grinding halt and started turning it into a bust. Publishers stopped publishing and started disappearing; some quietly, some dramatically. Continuity had been in the midst of their Rise of Magic crossover, when they stopped soliciting new material, while they were late shipping other titles. They had earned the wrath of retailers when a planned crossover with Spawn shipped with no crossover and Continuity refused to accept returns on the comic. They were also hit with a $20 million lawsuit by Mike Netzer/Nasser, over the creation and trademark of Ms Mystic and related characters and titles. Netzer claimed he created the characters and concepts, with Adams, and then Adams tried selling to DC. The material ended up published at Pacific, before neal started his own Continuity Comics, while Netzer was out of the country. He claimed that Adams reneged on a 50/50 partnership. While that was going on, highly regarded comic strip artist Dan Barry (Flash Gordon, Tarzan) came forward (published in the Comics Journal) with grievances about unpaid invoices for $3400 for work he did for Crazyman and another $1000 for his assistant, who did lettering. Barry received a $1000 check, after the Journal contacted Adams about the allegations, after rebuffing Barry's calls and faxes. Barry expressed anger and disappointment about an artist, a champion of freelancer rights, acting worse than publishers with whom Barry had worked. Then, Dave Campitti's Glasshouse Graphics (a rep firm for Brazilian artists, including Mike Deodato) added their name to the list, as they were owed $20,000 for previous work. So, with cash flow non-existent, Continuity just stopped everything and slipped away in the night (maybe a harsh metaphor; but, they definitely didn't handle things professionally and certainly not morally).
One of the new title solicited; but not published for Rise of Magic was Knighthawk.
See kids, just add a letter and you can legally copy another character! Okay, it wasn't Kyle Richmond (who was a Batman pastiche, at the start, who grew into his own character); but, it wasn't for lack of trying. Here was a superhero character with red wings/cape (these were wings vs Nighthawk's cape and rockets or later weaponized wings) and a rather Batman personna, though he was a scientist, not a wealthy playboy. However, it is hard to describe much else, as the "stories" made so little sense (like most Continuity stories) and were mostly excuses for relentless action and violence. The hero is Scott Pike, who has developed an android, which is stolen before receiving all of its programming. There are a couple of double crosses, before a character commits suicide by putting a gun under her chin (Hey kids, comics!) By the end, we find out that Scott/Knighthawk was a clone of his brother, who had wingtips, after aliens messed with their parents (after abducting the genius scientists). The real kid smashed a tube with the clone kid, was found by soldiers and they grew up as brothers. The clone developed working wings to interact with their biological wingtips; but, human kid was badly injured in a malfunction and lost total use of the wingtips. Or something.
Adams did the first issue, then Continuity writer Peter Stone handled the script, while Ernesto Infante handled the art, though tweaked by Adams (as was the case with most of the Continuity books). It's typical of Continuity's output, with Adams or Adams-esque art, weird coloring (they loved magenta, orange and green), lots of violence, and nonsensical, gonzo stories. The character, aside from swiping from Batman, was pretty much a retread of Armor and Silver Streak, two brothers abducted by aliens and turned into killing machines. The book was sold on the strength of Adams covers; but, after issue one, he wasn't the artist in the interiors (even with his adjustments, you knew it wasn't Neal, on his own). It made a lot of noise; but, little else. It also turns out that Knighthawk began as a substitute for Spawn, when Todd Mcfarlane pulled out of their planned crossover.
Windjammer also made a home for Samuree and Valeria, the She-Bat.
