Well, here we are at the beginning of a new year. I’ve been covering Valiant for a while now, and it’s been great! I’ve seen series come and go (hello WRATH OF THE ETERNAL WARRIOR, R.I.P. IVAR, TIMEWALKER), but Valiant continually makes it easy for readers to jump in and enjoy all of their offerings in a stunningly deep universe, spanning several dimensions and time periods. This year will see many new Valiant series and story arcs, but let’s take a moment to review the last few comics of 2015. The end of December saw the climax of RAI’s latest arc, the finale of BLOODSHOT REBORN’s nanomachines hunt, and the beginning of one of my favorite Valiant series’ sequels, DOCTOR MIRAGE. And this week, X-O MANOWAR begins a brand new arc that you could pick up today! Aliens and politics: what more could you want?!

RAI #12 by Matt Kindt and Clayton Crain

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RAI’s latest arc reaches a smashing climax, as most of the action shifts back to Neo Japan from the ruins of Earth, allowing Rai’s skybound companions more of the spotlight before (probably) bringing them back together next month (and in 2016’s upcoming 4001 AD event).

Rai, left broken and discouraged on the torn remnants of Earth, has found Gilad, the Eternal Warrior apparently returned from literally Hell in WRATH OF THE ETERNAL WARRIOR, though there are thousands of years between that time period and Rai’s. The two have gone in search of a powerful artifact, which I am guessing to be either GIN-GR’s body or X-O Manowar’s suit, in order to return to Neo Japan and defeat their tyrannical dictator, Father. Unfortunately for that plan, Neo Japan comes crashing down at the end of this issue after the cataclysmic confrontation between Spylocke, Lula, and Father.

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Reading this issue, it really felt like the climax of the arc. However, I was not expecting this. The space-bound adventures of Spylocke, Lula, Momo, and Izak were rather sparse until this issue, allowing much of the focus to be on Rai’s journey to find The Eternal Warrior. Things happened very quickly in this issue, bringing the stories together in a most unexpected manner. I appreciated the pickup in action, though I would have liked a bit more build up, or maybe a different pacing. In any case, I’m excited for the continuation of this arc, and whatever may happen to Neo Japan. As I’ve said many times in these reviews, Valiant isn’t afraid to make lasting changes in their stories, from Rai’s new arm to the collapse of the main setting for the series.

Crain’s art is absolutely stunning here, and the focus on Neo Japan allows his techno-organic hybrids to shine. Monsters, robots, dinosaurs—he can render them all in gorgeous efficacy. His paneling is strong as well, and the clashes between Father and Spylocke are breathless in their action.

RAI remains one of Valiant’s strongest, most creatively confident series. It’s not hard to understand why this year’s crossover will hinge on Kindt’s work in this time period. I can only hope that an expansion of these characters is in the cards.

THE DEATH-DEFYING DOCTOR MIRAGE: SECOND LIVES #1 by Jen Van Meter, Roberto De La Torre, and David Baron

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The first volume of DOCTOR MIRAGE was a strong contender for my favorite Valiant comic, and I was exceptionally hyped for this sequel—mostly due to my interview with writer Jen Van Meter last year. So, I went into this comic with some knowledge of the plot and a lot of expectations. Luckily, I think they were mostly met in this first issue.

As we left the Doctors Mirage, Shan had rescued the disembodied spirit of her husband, Hwen, from a purgatorial dimension. Unfortunately, he remains incorporeal and only visible to Shan and other ghosts. The series opens with the Doctors attempting to rebuild some familiarity in their lives which, in their unique case, involves hunting ghosts (on television). This, unfortunately, doesn’t work very well for either party due to Hwen’s lack of body, and the focus moves to their quest to regain Hwen’s body, or at least a semblance thereof.

Shan and Hwen’s ill-fated romance is pure melancholy, and I absolutely appreciate seeing a strong relationship in a comic, particularly one that can keep both parties going well beyond death. Like any good romantic story, I’m really pulling for them to stay together more than anything—solving the ghost murders, building a successful business, or any other side aspect herein.

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Roberto De La Torre and David Baron’s art was phenomenal in this issue, revealing the sketchy ghost underworld that lurks in our everyday settings. The last volume focused mostly on a human in a ghost world, and now the stage is switched, much to my delight. It offers the artists new opportunities to dazzle, and the more locations the Doctors go, the more interesting it becomes.

DOCTOR MIRAGE’s second volume kicks off what I hope will be a strong story about a relationship in a very strange universe. The concepts are clicking, the art is fluid and interesting, and the dialogue (particularly between Shan and Hwen) is great. Get the first volume, and then get this issue! And get issue #2 on Wednesday!

BLOODSHOT REBORN #9 by Jeff Lemire, Butch Guice, Tom Palmer, and David Baron

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Thus concludes Jeff Lemire’s second arc on BLOODSHOT REBORN. This has been a thrilling arc, and Lemire has utilized the character in a way that has allowed significantly more depth than prior arcs. Bloodshot, currently going by Ray, has finally cornered the last person infected with his rogue nanomachines—a child. Faced with his own inner demons (personified by the childlike killing machine Bloodsquirt and former love/Geomancer Kay) and the prospect of killing a child, Ray’s Bloodshot-related guilt comes to a head. Agent Festival’s investigation of Bloodshot also concludes as she meets Bloodshot and his traveling companion/lover Magic.

