Valiant Heroes(pop culture)
Valiant is a company that looms large in the landscape of 1990s comics as a symbol— depending on whom you ask—of either the best qualities or the worst tendencies of the medium.
At a time when it seemed that every publisher was raiding comics history for dormant characters to build a universe around, Valiant took perhaps the least fashionable of all—the 1960s heroes of the mostly kiddie-oriented Gold Key Comics—and developed one of 1990s comics’ slickest and hippest worlds. As it became vogue for comics lines to connect all their books in an intricate “continuity” that often required readers to have bought every issue of a given title (and all the ones related to it) to know what was going on, Valiant devised an involved, universe- and time-spanning scenario of the type that delights devoted fans, but which others blame for driving away comics’ more casual mass audience. Valiant also pioneered the simultaneous use of its characters in other properties such as video games, which some see as the future of the medium and others see as a distraction of reader interest and creator talent from the comics themselves.
For the comics, Valiant specialized in both state-of-the-art treatments of popular themes and inventive reworkings of familiar concepts. The three main characters it acquired from Gold Key in 1990 were Solar, Man of the Atom; Turok, Son of Stone; and Magnus, Robot Fighter, 4000 A.D.
Solar had been a scientist who (like Charlton’s Captain Atom before him, and Dr. Manhattan in Alan Moore’s Watchmen, much later) literally pulls himself together after a catastrophic nuclear accident, and finds he has obtained awesome powers in the process. In Valiant’s reworking, these powers get out of hand, resulting in the destruction of his entire universe. He then travels to “ours,” determined to make amends by becoming a champion of humanity (and in this he has his hands full, with, among other menaces, a race of “spider aliens” bent on subjugating Earth, and that he battles across the world and through time).
Turok was originally a pre-Columbian Native American who stumbles upon—and gets trapped in—a mystical valley where dinosaurs still dwell. First appearing in 1954, this scenario can be assumed as the source for everything from the mid-1970s kidvid hit Land of the Lost to Marvel’s Ka-Zar character, so by the time of the 1993 Valiant relaunch (retitled Turok, Dinosaur Hunter) an overhaul was in order. In this version, the valley was actually an alien dimension, where Turok fought technologically enhanced, intelligent “bionosaurs.”
Magnus was a citizen of “North Am” (a sprawling high-tech city covering most of the North American continent) in the far future. A highly trained martial artist able to best mechanical beings with his bare hands, he wages war on the renegade robots who have turned against the human race. In Valiant’s 1990 version, the “evil” robots turn out to merely be those who are sentient and wish to be free (“freewills”), and Magnus rebels against the North Am society that would enslave them.
Among the many new characters Valiant developed to accompany its Gold Key acquisitions, X-O Manowar (debuting in 1992) compensated for his clumsy name with an elegant twist on the immortal warrior/reincarnated hero concept. Beginning as a fifth-century Visigoth named Aric Dacia, he was abducted by spider aliens seeking to enslave the mighty warrior. When a time-traveling Solar attacks the aliens, Dacia escapes their ship and steals one of their sophisticated weapons, the Manowar Class X-O Armor, which grants enhanced strength, blasts bolts of energy, and supplies almost immortalizing life-support. Unfortunately, 1,600 years have passed on Earth in the subjectively short time Dacia has been on the aliens’ faster-than-light ship, and he must adapt to the twentieth century.
Valiant also developed some inventive spins on Marvel’s X-Men concept. In Valiant’s universe, those who represent the next step in human evolution are known not as mutants but as “Harbingers.” The powerful telepath Toyo Harada establishes the Harbinger Foundation (in Harbinger #1, 1992) to recruit other such superbeings, who can help him in a vision of saving the human race from suicide—by taking it over. Expectedly, there are both Harbingers who support him and those who oppose him, along with the “H.A.R.D. Corps” (Harbinger Active Resistance Division), soldiers “recruited” from the ranks of coma patients, who are given special “psi-borg” implants to boost their brain activity and match the mind powers of the Harbingers (whom they battle on pain of being returned to their semi-living state).
The world of Valiant was also crisscrossed by a war between “geomancers” (sorcerers who protect the earth by drawing on its own energy) and Necromancers (their nihilistic opposites).
Valiant prospered, and transfixed its fans with company-wide events that would tie all these concepts together in intricate knots. The definitive one was “Unity,” a 1992 epic in which Mothergod, a woman from Solar’s original reality who gains similar powers in the same accident as he, seeks to rewrite history so that her own universe can live again, at the expense of the known Valiant cosmos. In this storyline readers learn that she is the one who first fitted the ordinary dinosaurs of Turok’s “Lost Land” with the implants that made them murderous bionosaurs; that Magnus was actually the superstrong child of two twentieth-century Harbingers; that a geomancer then placed him in the year 4000 to protect humankind at a later date—you get the idea.
By 1997, Valiant (and its parent company Voyager Communications) was acquired by Acclaim Entertainment. As the backbone of the company, Acclaim’s videogames garnered more of a focus than its comics, and the latter medium started drastically losing audiences to the former. Acclaim’s comic output grew sporadic, though all of comics fandom anticipated a new crossover epic called Unity 2000 (1999), which was projected for six issues and only ever shipped three.
In 2005, Acclaim entered Chapter 7 bankruptcy. A new company, Valiant Entertainment, that owned the rights to the Valiant Comics properties, arose in 2007 and began publishing graphic novels the following year. However, the rights to the series to Magnus, Solar, and Turok had reverted, in 2002, to Random House, which now owns the Gold Key properties. Dark Horse Comics licensed these characters and began publishing books reprinting the original Gold Key Doctor Solar, Magnus, Robot Fighter, and Turok stories. In 2010, Dark Horse launched new series, all written by Jim Shooter, for Magnus, Robot Fighter (drawn by Bill Reinhold), Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom (drawn by Dennis Calero), Turok, Son of Stone (drawn by Eduardo Francisco), and Mighty Samson (drawn by Patrick Olliffe).
With Shooter and the Gold Key heroes at Dark Horse, reviving the Valiant Universe as its fans knew it in the 1990s seems improbable. Valiant remains one of the most fondly remembered players in what was, in its heyday, a very crowded field. And as fans nurtured on the company’s mythos of time-traveling, death-cheating warriors will tell you, anything’s possible. —AMC & PS