Yes, they actually published that cover of Samuree #1 (Windjammer/Acclaim)! Looks like the cover to some Hentai porno or something. Samuree was Adams' swipe of Elektra, which had seen some work from Mark Beachum and Clarke Hawbaker, though the writing was never as good as Stephen Grant's Whisper or Miller's Elektra. Her sole ability seemed to be the ability to function with her leotard riding up into the unknown. Valeria was a bad girl, She-Bat (Francine Langstrom, wife of Man-Bat) clone, who debuted in 1993, during the Deathwatch 2000 crossover, which went mostly unnoticed. She was to be the beneficiary of the crossover with Spawn, planned for issues 3 & 4. She had already skipped issue #2 and, when McFarlane pulled out of the deal, Spawn was replaced by Knighthawk, which explains the massive wings. The artwork was reworked (McFarlane had contributed a couple of pages, which were used in solicitation materials) abd published as issue #5 (possibly sending some people searching for issues 2-4, though based on Continuity sales, that would be about 2 people). The two Windjammer issues were a reprint of issue #1 and the unpublished issue #2 (or at least, an unpublished story). And that was it.
That was also it for Windjammer. Nothing else was published under that imprint and it went away. By this point, it didn't matter. The market was lousy (and I mean lousy) with superhero universes, with DC and Marvel flooding product, the Image gang, Milestone (distributed by DC), Ultraverse, Comics Greatest World (Dark Horse, with Ghost et al), and the regular Valiant titles, not to mention the brief life of Defiant, Triumph, Majestic, yadda yadda yadda......
The only real casualty here was Bar Sinister, which was an engaging title that was ignored by the greater market (or just squeezed out). Starslayer was Mike Grell's attempt to bring back the material, in a form that, he felt, made for a better reading than as originally published. problem was, the original materials weren't there and digital scanning technologies weren't refined enough yet. Clarke Hawbaker helped; but, the printing didn't.
The Continuity zombies (the publishing dead) added nothing and just served as the final death throes for that line of bizarre characters and violent stories. It was a sad fact that Neal Adams had outstayed his welcome as an artistic genius. Problem was, he wasn't a writing or editing genius and he wasn't working with Denny O'Neil or Roy Thomas. he also proved, despite his rabble rousing past, to be just like other publishers, who ran and hid when the creative people came knocking for payment due. And that was before his weird Earth theory (at least, to the wider comic book community).
So, that ws Windjammer, a name which evoked the fast moving sailing ships of yesterday, which mostly published the comics of yesterday's creators, only to be ignored by today's buyers. The Windjammers had a short life, as they were overtaken by steamships and this Windjammer would be overtaken by a greater focus on comics that would make cool video games. Or so Acclaim thought.
Next time, we will look at Acclaim, including licensed titles (Magic the Gathering), continued titles, and new entries.
Post by codystarbuck on Jan 17, 2019 19:39:09 GMT -5
Now, back to 1994. Acclaim Entertainment purchased Voyager Communications, with an eye towards using the properties to develop video games and use them in other media. From Acclaim's point of view, this made sense, as they had to pay royalties to license-holders for many of their successful games. It's the same problem as doing licensed comics, as, even if they are successful, you have to part with much pf the money. better to own your own properties.
Valiant soldiered on, under Acclaim, with titles reflecting more action-oriented storylines; the better to exploit in video games. At hsi point, the Valiant titles were pretty much like all of the other superhero and action titles in a glutted market. Bob Layton, who was instrumental in the sale to Acclaim, began to pull back from his duties as EIC. Fabian Nicieza, was hired to run things and overhaul them, bringing things more in line with exploitation else where. Layton did work on some licensed books, before semi-retiring. In later interviews, he denied becoming a millionaire, from the sale, though he did earn some sizeable money.
Unsurprisingly, one of the things Acclaim did was to acquire licenses to do comics for media properties. Most were average to forgettable.
Their biggest, most prolific license was from Wizards of the Coast and their card game, Magic, The Gathering
Magic, The Gathering was the hottest thing in the role playing world, combining role play with card collecting and suckers....uh, players, snapped up packs of cards like magpies grabbing shiny things. Other card games, like Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh and similar fare were also selling huge numbers. The speculator boom shifted to the cards, after the bottom began falling out of comics (as it had sports cards) and the publishers followed. Comic shops were unpacking as many cases of cars as they were comics and making just as many stupid buying decisions, in some cases. Regardless, Acclaim published stories based on the concepts within the game and its offshoots. I've never read a single one, nore do I have any real desire to; so, you're on your own on this one.
