The Middle Ground #121 | Know the signs

Okay, I admit it: I'm sold.

Thing is, I couldn't tell you exactly when I got sold, and that's a strange part of the charm. I can remember enjoying, but not loving, the first issue of the X-O Manowar reboot, and then finding that the new Harbinger was far closer to my sense of a good thing, but it maybe wasn't until Bloodshot that I realized I was -- by accident, almost -- all in. The new Valiant, it seems, is a cumulative process.

It's not just that the individual books are smartly written and well-illustrated, although they are, all across the board (There are some particularly interesting creative pairings going on in the books in terms of the art; I don't think Lee Garbett's art has ever looked as good as it does under Stefano Guadiano's inks in the current X-O issue, for one thing, and the mix of various artists with Khari Evans in Harbinger is coming up with some really nice stuff); what gets me is that, at least so far -- and we're, what, almost 20 releases in to the relaunch by now? -- there's a wonderful consistency to Valiant as a publisher that comes from the quality of work as opposed to a continued sense that you have to read all of the books in order to fully understand the goings-on in that particular universe.

In fact, right now, that kind of continuity porn is almost entirely absent from the Valiant books; you could be forgiven for thinking the books are entirely disconnected at this point, with their different world views (and worlds, for that matter). Although each fall into roughly the same action-adventure-with-powers genre, each one feels different enough to have its own appeal, making the Valiant world as a whole feel more full and more interesting in a surprisingly quick time than other such superhero start-ups. Because of that, I find myself hoping for small-scale crossovers between the books -- or, at least, the characters -- if only to see the various individual cultures being built up by Fred Van Lente, Joshua Dysart, Duane Swierczynski and the like collide and spark off each other.

I'm reminded, often, of the earliest Marvel comics, and the way in which each book existed in its own little world but would every now and again throw a reference out to a character or idea from another one. It was a sense of the Marvel Universe not as an overbearing entity, but as a shared secret, if that makes sense, something that the faithful could pick out and recognize and track down, but everyone else remains unaware of. Valiant currently feels like that, and that's much of its charm for me right now; the sense of not just the books being good in and of themselves, but groundwork being laid for sneaky references and hidden handshakes down the line. The nostalgia of be in the know of childhood.

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