Every week, this feature will share a recent complete, collected story that acts as a great introduction to the comic art form for new readers. After all, we’re in a time of growth, but for many readers, the biggest issue isn’t whether or not they want to read comics, it’s figuring out which ones they want to read. That’s where New Reader Friendly comes in, hoping to guide readers both new and old to comics that are good and easy to pick up for anyone.
People like superheroes. That much is abundantly clear after another summer with at least one superhero movie earning over a billion dollars in the global box office, and that’s if you don’t count “Furious 7″ as one (which I do). But quite often they don’t like comic superheroes, as while the industry is an upswing, most comics are still making considerably less than a billion dollars in revenue.
Why is that, though? There are a lot of theories. One is that comics just aren’t something the general populace embraces. There isn’t anything we can do about that one. Two other main ones are that most superhero comics are so steeped in continuity that they are impossible to get into for new readers and the simple idea that a lot of them just aren’t very good. Those we can do something with. For those fans, a comic like Jeff Lemire, Matt Kindt and Paolo Rivera’s “The Valiant” is perfect, as it is a story that is easy enough for any reader to pick up, it has a great balance of action and exceptional character work, and it features absolutely tremendous artwork from Rivera and his father/inker Joe Rivera. For fans new to the medium that are interested in superhero comics but don’t know where to start, there are few better introductions than this one.
And part of that is because it’s less of a superhero title than it is an epic mashup of genres, seamlessly weaving in elements from spy, fantasy and sci-fi stories into a story that feels what you’d get if you crossed “Highlander” with “Terminator II: Judgment Day.” At its core, it is about the Eternal Warrior Gilad Anni-Padda’s quest to protect history’s Geomancers (think superpowered people in control of the Earth and empowered by it at the same time) from The Immortal Enemy, a counterbalance to the good the Geomancer brings to the world. Throughout history, Gilad can never protect the Geomancer by himself, and The Immortal Enemy always prevails. But what if he wasn’t alone and was instead backed by the allies he’s made in the current Valiant universe? That’s the core of the story, but thanks to the team, it’s one that never forgoes the small character moments in face of the bigger action set pieces.
It’s really exciting to read Lemire and Kindt engaging with the characters and the world of the Valiant universe in a way that we haven’t really seen from them in their Marvel and DC work (except in some situations), and it’s funny how before their follow-up titles were announced you could clearly tell Kindt had an affinity for Ninjak and Lemire enjoyed Bloodshot just from the way they were written. While these characters are varying levels of superhuman (save for Ninjak, who is just really rich and badass), Lemire and Kindt give each character a sense of humanity that we’ve seen on occasion in the past but never to this level. That’s not to say they lose the sense of wonder — we’re given some real showstopping moments for each character throughout — that we want from these types, but the human part is often what is lacking in these types of stories. It’s why something like “Man of Steel” never felt right. There was too much Super and not enough Man.
A big part of why that works so well is Rivera’s art. As you can see above, he’s got the simple, subtle parts of character work down pat, but they’re really not that simple. See the way the Geomancer’s face shifts when Bloodshot turns the tables on her? That type of artwork isn’t flashy, but it’s what makes Rivera such a master. He’s one of the top storytellers in comics, and he turns a conversation between the Geomancer and Bloodshot in issue #3 into not just a highlight of the series, but an absolute textbook example of the power of comics as a visual storytelling narrative. In acting, they’d call it disappearing into a role, but for Rivera, his character acting makes “The Valiant” and its small moments feel so much bigger than other artists would.
Comics like this are greater than the sum of its parts, which is incredible because of how independently gifted they all are. Take a look at this page below, and the way the cruel reality of Rivera’s sections and the storybook sections from Lemire interact with each other.
There’s wonderful motion to this page, with the first, second and third panels actively engaging with each other to create a real pulsing energy to the page. The tension is high already, but they want us to know that while life may be imitating a story, it doesn’t mean it will end like one. It’s exceptional storytelling by all involved.
And in very simple terms, it’s also really, really awesome. I can dig into the work of the creative team forever as to how well-crafted it is, but ultimately, it’s not something I’d recommend to the average person looking to read a superhero comic because of how real Rivera can make a conversation look or how much Kindt enjoys writing Ninjak. This has every bit of what people enjoy from blockbuster films – the stakes, the funny lines, the excellent character moments, even an odd romance of sorts – but in a way that doesn’t check its brain at the door. I understand why Valiant released it when they did and how they did. There’s just a part of me that wonders if this is what they should have launched their universe with, as it’s an incredible introduction to their universe and its immense potential. That’s especially the case with the character introductions at the beginning of the book, which give you a look at who everyone is before you even start reading the story.
It’s fitting that this book came right before the announcement of their own big movie deal, and one that I have to imagine may eventually result in the filming of movie of this very story. But you don’t need that. This book was collected into trade paperback at just $9.99 — it may not be the first Valiant book, but it’s clear the team over there is aware of its potential value to their line — and if you’re looking to simply try out your first superhero comic or your first Valiant title, this is an exceptional low-cost option. Don’t read it because it’s inexpensive though. Read it because it’s superhero comics done right, and it features an absolutely bravura performance by one of today’s greatest artists. I mean look at this panel from issue #2 with Ninjak revealing himself after hiding motionless in the snow for twelve hours.
Just look at that thing. I know it’s a simple image, but I’d bet you could count on one hand the amount of artists who would draw that scene with all of the snow delicately balanced on the character and his sword. In just that one image, we’re given a pitch perfect introduction to the character’s capabilities without needing to really say anything. The whole introduction to Ninjak in #2 is, again, a stellar example of the power of comic book storytelling, and a wonderful sign of things to come.
“The Valiant” is one of the better superhero comics in recent years, and it is one that can be enjoyed as part of a larger universe or just as an independent story. Those are all too rare in the genre, and it is certainly a comic worth reading for readers both new and old.