O Say Can You See: The Greatest Patriotic Super Heroes of All-Time
I was never a Valiant reader; they came around when I was in one of my then-periodic outs with comics as a medium and an industry, which were generally down to either distaste for what was happening to once favorite characters (Hal Jordan had gone insane?) or a depressing lack of money that’d restrict my purchases to whatever Grant Morrison was writing and little else. But even if I’d been paying more attention, I’m not sure that I would’ve jumped in with both feet and hoped for the best.
The early ’90s were a strange time for me and comics; I still kept in touch with what was going on in DC and Marvel comics – less so for the latter, in large part because I wasn’t the biggest fan of the creators or storylines therein – and was discovering what, I guess, would later come to be called something like “alternative comics” or the like (Deadline, with Philip Bond and Nick Abadzis and Jamie Hewlett and the lot, or the Tundra books, especially Illya’s Skidmarks or Dave McKean’s Cages, two things that really sent my brain flying), but all of the “new universes” that seemed to want to do what Marvel and DC had done thirty years earlier left me cold. Why would anyone want to sign on to another shared universe with multiple books to keep track of, I thought, with shifting creators and crossovers and the whole shebang? Weren’t Marvel and DC doing enough of that already…?
And so, I missed Valiant, and I missed Defiant, and I missed the Kirbyverse and the Ultraverse and all of those worlds. Well, I didn’t entirely miss the Ultraverse; a local store went out of business at one point, and in the “everything must go” sale, I grabbed pretty much a whole run of James Robinson’s Firearm, in large part because of my nascent love for Cully Hamner. It was a fun book, quirky and colorful but nothing that made me really want to push past it and join the Ultraverse proper afterwards.
(Many years later – last year, in fact – I’d find myself trawling through back issues, looking for Ultraverse books, lured by the weird promise of seeing later-period Steve Englehart and wondering what he’d get up to when freed from what he’d seemingly come to consider the increasingly heavy shackles of Marvel editorial. I also picked up some of the Topps Kirby books cheap, at the same time, half-wishing that I’d paid attention more at the time.)
All of this came to mind when reading Warren Simons and Robert Venditti talk about their relaunch of X-O Manowar today, and in particular reading Simons’ reaction to what he called the “IP” of the company: “The thing that I found, time and time again, whether it was X-O or Harbinger or Bloodshot, the core concepts driving the characters really are fantastic,” he said, “When you have that, you have the foundation for a really incredible universe. The thing about Valiant is that it’s not just about a single comic; it’s about the tapestry of the larger universe and how these characters play a role in it.”
When I read that, I had a moment of wanting to go back in time and slap my younger, hairier self on the back of the head and tell me to stop being so snobbish. It’s not that I’m convinced that Simons is correct (I have still, to this day, never read a Valiant book that isn’t Quantum and Woody, to my slight shame), but that I was so convinced that Marvel and DC had the shared universe idea “covered” at the time that I never even entertained the possibility that I might’ve been missing out by ignoring entire lines of comics. It really doesn’t matter, I’ve come to realize, what banner or universe a comic book may be part of; what’s more important is who’s behind it, and why they’re making it.
There’s something appealing to me about the way that Venditti talks about what his X-O is going to be, much like there’s something appealing in Brandon Graham and Simon Roy’s Prophet; I’m glad that I’ve gotten to the point when I can follow that interest wherever it leads, freed of concerns over what universe it belongs to or what other books I’ll “have to” pick up as a result. I can only shake my head at the comics I missed out on, back in the day, before I knew any better.