We’re at the point where there are dozens of Marvel movies, dozens of DC movies, and a couple Dark Horse ones sprinkled here and there. With the release of Vin Diesel’s Bloodshot, we’re getting our first attempt at a movie adapting Valiant Comics. As it is, Valiant has only been represented outside of the comic page via several video games in the ’90s (including an X-O Manowar/Iron Man crossover, weirdly enough) and a web series from a couple years ago centering around the character Ninjak.
If Bloodshot ends up driving enough interest, we might get another Valiant property on the silver screen to maybe push for a Valiant Cinematic Universe. At the very least, there should be some people interested in reading Bloodshot stories and maybe stretching into the wider comic universe.
So what is the Valiant Universe? Sure, it’s a world of superheroes, but there’s more to a connected comic universe than just “it’s a world of superheroes.” When you describe Marvel to someone, you have to talk up SHIELD, the Infinity Stones, mutants, Latveria, and so on. DC has assorted Lantern Corps, Metropolis, Gotham, the legacy of Krypton, the Speed Force, etc. Yes, Valiant is a world where we have Bloodshot, X-O Manowar, Archer and Armstrong, and countless others, but what are the concepts that make it up?
For this article, I’m going to focus on the current run of comics. Even though the original Valiant stuff started coming out in 1989, the current rebooted continuity is as recent as 2012 and forward.
This one is less about the fictional world of Valiant and more of how they are as a publisher. Valiant knows that by not being Marvel or DC, there’s only so much they can saturate the market with. They tend to have a limited amount of comics going on at the same time. For their two main properties – X-O Manowar and Bloodshot – that means they pretty much have comics coming out all the time (X-O tends to be an ongoing while Bloodshot’s comics are constantly restarting at #1 with new names like Bloodshot Salvation and Bloodshot USA).
For everyone else, there’s usually somewhere in-between 4 and 25 issues before they call it a day. This goes for the likes of the “big name” comics too, such as Harbinger, Archer and Armstrong, and Ninjak. They don’t sit on the status quo forever. The creative team will eventually give the book some kind of ending. Maybe a new creative team will pick up the cast in a later book, but that will usually wait at least a year or so.
Even if the universe is ongoing, there’s more of a feeling of closure with these runs. Plus it allows them to rest certain people and create new heroes in their absence. This worked out great for Shadowman. Of the launch titles in the initial days of the modern Valiant reboot, Shadowman was easily the weakest and the character wasn’t all that likeable. By taking him off the board for a few years, they redesigned him and gave him a more interesting direction so his eventual new series was more welcoming.
In all honesty, Valiant characters have a tendency to be extremely derivative. If you saw the trailer for Bloodshot and thought, “He seems an awful lot like Wolverine,” then guess what? You’re right! Ninjak’s deal is that he’s James Bond merged with Batman. Shadowman is Ghost Rider. Torque is a redneck Captain Marvel Jr. X-O Manowar is the Superman of Valiant, but he’s also a mix of Iron Man, Thor, and I guess Namor.
Therefore it shouldn’t be too surprising that the world of Valiant has “psiots” who are just off-brand mutants. Technically, all psiots are supposed to have mental powers, but you’d be surprised how easy it is to explain nearly every superpower as something psychic. You aren’t throwing fire, you’re creating and manipulating fire with your mind.
One main thing that separates psiots from mutants is how the powers initially kick in. For mutants, it’s usually a natural thing that happens in adolescence. Only a small percent of people have potential to be psiots and even less will have those powers awaken on their own (usually thanks to an extreme trauma). The rest have to go through experimental treatments that give them good odds of dying on the spot.
Sounds grisly, right? Therein lies the biggest difference between Valiant and Marvel when it comes to psiots/mutants. The closest thing they have to the X-Men is the Harbinger Foundation, run by Toyo Harada (himself a hybrid of Xavier and Magneto). The initial storyline is about recruiting troubled teen Peter Stanchek into his school, only for Stancheck to discover that the Harbinger Foundation is absolutely messed up in an “ends justifies the means” way to a better world.
Not to say that Stanchek is a saint either. He misuses his own powers in the first issue in such a way that if they ever do make a Harbinger movie, they will absolutely scrub it from the story to make him easier to get behind as a protagonist.
The fallout between Harada and Stanchek causes various psiot factions to arise over time. Harada’s Harbinger Foundation wants to force a better world through shady means and outright megalomania. Stanchek tries to oppose and expose him with his team of renegades, but hasn’t exactly thought the whole thing through. There’s Generation Zero, a team of escaped government experiments in the form of emotionally broken children who find their place in the world by becoming borderline terrorists. Harada’s former pupil Livewire leads a team of psiot youngsters who were rejected from the Harbinger Foundation for having “useless” powers.
