In 1992, Valiant was the little company that could. Shooter and company put together a core of 8 titles, and through their eighteen-part mega crossover Unity, exploded on to the national scene. 1993 was set to be a big year for the young company. It certainly started off with a bang, as Wizard Magazine, the “Guide to Comics”, featured the publisher for the first time in its 17th issue (cover date January 1993).
Wizard went so far as to produce a gatefold cover, giving them room to feature characters from several Valiant was publications, including the fan favorites Bloodshot and X-O Manowar. Those characters in particular would go on to be huge in 1993.
But behind the scenes, the goings on at Valiant were anything but smooth. There are as many versions of the story behind Jim Shooter’s departure from Valiant as there are people involved. Was it about money? Triumph Capital LP, the money behind Voyager Communications, was beginning to see a return on their initial investment, and saw a chance to make a lot of money by selling the company. This could hardly be considered a surprise by anyone in the know. Triumph was, after all, a venture capital company, not a comics publisher. Once the sheer profit of a sale became apparent to Triumph, it was time to get their money and go.
Was Shooter a victim of their desire to profit? Did those around him conspire to get him out of the way? Was he an obstacle to the future of the line? The answer to that question really depends on who you believe. But at the end of day, Shooter was out and Bob Layton was in as Editor in Chief. Despite the turmoil going on in the boardroom, Layton and writer/editor Kevin VanHook, would lead Valiant to its what many still regard as its best creative year ever in 1993.
Also continuing on the success of the year before, the marketing team at Valiant began some very popular programs. Valiant programs, including popularizing the “zero issue,” enhancements like the chromium covers found on X-O Manowar #0, and Bloodshot #1, and the Valiant “Gold Logo” variant program (through which Valiant produced versions of some of their more popular comics that were given directly to fans who helped promote the comics somehow).
Darque Times Were Good Times
In 1993,Valiant would expand not only its line and market share, but also its appeal. In the aftermath of Unity and the defeat of Mothergod, the Valiant universe needed a new threat. It would come in the pages of Shadowman #8. First appearing as a shadowy figure and only emerging from the darkness when his plans were challenged by Jack Boniface, this threat presented itself in the form of the evil necromancer known only as Master Darque. Darque prove himself a force to be reckoned with for just about every Valiant hero over the years. His sole motivation was apparently to gain more power for himself and to add to the darkness in the world.
The first new ongoing title introduced after the conclusion of Unity was H.A.R.D. Corps, a spin off from the successful Harbinger series. The cover for H.A.R.D. Corps #1 featured Jim Lee’s only work for Valiant. 1993 also saw the release of Bloodshot #1, written by Kevin VanHook with art by Don Perlin and Bob Wiacek. The issue also featured the first chromium cover by Barry Windsor-Smith. Bloodshot would go on to be a huge hit. This success, however, would soon be rivaled by Turok: Dinosaur Hunter. Like Magnus and Solar,
Turok was a character that first appeared in a Gold Key Comics back in the 60’s. He had been a part of the Valiant Universe since before Unity, having first appearing in Magnus Robot Fighter #12and going on to play an important part in the Unity storyline. His popularity would prove enough
to give him his own title. Turok: Dinosaur Hunter #1 (cover date July 1993) was written by David Michelinie, a frequent collaborator of Layton’s, and penciled by Bart Sears (including, of course, a chromium cover). It would prove to be Valiant’s biggest hit to date, reportedly selling up to 1.75 million copies.
Soon after, the inevitable team book Secret Weapons was added to Valiant’s line. The team was brought together by Geoff McHenry, a Geomancer and recurring character who had appeared in almost every Valiant title. Geoff had the power to listen to the world and everything in it. Brought together to fight Dr. Eclipse, the team included X-O Manowar, Shadowman, the Eternal Warrior and Bloodshot, in addition to several new characters. Dr. Eclipse had been a private investigator Fred Bender, who in turn had figured out Solar’s secret identity and gone after him (Solar, Man of the Atom #14). Solar defeated him, and left him for dead in the desert. But Bender survived, and tracked down Master Darque to gain the power he needed to take his revenge on Solar. Darque would also go on to help create a new hero, albeit not by design. Doctor Hwen Fong, a paranormal investigator escaped death at the hands of Master Darque. Just as Darque was absorbing Fong’s energy, Hwen’s lifeforce was pulled back by the love of his wife Carmen. He would go on to star in his own his own series, The Second Life of Dr. Mirage.