Acclaim did institute some new titles, while continuing the old line. The Valiant name was continued for a bit, before rebranding it as Acclaim/Valiant.
Punx was from Kieth Giffen and Claude St Aubin, featuring an Oregon town (Acclamation), with all kinds of Gen-X heroes running around (the media threw that name around, a lot, in the 90s), with Giffen's typical wise-ass delivery. I missed this one, both because Valiant had fallen off my radar and because Giffen's act had grown stale, to me. There were three issues and a special. Giffen can be quite funny and he can be quite juvenile, depending on his motivation. He's worth at least checking out, though your mileage may vary.
Armed & Dangerous was from Marvel veteran Bob Hall. It was a black and white crime series, jumping on the Sin City and Brian Michael Bendis (AKA Goldfish, Jinx) bandwagon. There were 10 issues and the series had a cult following. The central characters are part of the Irish mobs and there is plenty of violence and blood, if you like that sort of thing. I'm not big on this sort of thing (certainly not Miller's brand); but, did enjoy Bendis and Ed Brubaker's work in these areas. Hall is a decent artist, and, stylistically, these were closer to Bendis' work, with heavy black backgrounds, rather than Miller's Munoz-inspired tales. There is also nudity and other adult situations, so keep it away from the kiddies.
Bad Eggs was from Bob Layton and Don Perlin, doing a humor book with a pair of delinquent dinosaurs. They got two minis out of this. never saw it, though. Layton wrote some good humor, with his Hercules minis, at Marvel. Worth checking out.
The Grackle was a crime series from Mike Baron& Paul Gulacy. I hadn't even heard about this until I saw it in The Art of Paul Gulacy: Spies, Vixens, Masters of Kung Fu. That book included photo references Gulacy used to draw the series characters, including a stuntwoman/survivalist friend of his. Bet she's fun at parties! I know nothing about it, except that Baron writes this kind of stuff well and Gulacy can draw the heck out of anything; but, especially noirish stuff. Here's an art sample...
Gravediggers is another crime mini, from Acclaim, from Mark Moretti and Rodney Ramos. Again, I haven't seen this. Someone must have been a big crime fiction fan at Acclaim.
Troublemakers is a youth superhero series, written by Nicieza, who made his bones on New Warriors. Art is from Kenny Martinez, then Kevin West. Haven't seen it; but, covers have that cartoonier, almost manga style, ala Humberto Ramos.
The one real hit from the Acclaim era is Quantum and Woody.
The series was the brainchild of Christopher Priest and Mark Bright. Fabian Nicieza wanted to produce a buddy hero title, ala Power Man and Iron Fist. He contacted Priest, who with bright, concocted this. Quantum and Woody are Eric Henderson and Woodrow Van Chelton, two kids who grew up in Connecticut, in an affluent neighborhood. Their fathers were partners in a high tech R&D firm. Woody moves away, suddenly and they lose contact for 15 years, reuniting at their fathers' funerals. The pair were killed in an accident. The friends do a bit of snooping and discover a secret lab, complete with a Quantum Chamber, in which they get locked. One quantum blast later and their bodies are turned into energy. Control bands, created by their fathers, allow them to maintain physical integrity; but, the pair of bands must touch every 24 hours.
All of that is window dressing to what is, essentially, a buddy/action comedy. Woody is, basically, a moron and usually the source of trouble, while Eric is the more sensible. oody, the white guy, was deliberately made the comic relief, to upend the stereotype of the funny black sidekick. Eric is more of a straight man, though he is just as involved in the comedy. They acquire a goat, which becomes a character in its own right.
