Bin There, Found That: Valiant ComicsA column article, Bin There Found That by: Chris Wunderlich
I’ll be honest; I’ve never purposely paid for a Valiant comic. Growing up as a bargain bin junkie, they always seemed the lowest of the low. Titles like The Second Life of Doctor Mirage and H.A.R.D. Corps flooded the cheapie long-boxes, which sometimes contained up to fifty copies of a single issue. For a kid in the early 00’s, Valiant’s art looked cheap, their characters looked lame and worst of all, it all had a very “90’s” feel (and not in a good way). My quarters were better spent on anything Marvel, DC, or if it seemed recognizable, maybe Image. I was a kid entering the vast universe that is comic book collecting, and honestly, even if I did take a chance on one of those random Valiant titles, I’m not sure I would have appreciated it. Keep in mind this was mostly post-Unity stuff, none of the really early issues that I hear are actually pretty good. You probably won’t find that stuff in the cheap bin, and you certainly won’t find it here.
So how did I come upon these mighty tomes of the 90’s comic bubble? My favourite shop to grab cheap stuff offers preassembled packs—you get five comics for a dollar. The catch is you can’t rifle through them to see what you’re getting. Wrapped in about two layers of packing tape, these little packs of mystery always hold a real gem on the outside (for the consumer to see) and complete “junk” on the inside (for the consumer to whine about when he/she gets home). While picking out about 75% of Grant Morrison’s JLA run, I figured a buck an issue is still a great deal, even if all the other material in the packs I was buying was nothing but old newspapers and grocery coupons. As it turned out, each pack had the same contents—one JLA issue and four random Valiant titles. I went home and whined, pleased about my decent Justice League pull but confused with all these strange comics I thought were only worthy to line bird cages. I missed the era of Wizard Magazine and the early internet fandom and only knew these rags as the trash other shops accidentally ordered fifty copies of. Truth be told, I didn’t even give one a chance until about a year after making the purchase. I present to you both the mistake I made, and the unusual joys that can be found between the pages of these abandoned little pieces of history. This column is all about the little things-- the quirky treasures hidden between some often undesirable materials. So why should you spend a hard earned quarter on some of the most common bargain bin stuffing Valiant has to offer?
Magnus, Robot Fighter Vol.1 #15
Written by Roger Stern, Art by Ernie Colon
There are two specific reasons I chose this issue right off the bat.
1. This issue has something almost any comic collector would notice, something that makes this a worthwhile grab right away—a Frank Miller cover. I know plenty of folks that gobble up anything with the big FM on it, so chances are a few of you could have already picked this up.
2. Open up to the first page. Ernie Colon, where have you been all my life?
Chapter 4 on the cover, Chapter 3 on the inside. Who cares! Look at that art!
So what do we know about this issue before we even crack it open? Well, besides the aforementioned cover, we see this is a comic about Magnus (spelled Magnvs on the cover), and apparently he fights robots. I’m aware Magnus is an older Gold Key property, but to me he’ll be a Valiant bargain bin staple first and foremost. This issue also happens to be “Chapter 4” in the “Unity Crossover”. Seems like a bad place to jump in, but that’s the fun of it!
What we get in terms of story is very complicated, as is to be expected from the fourth chapter in a crossover event starring characters I’m not familiar within a universe I know almost nothing about. The book opens up introducing us to Rokland Tate, the kid who’s set to be the next Geomancer. We’re given a little more information surrounding Geomancers; we’re introduced to the villains in our Unity crossover and eventually Magnus shows up to argue with some half-naked women. We meet the Eternal Warrior, get some info on other Valiant characters like Solar and Rai, and after trying to wrap our heads around the craziness that is the early Valiant universe we finally get to see Magnus kick a robot. There is a ton of info between these pages and Roger Stern spells out the convoluted mess as best he can. The dialogue is decent, the pacing isn’t bad and the story threads are all balanced pretty well. If you’re not familiar with the Valiant universe, don’t pretend to know what’s going on, just let it wash over you and enjoy getting a general feel for the characters and plot. It feels epic in scope, and made me curious (at the very least) to see what happens in the rest of this Unity crossover. You might find yourself spending a few more quarters trying to collect the rest, if only to make sense of it all!
Robots who never leave you alone ... there’s a reason Magnus fights.
But really, the reason to pick this up is the art. Ernie Colon is a bit of an unsung master in the field, maybe best known for co-creating Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld. His work on this book, however, is really something special. The first thing you notice is the colouring. Everything looks as though it was expertly coloured in with crayon. I’m not an expert and can’t really comment on how Colon (or colouring assistant Janet Jackson) got this look, but it’s really something. This looks nothing like Valiant’s house style of the time, which may have thrown some fans off back in the day—but just look at it! The work here reminds me a lot of Kyle Baker, one of my favourite artists. The heavy outlines, the faded colouring, the cartoony postures mixed with almost MAD-magazine-like sensibilities. And read the letter column, apparently Colon had been doing his painted artwork on Magnus since at least issue 13, and I’m not the only one who likes to gush about it—fan Scott David agrees!
As a reader of MAD Magazine, I approve of this face.
I’d say grab this issue and attempt to go along with the story. If you can’t, let your eyes glaze over and stare at Ernie Colon’s beautiful work. Then go out and find some other Colon issues, and let me know how those are!