Valiant wasn’t the only story in comics at this time, another group of comic creators working for Marvel decided they wanted more control over the characters they had created, ultimately leaving to form their own company. That company was, of course, Image Comics. Due to the fact that its emphasis was on creator owned content, Image was the antithesis of what Valiant. Not better or worse, just very different. Valiant had been narrative driven, with a small creative team behind it. Image, by contrast, was more of a collective than a publisher, made up of several independent studios, each creating their own comics. But because they were both hitting the height of their popularity, and because of the friendship between Valiant honcho Steve Massersky and Image superstar Jim Lee, the decision was made to produce a crossover. The concept was appealing. These were two very popular lines, but there was not much overlap among their readers. Valiant readers tended to be more old school fans, whereas Image was attracting younger readers who favored the dynamic styles of the former Marvel artists. This could have been a chance for the two companies to assert themselves over DC and Marvel. But this was not to be the case.
The series consisted of six parts. First there was the prologue, produced by Valiant. It established the means by which the two universes would become one. Solar would meet and fall in love with Void from WildC.A.T.s. Their relationship would cause reality to reform and create a single universe. There were to be four issues, two produced by each company. Valiant produced the Blue and Yellow issues, while Image would be responsible for the Red and Black issues. The idea was that it wouldn’t matter what order you read the four books, as each would stand alone. Image would also produce an epilogue. While Valiant produced their material in a timely fashion, the Image books would be hampered by delays. On top of that, none of the books delivered on the promise of the concept. Half of the Image creators didn’t take part, meaning characters like Spawn and Savage Dragon would not be involved. Neither publisher was that familiar with the other’s properties, which of course caused problems with characterization. The Red issue in particular shipped very late. Despite its November 1993 cover date, it actually shipped after the Deathmate epilogue, which had a cover date of February 1994. By the time the last two books shipped, interest in the series had cooled considerably.
Retailers were left with hundreds of thousands of Deathmate Red and the Epilogue. They could not cancel the orders (at the time, books had to be more than 6 months late in order to be cancelled. Deathmate just barely beat that deadline. Retailers were hit hard. The series had a high price point to begin with ($4.95 an issue, when the average comic was still less than $2.00). Many retailers had anticipated high sales of the series, and placed large orders as a result. That was money they had spent, and had not gotten back in sales. Deathmate was one of the moments that people point to as the beginning of the end of the comics boom. Speculators were getting out. Fans were tired of waiting on late books from all publishers. In many ways, the writing was on the wall, and the boom was about to go bust.
Valiant needed to regroup and revitalize its line. Ninjak, the British Ninja spy, who first appeared in Bloodshot #6 was given his own series in early 1994. The series and the character were co-created by Mark Moretti and Joe Quesada (who would eventually become Marvel’s Editor in Chief). Other new titles included Armorines (about a government-sponsored team of armored soldiers) and Psi-Lords. Set in the 41st Century, Psi-Lords was another team book, essentially the H.A.R.D. Corps of the future.
Valiant also embarked upon a follow-up to Unity, titled Chaos Effect. Like Unity, the first issue of Chaos Effect was given away free, with the eighteen-part story continuing across various titles for several months. It was fitting symmetry that Archer and Armstrong, a series that debuted during Unity, would see its last issue released during this storyline. It would also mark the beginning of the end of Valiant Comics as it had been known.
In June of 1994, Valiant was sold to Acclaim Entertainment$65 million. In 1995, Acclaim began reshaping the Valiant characters into properties better suited to their video games. Some would go on to big success in that medium. In particular, Turok made the transition fairly smoothly and with the most success. Shadowman, although drastically re-imagined, would also go on to be a big hit for Acclaim. By contrast, X-O Manowar (who was teamed up with Marvel Comics’ Iron Man in a game called Heavy Metal) was not as successful.
The comics side of the business was headed for change.
Next time – Birthquake, Relaunch, and the end…?