The series is pretty darn funny, with some great banter back and forth and a pair of likeable, if dimwitted characters. Unsurprisingly, this was optioned for a potential tv or film series rather early on. Mark Bright makes the art dynamic and fun, with the costuming poking fun at then-current conventions (on guy with a huge cape, the other with a leather jacket, tons of pouches), while still making it all look functional, unlike the Image crowd. The series includes flashbacks to their youth and stupid pranks and dialogue exchanges, poking fun at things like a suburban kid like Eric talking about racial issues, with the same gravitas as an urban child. Woody often makes racist remarks, mostly to egg Eric on. Woody also has an uncanny knack of getting Eric in trouble, while avoiding the consequences himself. Two examples are 1, from the Zero issue, where as boy scouts, Woody fakes being blind to "wander" into a ladies room, with a group of beauty contestants changing clothes. Eric decides enough is enough and tosses a ball at Woody's head, which he catches, then covers by making a ridiculous claim of hyper senses, which compensate for the blindness. AND THE WOMEN BUY IT!! Thus, while eric is outside, Woody gets to see bare breasts and crow about it. Isse #1 has the second example, as the pair are caught trying to remove a dead dog from the house and then Woody conspires to catch neighbor Amy Fishbein changing, only for Eric to change places, discover he is looking at Amy's mother, while Woody walks away scott free as Amy and her father happen upon the scene.
The comedic timing is excellent and the action is pretty good. The superheroics aren't anything special, by themselves; but, combined with the comedic banter and characterization, it rises well above the norm. This is up there with the Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire Justice League and the Barry Windsor-Smith Thing story, from Marvel Fanfare (not to mention some of Dan Slott's comics, like She-Hulk, The Thing, and Spider-Man & the Human Torch: I'm With Stupid).
The market was in bad shape, by the time Acclaim rebranded and relaunched the Valiant line. The speculator boom that helped fuel their rise went bust and successful video games did not bring people into comic shops to buy comics. Marvel touched off a distributor war which helped to sink a lot of comic retailers, who over-extended their cash flow, trying to ensure they could get all of the major Marvel, DC and Image title, order from 2-3 distributors. Acclaim restarted their books; but, the market wasn't the same and sales were soft. On top of things, Acclaim was suffering in the video game market and had lost some major licenses for sports games and were deep in hock with their creditors. Video game development was expensive and their revenues plummeted. They lost funding from GMAC and, in 2004, were forced into bankruptcy.
Just prior to the end, Jim Shooter was brought back to produce the crossover mini Unity 2000.
Shooter was joined by Jim Starlin and created an alternate universe, based on how things would have progressed if he had stayed with Valiant. The series would climax in the unification of the pre-and post Acclaim Valiant Universes. However, cash flow was a major problem and the 6 issue mini was cancelled after 3 issues were published. Acclaim was having trouble shipping issues and there was a gap of over a year in Quantum & Woody, leading to the gag or releasing issue #18 as issue #32 (then releasing an actual #18), which was where they should have been, if they had maintained a monthly publication special. Books were resolicited and rumors of Acclaim's demise were rampant, up to the point where Acclaim Entertainment went belly up, in 2004.
Magnus, Solar and Turok reverted back to Golden Books (who also went bankrupt and whos comic book assets were bought by Classic media, which was bought by Dreamworks, then acquired by NBC Universal). Eventually, Dark Horse would publish archive books of the classic stories and new books, with Jim Shooter, though that relationship soured quickly 9sense a pattern here?). Valiant's company assets were acquired by a group of entrepreneurs, led by Dinesh Shamdasani and Jason Kothari, calling the company Valiant Entertainment. Initial emphasis was on exploitation in other media; and, it took time for anything substantial to be done with the properties. In 2012, Valiant was relaunched, as a comic book publisher. One year ago, Valiant was purchased by DMG Entertainment, a film distribution and production company, with ties to the Chinese government, allowing it to bring non-Chinese films into the market and act as a co-partner on films like Looper and iron Man 3. Obviously, their aim is to control their own properties for film development and worldwide distribution. Currently, their are development projects for Harbinger and Bloodshot, while Quantum & Woody had been in development for a tv series, with the Russo Brothers.
