CLOSE to two years after its relaunch, Valiant has kept up the momentum built up by its initial core titles – X-O Manowar, Harbinger and Bloodshot – and re-established itself as the go-to publisher for taut, exciting tales told within a manageable (as in, not cluttered or too often rebooted) universe.
Back in the 1990s when Jim Shooter turned Valiant into a bright shining star of the comics business, Valiant titles were highly prized thanks to small print runs, a smart hype machine and solid stories.
Valiant’s subsequent acquisition by video game publisher Acclaim, its falling out with Shooter, Acclaim’s own troubles and eventual bankruptcy are the stuff of industry legend.
Valiant left a legion of loyal fans, a couple of whom acquired the rights to the titles in 2005, though it took seven years before the first “new” Valiant comics came out.
The Valiant relaunch has given us some really terrific tales. Again, X-O and Harbinger have been the MVPs of the line, and it is from their pages (mostly) that the company’s first big crossover team book springs.
Back in the 1990s, Unity was the name of a massive crossover that involved characters from all the Valiant Universe’s timelines (it had some characters operating in the past, some in the far future, some in the present) and ... well, unified the universe.
This time, Unity is not so ambitious but it is no less an achievement as far as making an impact is concerned.
This collection (only the first four issues, which may leave buyers feeling a little short-changed quantity-wise) shows us just what Unity is, but then makes it immediately ambiguous again.
Basically, the series pits two of the Valiant Universe’s most powerful beings against each other. X-O Manowar, a.k.a. the Visigoth named Aric of Dacia, possessor of an ancient and venerated alien suit of combat armour; and Toyo Harada, survivor of WWII’s nuclear attacks on Japan and the most powerful psychic on the planet.
On the surface, Unity is the name of a team Harada has assembled to bring Aric down. In the telling of the tale, though, it becomes apparent that the title clearly refers to something other than this super-group.
Unity’s story is one of shifting loyalties, conflicting worldviews and agonising betrayal. It is simple yet multi-layered, a story that keeps pulling the rug out from under your feet so you are never really sure where the loyalty of any of the supporting characters lies.
Aric, who only wants a place to settle his people (the descendants of alien abductees from centuries ago), is seen as a threat by the world’s major powers.
Ironically, they turn to Harada – himself no less a danger to their nation-states and illusions of sovereignty – to stop Aric from inadvertently triggering a world war.
Also enlisted are MI6 covert operative Ninjak, Gilad the Eternal Warrior, and Livewire, one of Harada’s disciples, who can manipulate energy (and in one startling moment, bonds with the X-O armour).
Like I said, it’s a fairly straightforward setup but Kindt keeps the reader guessing by throwing character swerves and other surprises at us, making this story a refreshing read throughout. (Even the title of the first story arc, To Kill A King, has a deeper significance than initially thought.)
I also found it refreshing because Unity is blissfully free of so much of the verbiage and endless philosophising that tend to make contemporary super-team books nigh unreadable.
True to its nature, then, Unity does what the best comic-books do: it tells a crackerjack tale, keeps you excited, gives you just enough substance to chew on without making you gag on relevance, and leaves you anxiously awaiting the next instalment.
Which, apparently, will unite this fragmented group of individuals against an even greater threat than either Aric or Harada. I can’t wait.