Solar, Man of the Atom Vol.1 #42
Written by Steve Sullivan, Pencilled by Scott Rosema
I decided to give this issue a shot because of the title character. I have no idea who Solar is, besides another Gold Key revival that now floods the local bargain bins. I’m a sucker for simple, minimalist costumes and poorly defined powers (one of my favourite characters is DC’s Spectre, so there you go) and Solar seems to fit the bill. I was curious: Who is Solar? What are his powers? Is he as ridiculously powerful as the title suggests? He’s the “Man of the Atom”, what does that mean? Well, these questions wouldn’t be answered, but that doesn’t stop this from being a great little quarter-bin buy!
Soap-opera drama! What more do you want from the Man of the Atom?
I’m not familiar with either the writer of this book or the artist, but after getting through the first few pages they both seem to be on the right track. Not the “ground-breaking, high-drama, superhero-complex-shattering” track, but the “random Saturday morning B-cartoon” track. The art here reminds me of something you might find in a licensed property book or cheesy advertisement. The characters are competently drawn and the backgrounds are all there, but it all seems very cheap, typical and unimpressive. The colours are very saturated and heavy, the characters are expressive but boring and everything about this book says “middle-of-the-road, later-era Valiant bargain-bin book”.
He wants to feel normal. A speedo won’t help.
So what’s the point? Well, it’s comfortable. The plot here involves Solar heading to the beach with his friends in an attempt to do “normal stuff,” instead of all that crazy atomic stuff I imagine past issues are filled with. The dialogue and narration are so basic, it’s easy to tune out and just let the story carry itself. In typical fashion, the bad guys are hot on Solar’s trail and when we meet the trio of elemental powered crooks (the water guy, the earth guy and the wind girl *yawn*) we’re treated to some neat interactions. These villains are standard bad guy types but there’s something intriguing about their relationships with each other. It’s almost enough to get you invested in the story -- until Solar and his friends start surfing. There are some minor romance issues when Solar’s attractive old flame meets his new squeeze, but again, it’s all very comfortable. The bad guys attack the gang and Solar saves the day while trying not to go all “superhero” on their vacation. What makes this worth getting is the general feel. This comic is easy like a Sunday morning. Nothing earth shattering happens; Solar doesn’t delve into any deep philosophical narration about the structure of the universe. This is the first of a three-part story, but I’d rather just take it as a one shot and enjoy seeing the “Man of the Atom” surf and stare at his friends in bikinis. Simple fun.
The speedo didn’t help.
And there’s more to enjoy inside as well. I’m always fascinated by in-house ads from the past, pumping storylines currently sitting alongside the rest of the stuff you pull out of the bargain bin. The back of this issue has a special little letter telling us about hot new artist George Saravia. At the time, Saravia was Valiant’s next big thing, taking over their Magnus title. The letter claims Saravia’s talent is “reminiscent of Frank Miller and Mike Mignola.” I love reading passionate stuff like this, where back in the day people were genuinely excited to see new artists break through and dazzle them. I haven’t heard of George Saravia -- did he make it? Have you heard of him? Did he go on to do great things, and I’m just unaware? I hope so. Its material like this that makes me really appreciate the cheap stuff.
It’s the little things that make these issues real treasures.
Written and Pencilled by David Lapham
Did you take a look at those credits? This issue was written and drawn by David Lapham! For me, that’s reason alone to dig it out of the bargain bins. His Stray Bullets is in a category all its own as far as crime comics and independent books are concerned. His Young Liars is one of the craziest mind trips you’re likely to read. Both those books might be featured in this column in the future, but right now it’s all about Harbinger. So what’s going on here?
Like I said, this isn’t Stray Bullets or Young Liars, and you can tell. Lapham draws this in the Valiant house style and it doesn’t resemble the great stylistic work I’d seen from him before. Though traditional, Lapham’s art is still a notable effort. You can tell this is a young Lapham in the process of working out his influences and trying to play in the big leagues. Honestly, it’s still pretty cool.
From what I gathered in this issue, Harbinger stars a group of young powerful teens. We get a girl who seems to be able to set things on fire, the “leader with something to prove” psionic guy and a heavier-set blonde who can fly. I’m sure plenty has been written about it, but this comic is from 1992 and seeing a group of teens with realistic physique (relatively speaking) is very refreshing. We quickly learn that one of their friends has been killed and they’ve decided to take matters into their own hands. They are a resourceful bunch but also impulsive, fragile and young. We learn a little about what Harbinger is and the kids go face to face with a seemingly impervious brute. More bad guys show up and we get the requisite comic book brawl. Being from the 90’s, there’re just certain staples that couldn’t be avoided.
With wicked 90’s named like Blast, Spikeman and Warp, how could these bad guys lose?
This big fight isn’t played like a mini-X-men war, however. It’s more of a gang fight, and the consequences are actually deeply felt by the end of this issue. It doesn’t feel like we’re watching superheroes duke it out; it feels like we’re watching a group of confused, scared teens try to do what they think is right. It’s at the very end that we see glimpses of the greatness that would come from Lapham. He gets inside characters and makes them feel like people instead of action figures. I was completely unfamiliar with every Harbinger, but it only took one issue for Lapham to make me care about these kids.
No victory pose? Lapham wraps it up with pathos.
And what little treasures can be found between the pages? There’s a great little spiel by Steve Massarsky (Valiant’s publisher) about the company’s progress, and better yet a gold logo contest! If readers found legal ways to promote Valiant comics and get people buying, they could tell the company about their methods and be eligible to win a gold logo variant of a Valiant issue. This kind of stuff just doesn’t happen in comics anymore. It’s a cool idea with proper incentive and it not only gets more people talking about Valiant comics, it gets them buying too! If all that and a great issue aren’t enough for you, there’s also a picture of a baby dressed like Magnus the Robot Fighter in the back.
Told you so.