Valiant started out as a chance for Jim Shooter to create a shared, tightly connected universe, to vindicate his ideas for Marvel's New universe and to prove his storytelling theories (as well as let him be his own boss and participate, financially, on a greater scale). It seems, though, that controversy and turmoil follow Shooter as he found himself maneuvered out of control of his own company, right from the start; then, ousted completely from the company. With marvel, many felt his firing was overdue; with Valiant, it seemed unwarranted. Unity and the Valiant line were a commercial success and Valiant was in a position to be the number 3 company (until Image rose there, due to speculation). His partners wanted to sell for the fast buck and he wanted to build on their success. he was gone and they sold the company. it continued, but to far less acclaim (pun intended) than under Shooter. Valiant became just another publisher of superhero and action comics, with short-lived attempts at creator-owned and licensed titles. Acclaim focused on exploiting the properties elsewhere and, ironically, doomed the company due to their non-publishing issues. Valiant exists again; but, it is a different generation. The comics have done well and have fans; but, it isn't quite the same animal it once was. Unity is the dividing line for most fans, as the true glory days of the company.
Jim Shooter was not deterred, though. He found new investors and started a new company, in defiance of those who would stand in his way.
"Fortunately, ah keep mah feathers numbered for just such an emergency!"
Post by codystarbuck on Mar 27, 2019 17:59:44 GMT -5
In 1992, Jim Shooter was ousted from Valiant, by his partners, who conspired to take controlling interest away from him and then sell the company for a quick profit. They succeeded and Shooter learned a lesson. he put together a new financing deal with The River Group, but with more control written into the bylaws. His past at Marvel and success of Valiant made him a good bet (and triumph's reputation helped sell the idea that he was diddled); so, a new company was formed and a press release sent out. And there the troubles started.
In his press release, announcing the launch of Defiant, Shooter shined up his resume, taking credit for all kinds of things, including the creation of the graphic novel. Fans, pros and comic media pounced on his claims. Contract with God and Sabre both predated The Silver Surfer graphic novel, and there were other claimants before that. Peter David jumped on some of his claims about his work with the Direct market, giving credit to Carol Kalish, Marvel's Direct sales manager, for whom he had worked. Former writer/editors spoke of their issues with Shooter, as did other talent. Shooter was the Son of Satan in the Comic Journal's eyes and their reporting reflected it, as it had with Valiant. CBG had David and Tony Isabella (both regular columnists) taking shots and the letters pages were filled with fans and pros up in arms. As one person said, referring to Defiant's logo, the light was on; but, no one was home.
That all calmed down and retailers were anxious fr new product and defiant had lined up a few names for their books. Their first announced was Plasm, which would be launched with a trading card set, that, when assembled, created a comic books (with 9 panel grids). The groans began, as here was yet another mindless gimmick. Also, the cards were randomly packed, so you couldn't just buy a set. Then, Marvel sued.
At the time, Marvel UK had a series, called Plasmer and claimed infringement, with intent to defraud the public into thinking Plasm was the same comic. Yeah. Marvel had tried to mess with Shooter over X-O Manowar; but, backed down without legal action. However, Valiant proved successful and ate into Marvel's marketshare and they weren't taking chances. Defiant tried to negotiate and changed the title to Warriors of Plasm; but, marvel persisted. defiant won in court; but, it killed their cash flow and they folded soon after. defiant launched a handful of series and was starting a crossover, when they pulled the plug. Some of it had potential, some seemed like business as usual.
Warriors of Plasm was a sci-fi superhero series, written by Shooter, with art by David Lapham. Lapham built his name at Valiant, with Harbinger, which became one of their top sellers. Here, an living planet that consumes other for energy, launches conquest, through it's agents. The leader of this group, wanting to seize power, grabs and modifies 5 humans. When his rebellion fails, they are sent back to earth, where they prepare for the coming fight.
Lapham had really come along and this was the most similar to Valiant and the longest lasting of the books. I was so-so about it and only sampled the first couple of isses. It was decent; but felt like a bit of a retread of Valiant material, so soon after leaving.
The Good guys was a superhero team of mostly kids, who were in a comic shop when a magic box was opened, infusing them with super powers. Jan Childress was the main author, with Shooter and Jay Jay Jackson (and others) contributing to the plots. As such, there is a bit of the "too many cooks" syndrome. It was a decet series, though.