Bloodshot’s conclusion here didn’t quite meet my expectations. The tensions of previous issues kind of evaporated as Bloodshot was forced to deal with Bloodsquirt and Kay—again. This had already happened in a prior issue, and it kind of takes away the weight of the finale to rehash that earlier issue rather than build on it. I generally love Lemire’s writing, but I haven’t felt that this arc had the narrative push that THE VALIANT or the first arc of this series had. However, several very interesting elements have been introduced. Bloodshot’s tumultuous past, along with the mysterious data Agent Festival has uncovered, seem to lead to the upcoming “Bloodshot Island” arc, which is about as ominous as a title gets. I think it’s a bit odd to tease that upcoming arc with the next several issues set far into the future, but I hope that they are connected and continue the overall story.

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Butch Guice’s art is strong. His art seems as though it is based on photo references, which enhances the film noir film of the issue (and his work overall). I recently watched the second season of FX’s Fargo, and I found numerous parallels in appearance (and a few in content, I suppose).

BLOODSHOT REBORN is a fascinating series and a look deep into the character of a once-ruthless assassin, and it really approaches the subject in a way that I haven’t seen before. While I have some qualms about the narrative structure at the end of the arc, I appreciate the culmination of the nanomachines plotline and I am hotly anticipating the upcoming “The Analog Man” arc and the “Bloodshot Island” beyond that.

X-O MANOWAR #43 by Robert Venditti, Robert Gill and Ulises Arreola

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Leave it to NINJAK to liven up a comic!  After the intrigue and politics of the last arc, it’s refreshing to see a more straightforward action storyline in this comic. And we get right into the action too, thankfully.

As this issue begins, Aric’s recent three-way confrontation between The Vine, GATE, and his own people has concluded, resulting in a tenuous peace as the parties agree to accept one another. Aric is called upon to eliminate their greater threat: the Vine Plantings–Vine/Human hybrids that have infiltrated the highest echelons of world governments, led by Aric’s old nemesis Commander Trill. To this end, Aric has been given “The Kill List,” the title of this arc and a list of the most crucial members of The Vine’s infiltrators that, obviously, Aric has to kill. However, he has to work with Ninjak, with whom he shares many disagreements (most recently seen in UNITY (RIP)).

Aric and Ninjak’s disagreements are fun to see, as always, and the stakes of this arc are pretty high. I’m always pleased to see more Ninjak, be it in his own series, this one, or even in BLOODSHOT REBORN’s next arc. I found the politics of the last arc intriguing, but sometimes trimming down the overarching plot to something more focused can reinvigorate a series, as we can see here.

Gill and Arreola’s art expresses action very well, though I have some concerns about their approach to the subterfuge inherent with Ninjak. Thus, the action and characters in this issue are rendered very well, but more intimate scenes lack some subtlety. It fits Aric’s character, but I imagine they will adapt for the arc.

In short, X-O MANOWAR continues to be one of Valiant’s most solid comics, if not one of their most exciting. This arc is set to bring a lot of action and conflict, both within the duo of Aric and Ninjak and between them and the Vine, and this is a good time to pick up the comic if you’ve ben curious.

THIS YEAR:

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We’ve got a ton of great comics from Valiant. This week, we go deep into the occult as DOCTOR MIRAGE’s second series continues with another issue (and then two more), diving into the mysteries of Shan’s incorporeality and the killer of ghosts. NINJAK’s journey into the Deadside continues as we find out what happened to him during his journey with Punk Mambo, and the arc is set to be followed by “The Siege of King’s Castle,” which sounds like NINJAK’s take on SKYFALL.

X-O MANOWAR barrels towards issue #50 with “The Kill List,” promising a ton of action and unknown consequences for Aric and Ninjak’s secret war against the Vine, as we talked about earlier.

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BLOODSHOT REBORN jumps into the future for its next arc, “The Analog Man,” next month, featuring what looks like a cross between OLD MAN LOGAN and MAD MAX. What could go wrong? After that, Bloodshot goes back to the exceptionally foreboding sounding “Bloodshot Island.”

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IMPERIUM continues Harada’s slow takeover of the world, as he takes on Livewire, former leader of UNITY (and his own pupil)! Meanwhile Harbinger’s FAITH stars in her own miniseries, also due out in January. FAITH is bound to be a unique look at superheroics from a fan’s point of view. Well, a fan who is also a hero herself!

Matt Kindt and Clayton Crain are bringing the Valiant Universe into 4001 with their new event, spinning out of their excellent work in RAI (as noted above). Valiant’s 1990s comics had a lot of content in this time period, and I’m excited to see Matt Kindt expand this part of the realm.

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Archer and Armstrong star in the upcoming (and likely hilarious) A&A: THE ADVENTURES OF ARCHER & ARMSTRONG, diving deep into Armstrong’s Magic bag of tricks to find… who knows what. There’s also DIVINITY II, the sequel to Valiant’s awesome prestige series DIVINITY (which I read last week—it was FANTASTIC) or any other upcoming surprises that we don’t even know about! Valiant has some great material coming out, and it couldn’t be a better time to get into this exciting and diverse universe!

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From Valiant’s last few comics, it’s obvious that 2016 is going to be another great year for the company- a new event, sequels to their most interesting limited series, and exciting directions for their ongoing comics. And more than that, new series! And that’s only what’s been announced so far: who knows what’s possible for the later half of the year? Perhaps a stronger focus on the cast of HARBINGER after Faith’s miniseries and Harada’s confrontation with Livewire? A new Shadowman comic following his return in NINJAK? A return for UNITY or QUANTUM & WOODY? Okay, I admit these are my personal hopes, but they’re possible! Keep reading Valiant, folks!

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