Before becoming self-aware, Bloodshot’s existence revolved around catching psiots for the government, making him something of a boogeyman to their kind. The government also has the HARD Corps, a group of soldiers who can download psiot abilities one-at-a-time into their brains via satellite.
With so many psiots running around, it’s surprising that the breakout star among them is Stanchek’s teammate Faith. You know how people joke about Wolverine being in every Marvel book sometimes? In Valiant, that’s Faith: an overweight dork of a girl who can fly. It helps that she’s one of the very few Valiant heroes who comes off as genuinely pure-hearted. She’s awesome.
THE GOVERNMENT ORGANIZATIONS
You can’t do superhero stories without your government organizations. Who’s going to pick up the phone and yell, “GET ME [insert superhero name here]!”? Valiant mostly focuses on three factions.
MI6 is a fictionalized version of the existing British intelligence organization. Their director is Neville Alcott, who acts as the Jim Gordon to Ninjak’s Batman. At first, Ninjak was depicted as a soldier of fortune who was regularly hired by MI6. Eventually, it was retconned that he is part of the Ninja Programme and his name is actually Ninja-K. The Ninja Programme has been around since the first World War with a line of alphabetical ninjas trained to help protect England.
Then there’s the secret group MERO (Military Extraterrestrial Recon Outpost), which was made public and renamed GATE (Global Agency for Threat Excision) after enough extraterrestrial incidents proved to the public that aliens were real. As you can guess, they specialize in worldwide threats, especially from other planets. Colonel Jamie Capshaw both runs the show and acts as a handler for Aric of Dacia, otherwise known as X-O Manowar.
Aric is a time-displaced Visigoth warrior prince who returned to Earth in the present, a time when his homeland no longer exists. Using his great power, he attempted to forcibly carve a new kingdom into Romania and rule it. Capshaw (or “Lady Colonel” as Aric calls her), made him a deal that he could move his kingdom and people to an empty area in Nebraska in exchange for putting him on speed dial whenever something big needs punching.
MI6 and GATE are as benevolent as these agencies get in modern comics and seeing Alcott and Capshaw work together is a regular thing. Project Rising Spirit, on the other hand, is the other side of the spectrum.
Project Rising Spirit is the Weapon X of Valiant. The shadow group that does horrible things for the sake of the government greed and power. Not only did they create Bloodshot, but it’s apparent that they created generations of Bloodshots for different wars and continued to use them as Guinea pigs years after the fact. Then there’s the whole thing where they kidnapped young psiots and trained them to be child soldiers against their will.
Even when they went too far and were exposed for their misdeeds, Project Rising Spirit got by via rebranding as Project Omen. They no longer have a leash on Bloodshot these days, but they do have the HARD Corps as well as Rampage, who is like Evil Bloodshot and is drawn to look like WWE superstar Triple H.
The Vine is the name of an alien race defined by their thirst for conquest and their bizarre, religious worship of plantlife. They are insectoid creatures who go from planet to planet, secretly stealing away some of its inhabitants for the sake of slavery and replacing them with Vine creatures mutated into what are essentially body snatchers. As with Earth, those of the bloodline of Vine/human hybrids gun for top ranking positions while being able to psychically converse with the rest of their race via hivemind.
I would say that they kidnapped the wrong Earthling in 402 AD when they abducted pissed-off warrior prince Aric of Dacia, but it’s part of a prophecy, so…I guess they actually kidnapped the right Earthling. The Vine heavily worshipped Shanhara, a floral-based orb that would turn into nigh-unstoppable space armor for its chosen one. After many proud Vine warriors tried it on and died from being rejected, escaped slave Aric was able to put it on and survive, becoming X-O Manowar.
At first, X-O Manowar opposed the alien race that captured him and many of his people, but over time, he realized his responsibilities that came with being Shanhara’s chosen one. While seemingly impossible at times, he has been trying to keep cooler heads prevailing in relationships between the two species so that they can both thrive.
While the armored human is considered the messiah to the Vine race, all don’t fall in line so easily. There are still Vine/human hybrids plotting on Earth, as well as pure-strain Vine soldiers who consider X-O Manowar’s existence to be an insult.
The Deadside is the afterlife. Mostly similar to the Neitherworld from the Beetlejuice cartoon, but without all the jokes. It’s Hell, but with general spookiness going on rather than being a festival of endless fire and torture. It’s still no picnic to have to hang around in.
It’s the main backdrop for the likes of supernatural heroes Shadowman, Doctor Mirage, and Punk Mambo and an easy bastion for supernatural threats, such as Valiant’s top villain Master Darque. It’s also the home to being known as “loas” who are based around voodoo myth and act as demigods.