Dark Dominion was from Shooter and Steve Ditko (though others drew some issues), and featured a supernatural bent, using quantum mechanics. Another dimension exists where human fears create demonic beings. The only way to see this world is to move past fear and Michael Alexander can do this.
Charlemagne featured a boy who runs away from home when his brother is missing in Vietnam. he is able to somehow get there and witness his death in a helicopter attack, which also blows his legs off. he is in a coma for some time, then awakens with new legs and super powers. He then proceeds to cross over with other new and existing series.
Dogs of War features two soldiers who gain special abilities, after alien abduction. One is named Shooter, for the obvious reason.
Prudence and Caution featured a pair of misfits, first introduced in warriors of Plasm. They were very much a retread of Archer and Armstrong, in the character dynamic. Only 2 issues were published, though others were solicited and cancelled, leading to regular misinformation about the existence of those issues.
War Dancer featured art by Alan Weiss, which is why I bought it. Dancer was linked to the ancient Aztecs and sought to bring the end of the world to revive his lover. This had potential; but, the level of violence in it could be off-putting.
These were all one shots; I never saw Grimmax or Splatterball.
Defiant had announced and begun a crossover, called Schism, when the axe fell. they got out two chapters, before pulling the plug on the line.
Shooter was out, again; but, not for long. in 1995, he formed a partnership with Lorne Michaels Broadway Video Entertainment, to form broadway Comics. New titles were announced, with hopes of exploiting Michaels contacts to sell the concepts to tv and movie studios. There were some early negotiations and one series, fatale, had involvement with the WWF, with an actress hired to portray the character, on the WWF's tv. However, the WWF, again, reneged on its promises to help promote the comics and it went nowhere. Broadway Video soon sold the company to Golden books, with Shooter also selling his half, including the defiant properties, which he had hoped to integrate with Broadway. Then, not too long after, Golden Books filed for bankruptcy, due to heavy debt from acquisitions. Shooter owns nothing from Defiant and Broadway. and ended up without a job. Actually, before Golden Books went under, he was working with them to relaunch the Gold Key characters; but, their financial problems put an end to that. Shooter ended up freelancing again. he did work for both Dark Horse and DC, working on Legion, thanks to Paul Levitz, after some Shooter critics had left DC. However, problems soon arose and he was out. Again.
Broadway barely got going before the sale, which put a halt to things. Powers That Be started out with Fatale, but was a Star Seed book, until it was renamed for Sta Seed. Shadow State and Fatale were the other titles, with Fatale the most remembered. It featured a woman who could sap memories and energy from others, while featuring a rather buxom lead, often using that to poke fun at other comics that featured such characters, without the irony.
Shadow State featured a comic within the comic, which was used to parody Image, especially Liefeld.
Shooter's legacy is a mixed one. He did much to elevate the entirety of Marvel's line, increasing average sales; but, at the cost of any uniqueness. Many changes under his watch were begun by Archie Goodwin and had been attempted by others, under less receptive ownership. He did much to develop new writers and editors and increased Marvel's editorial department, to more efficiently produce their comics. however, his editorial style and storytelling demands were restrictive to many and the company bled talent. He was eventually fired. He started Valiant, with the aim of exploiting the Gold Key properties; but, ran into problems with his business partners from the start. After failing to make an impact with licensed titles, he launched the Valiant Universe and was vindicated in his ideas, but was pushed out by his financial partners. defiant was the next step; but, Marvel played hardball and sank him. Broadway was barely a starter, before the search for a quick profit led to the sale of the company. Shooter was left a virtual pariah and had to build a new career. In recent years, he has been a regular on convention circuits and has told his side of things, which at least gives another perspective, though much has been disputed. Whatever the case, he was a good writer and a good idea man; but, a mixed bag as a boss and entrepreneur. He was never willing to try to fund things himself, which always kept him at the mercy of financial partners. That would seem to be a strange place for someone who was big on control.
Now, on to happier companies. Next up, we will begin a long look at the one real success story of the 80s independents: Dark Horse Comics.
"Fortunately, ah keep mah feathers numbered for just such an emergency!"