Valiant: The Rise and Fall of an Empire

By Michael Kaluta

 For nearly 60 years, the two corporate giants Marvel Comics and Detective Comics (DC) completely controlled the mainstream comic field with it's complete dominance of the market share. Yet despite their rule, something happened. A virtually unknown company raised itself from the nothing and established itself as a major player in the comic market, outselling many of the Marvel and DC titles once thought of as king. No ordinary company could pull such a feat off, but this was no ordinary company. With a new vision and an original style and cast of characters, this company went from the bottom of the pile to the comic success story of the nineties in only 2 years. A company which opened the minds of the worlds readers to the name VALIANT.

For a company to establish itself, it must have an original set of characters or ideas to show to the comic world; originality that will result in the comic fans around the world standing up and shouting "We want more!". Readers don't want re-hashed ideas, they want something new, something different that will draw their interest and hold it. Valiant did just that. Forming in the early nineties, Valiant knew the secret to success was moderated growth and a quality product, and they followed these guidelines with precise accuracy. With such creative heavyweights as Jim Shooter, Barry Windsor-Smith and Bob Layton at the helm of Valiant's creative empire, fantastic work was inevitable.

In time, a star was born. Harbinger was the story of a group of superpowered teens and their trials and tribulations to survive in a world of misunderstanding; case in point, themselves. This was Valiant's first breakout hit. Just a few months after it's release, Harbinger gained a substantial fan following and sent the comic world into a frenzy seeking back issues of the series. It's popularity could be directly attributed to the outstanding art and writing which went hand in hand, and the fact that readers could relate and care for the characters within the pages. In a matter of months, the back issue value went through the roof, sending Harbinger #1 past the 100 dollar mark and turning Valiant comics into an overnight sensation.

Harbinger, however, was just the start of a revolution. With the hype surrounding Harbinger, the whole line of books finally received a mass audience. Titles such as Eternal Warrior, Shadowman and Rai will be forever etched in our minds, bringing us back to the glory days of modern day comics: the way comics used to be, the way comics should be. The back issues of these titles dominated the after market and held their value month after month. Each month, Valiant gave us what we wanted and did it in quality fashion, never skimping on talent or quality.

One thing which gained Valiant the respect and adoration of the comic community was it's closeness with it's readers. With other companies trying to sell their titles based on the flashiness of it's cover or the suspense of opening a polybag to unlock it's mystery, Valiant shied away from these gimmicks. Granted, the occasional "gimmick" book did come to pass, but the majority of times Valiant decided they would rather let the quality of the story and art speak for itself, which it did. One key ingredient in Valiant's success came from an advertising campaign which directly involved the readers: The Gold Logo Program. How it worked was you do something good for the company (i.e. advertising titles at a local store, etc) and they would do something good for you. If the editors decided what you had done for the company truly shone above all others, you would receive a Gold Logo comic. This interaction with the fans and a company that actually rewarded you for supporting their books has never been seen before in comics.

With everything going right for them at this stage in time, Valiant was clearly a big-time player, both powerful and respected. Unfortunately, with every great victory must come a time for defeat, only this one was too powerful for Valiant to recover from. In 1993, their empire came tumbling down along with the simple realization: there were just too many comic books out there. With retailers ordering far too many books and investors hoarding vast amounts of issues for themselves (for the "future"), Valiant realized these tremendous print runs were not all falling into reader's hands. Now, with too many books to control and the loss of Valiant megastar, Jim Shooter, Valiant began it's slow spiral into oblivion. Despite quality titles still being released after the leaving of Shooter, the company struggled to maintain control of its books. Month in and month out, Valiant lost substantial ground in the battle for comic dollars and soon the once dominant empire came crumbling down. With their readership at terribly low levels, Valiant realized that they were no longer a player in the comic wars and decided to end the legacy they started only a few years earlier.

In 1996, Valiant sold themselves over to Acclaim Entertainment, and a "new world" was born. Our final encounter with the Valiant universe occurred in X-O Manowar #68, the final Valiant book published. This is the book which would lead into the Iron Man/X-O crossover which, in turn, would lead us into a "new world" of  Valiant characters. From then on, we were given the "Same as it never was" from Fabian and his new vision of the Valiant Universe. Many of the titles still donned their original names, but that is where the similarities ended. With the storyline, backgrounds and look of the characters completely modified from the original universe, many die hard Valiant readers suddenly lost everything they once valued so much: the character development, the continuity and the unforgettable stories with future ramifications. Valiant and the Valiant universe was officially no more.

But all is not lost. The original Valiant still has it's fans. Fans who have been with the company since it's modest beginnings and miss it terribly, yet still choose to collect and read the remainder of the books that are available in the after-market. Valiant fans have lost everything which was their world, but there is one place where we can continue to indulge our need for the old stories. Here, at the Valiant Preservation Society, fledgling writers come together for a common cause: to keep the universe alive in the hearts of the fans. With little or no other outside resources related to Valiant, the VPS is a fantastic getaway to a world we all still love and admire, a place where we can all get together and reminisce about the universe and keep it alive in our minds; the place where it has remained since it's demise and will continue to live on in us all.

A perfect example of what these comics meant to their legions of fans can best be described by a comment I remember someone mentioning. He described how eager he used to be biking down to the local store to pick up the newest copy of Solar or Magnus, and how much he enjoyed the stories within. How many comics can evoke that type of feeling today? No, Valiant was no regular company, rather a company which obtained it's fans from hard work and dedication to the quality of their comics. These comics meant the world to us - the fans - and will never be forgotten for how they enlightened and enriched our lives. Thank you, Valiant, for what your work has brought to our lives; it will never be forgotten. Long may you reign.

Mike Kaluta