The most prominent of these loas (outside of the one attached to Shadowman) is Baron Samedi, the Loa of the Dead. Something of a macabre party animal, Samedi acts in his own interests and is constantly met with distrust from heroes despite the fact that he always seems to come through for them in the end. Really, he should have had his own comic series instead of Shadowman.
THE IMMORTAL BROTHERS
In the early days of civilization, there was a trio of brothers who constantly went on adventures together. Ivar Anni-Padda was a genius, Gilad Anni-Padda was a warrior, and Aram Anni-Padda was a humor-filled poet. One of their adventures involved them discovering a mystical artifact called the Boon. The same adventure led to the death of Gilad.
Distraught over Gilad’s death, Ivar quickly went mad and swore he could use the Boon’s power to resurrect his beloved brother. Aram didn’t like this idea and didn’t trust Ivar’s state of mind, so he attempted to stop him. The power of the Boon was unleashed and it had horrible, if complicated, effects on the three.
For one, the Boon sucked up the lifeforces of everyone within that chunk of the planet and inserted it all into Aram’s body. This caused him to become virtually immortal, like a video game character filled with countless life bars. The immortal Aram Anni-Padda later changed his name to Armstrong and continued to spend centuries partaking in drunken adventures, trying to distract him from the loneliness of a reality where his many friends grow old and die before him.
For his crimes, Ivar was captured and imprisoned by beings known as the Keepers of the Timeless Word. He spent thousands of years locked in the timestream, watching history play out. Eventually, he was freed by Armstrong’s partner Archer. Having a deep understanding of time rifts and historical details, Ivar took to mastering time travel. Granted, he isn’t actually immortal, but he does appear regularly through the centuries as he tries to redeem himself for his tragic actions.
Then there’s Gilad. For reasons that might not even be connected to the Boon incident, Gilad was indeed resurrected, but by the spirit of Earth itself. He was chosen to be the world’s Eternal Warrior. He will constantly rise from the dead throughout the ages while focusing his efforts on protecting and avenging the Geomancers. Geomancers are good-hearted mages who wield nature’s magic. Once one is killed, another is empowered in their place and Gilad has a new person to keep an eye on.
Even though they still bond from time to time, Gilad’s grizzled, duty-bound personality makes him the opposite of Armstrong’s levity-filled, hedonistic nature.
It was later revealed that there was another eternal sibling in their little sister Vexanna Anni-Padda. Known as the War-Monger, Vexanna is an agent of chaos and her very existence seems to cause wars to happen.
I’ve already mentioned shadowy conspiracy factions in the Vine and Project Rising Spirit. The hole goes even deeper as those two parties are merely part of an even BIGGER mega-conspiracy faction called the Sect. The Sect is made up of dozens of other shadow groups, some sillier than others, but usually tie into the usual types from this kind of trope (ie. Freemasons, religious groups, assassin guilds, the extremely rich, black helicopters). The more important sub-groups of the Sect include the One Perfect, the Null, Sisters of Perpetual Darkness, and the Dominion.
The Sect’s main target is Armstrong due to his exposure to the Boon and the potential of immortality that comes from imprisoning him.
The Dominion, an assassin guild run by hypocritical “Christian value” types, kidnapped a young and powerful psiot boy and brainwashed him into being loyal family member Obadiah Archer. Trained in nearly every fighting style, Archer was sent to go hunt down Armstrong. In the end, he realized that the Sect was the true enemy and a new, ridiculous friendship was forged.
Vexanna the War-Monger has been causing trouble for centuries and there’s always been some kind of team put together to temporarily take her out of the picture. These makeshift teams (including the World War I era group Unit-Y) would act as spiritual predecessors to Unity.
Originally co-created by Toyo Harada in order to bring down X-O Manowar, the team turned against the scheming psiot and continued to live on under GATE. As the Avengers/Justice League of Valiant, the main roster of the team is Livewire, X-O Manowar, Ninjak, Gilad the Eternal Warrior, and the giant space mech GIN-GR. The group went public after fighting off a devastating alien invasion, but Ninjak chose to keep his involvement off the books.
The age of Unity was finite, but it led to the four human members forging close bonds that outlasted the branding.
What is a superhero universe without its futuristic continuity? Marvel has 2099 and the original Guardians of the Galaxy. DC has Batman Beyond and the Legion of Superheroes. Valiant has 4001 AD, home of Rai and many others.
Rai had his own ongoing series that introduced the 4001 AD concept and how different the world would be so many centuries later. It showed the country of New Japan, depicted as a giant satellite containing a controlled population and what appeared – on the surface – to be a utopia. Run by a being known only as “Father,” the omnipresent ruler would keep order with his unbeatable peace officer Rai. Not only was Rai an evolved use of Bloodshot’s technology, but other aspects of his world have ties to various heroes and villains from present-day Valiant.
Actually, now that I think about it, imagine a gritty, cyber-punk version of Wall-E. That’s Rai.