The Middle Ground #91 | Second time around
The unexpected thing about catching up on the output of the original Valiant line wasn’t that it made me more optimistic and enthusiastic about the upcoming relaunch of X-O Manowar and the entire Valiant Universe; part of me had been expecting that reaction based on the pedigree of those involved with the relaunch, if nothing else. What was a surprise, though, was that reading early issues of books like X-O and Harbinger made me think about the benefits of revivals and characters outlasting their original creators.
Here’s the thing about the original Valiant runs that I caught up on: Despite their being stories written and drawn by the characters’ creators, and despite their being the first time the characters had appeared, most of the books – honestly, with the exception of Solar, Man of The Atom and Archer & Armstrong, pretty much everything else that I read – didn’t feel like the “definitive” stories about their leads. It’s not that they were bad; everything was at the very least “good,” with a great deal of it just downright great, enjoyable stuff that has aged far, far better than a lot of the more fashionable material created around the same time (Compare a page from Archer & Armstrong and anything from Image’s first few years, and which one really looks or reads more dated these days?), but… Well, most of the early Valiant comics leave the reader – or, at least, me – with the feeling that the concept behind the series outstrips the execution, is the best way to put it.
This isn’t a bad thing in the slightest, and isn’t meant to be a criticism of the original comics; if anything, it’s the opposite because, holy moley, there are some great ideas and set-ups in these comics. X-O‘s “Conan in Iron Man armor”? The Harbinger Foundation as evil Professor Xavier and his X-Men, except of course, it may not be evil evil as much as just not the ones telling the story? The absolutely crazy set-up for Archer (Seriously, the “kid who survives a murder attempt by his own parents who are abusive perverts, then goes on to train for vengeance only to come back and discover that they’re already in jail” thing? That is just nuts, and kind of genius) even before you introduce Armstrong as his partner in crime for an Odd Couple riff that has to be seen to be believed? Even single one of those are just gold, Jerry. That the stories exploring those ideas and set-ups feel like they left more to be said or somehow incomplete, for me, speaks more to the strength of the concepts than a failure of the creators in doing something with them.
It’s also the reason that I find myself looking forward to what the new Valiant is going to do with them. It’s weird; with all the Before Watchmen and related rights issues happening these days, I’d felt myself creeping towards some kind of “People, create your own stuff and take that as far as you can” mentality, but the Valiant situation has turned me around, feeling bizarrely grateful that there are other creators who can re-explore ideas and characters that were left unfinished or incomplete for whatever reason, or just re-approach them from a different direction. There is something in remaking and remodeling old series and old characters, as numerous makeovers and revamps demonstrate, but that kind of creative excavation seems more tarnished and less necessary when it happens over and over again to the same few characters (Why, hello, Wonder Woman and Moon Knight, how are you?); having a chance to get to know the ideas behind Valiant from their original incarnation, I find myself eagerly anticipating whatever comes from the efforts and talents going towards their new lives.