The blockbuster Valiant event of 2015 starts here as New York Times best-selling writer Robert Venditti (X-O MANOWAR) joins superstar-in-the-making Robert Gill (ARMOR HUNTERS: HARBINGER) and visionary artist Doug Braithwaite (ARMOR HUNTERS) to begin a thousand-year journey into the future of the Valiant Universe…and rain, fire, blood and war on the heroes of today.
*This review contains spoilers for The Valiant, but not Book of Death #1*
This week, Valiant decided to open the Book of Death, the publisher’s upcoming event series featuring various established characters in a shared Universe. To really get a grasp on the Book of Death is to understand Valiant’s last event mini-series known as The Valiant, where Bloodshot, a man-turned-robot attempted to save the being known as the Geomancer (Earth savior) from The Eternal Enemy. Just in case you were wondering, The Eternal Enemy is a really bad dude and The Eternal Warrior is the person tasked with protecting the Geomancer from harm. Unfortunately, the latest Geomancer, Kay McHenry fell to the clutches of The Eternal Enemy when the monster took the shape of Mr. Flay — one of McHenry’s greatest fears. Since then, Tama, the next Geomancer was introduced in the climax of The Valiant as the young heroine contained a special item: the Book of the Geomancer. The book can see into the future of the Valiant world, but only Tama can read it. The Eternal Warrior has gone rogue with Tama and the Book of the Geomancer — abandoning his friends on the Valiant superteam Unity. Drama ensues.
This first installment of the comic does an admirable job of trying to suck new readers into the mythology of Valiant, but it’s hard for new readers to absorb everything needed to read the story based off of one issue. The first issue of The Valiant did a much better job easing in those readers, giving fans a surface level understanding of each character going into the event series. In Book of Death, each character has a small black box perched next to their first appearance as well as a character bio on the opening cover of the comic — the tactic is great for the uninitiated briefing them on what’s next for the Valiant world. This issue starts out slow, but fans don’t get a great read on the individual characters populating the event within this issue. Character relationships and dynamics aren’t going to seem clear until diving deeper in the Universe.
As per our interview with Valiant creator Robert Venditti, there is a lot of really complicated character work happening behind-the-scenes of the story. Relationships are directly being paid off within the course of the this issue get even more layers of intrigue. Without the added color represented within the lineage of X-O Manowar and Unity, readers likely aren’t going to find the nuanced character trait offered within this upcoming series. Much of this comic contains information that has been already released other places. The solicitation holds much of the plot threads in this issue — it’s really hard to piece together exactly where this story is headed going forward. It’s also incredibly hard to judge the revelation on the last page of the issue without understanding the full scope of where this crossover is headed. It’s this uncertain path that leads fans to question what the Valiant Universe that could be like following this story. The issue almost reads like a chess match in some respects, where pieces are moving around the board are being strategically placed.
In the flash forward sequence from the Book of the Geomancer, the title really shined. Seeing Doug Braithwaite’s artwork in the sequence was spellbinding. Also, the assortment of characters teased was a really interesting mix that should excite newer fans of the franchise from newer titles like Ninjak. The horror twist bookends that segment with a really striking sequence where Robert Gill starts to excel in conveying an emotion. Author Robert Venditti seems to have a good handle on writing prose for Braithwaite with a more regal sensibility to his work in these moments. Gill is an interesting choice for the event series, the way that the illustrator depicts the story is visually striking and noticeably horrific. The very first splash page is wonderfully evoked in the black-and-white teasers from the preview pages. Also, the reveal sequence shrouded in shadows was another really strong moment for the art team. The two pencillers on the comic don’t detract from the title either, making the juxtaposition a moment that helps differentiate the story from the multiple writers. A very specific kind of art is needed to depict some of the horror elements of the comic.
When the end of a story makes me curious enough to purchase the next, the tale is doing something right. While this isn’t a first issue chock full of massive revelations, it does pose interesting mysteries and an ending sequence that merits attention from longtime Valiant readers. However, this isn’t a title recommended to hand to someone who has no idea about the extended Valiant cannon.