When the world is threatened by Exarch Fane, it’s up to the scary side of Valiant to come to the rescue in this new crossover event from Cullen Bunn and Vicente Cifuentes. Read on for my spoiler-free thoughts on this first issue!
Right off the bat, one of the greatest strengths of this crossover is that it’s mostly friendly to new readers. Naturally, folks who have been regularly following along with the adventures of Shadowman, Punk Mambo, the Eternal Warrior, Doctor Mirage, and the rest will have a much easier time dropping right into this team-up. However, various captions and bits of dialogue also do an excellent job of giving readers the gist of each character’s backstory and their prior relationship with the rest of the gang (if any). The expository dialogue also feels pretty natural, with characters reacting in ways that not only fill in some blanks for the reader, but also suit their usual disposition. As a Valiant fan myself, I think everyone here feels on point.
Even so, there’s a lot happening in this book, with some lore dumps outside of the many characters that make the book feel a teensy bit close to overstuffed. We get the history of the town where this issue takes place, the introduction of the mini’s main enemy — the metal-as-hell Exarch Fane — as well as some reminders of the wider Valiant Universe — and something tells me we’re still basically just scratching the surface of what this series will have to offer. Luckily, the creative team is adept at juggling the various characters and their baggage, and there’s plenty of blockbuster action and quips to smooth over some of those feelings of excess (which naturally come with any crossover like this).
And by the way, the battle that takes up a huge chunk of this first issue? It rocks.
Vicente Cifuentes can seriously do it all. Every hero involved gets a chance to shine, delivering the action, spectacle, and spookiness that the fantasy/horror-tinged side of Valiant is known for. Every brawl is exciting and easy to follow, even with multiple heroes and massive monsters of all sizes taking up each panel. Not only is the fight choreography fluid and interesting, but these creatures are also truly unsettling. Bubbling slime pours from gaping jaws of razor-sharp teeth, and each one has cold eyes that you can follow as they seek out their next meal. Oftentimes in big superhero punch-ups like this, it can be easy for the henchmen and other lesser villains to feel interchangeable, but there’s a life to these things that really seems to set these frightening creations apart.
Bunn and Cifuentes also sell the human cost of just such a battle. A young girl is the focus of much attention as Shadowman and company try their best to tend to the survivors of the massacre. And while many of these heroes are at inner peace with the awful lengths they must go to save the day, it still crushes them when they are seen to be interchangeable with the monsters they’ve faced. The reaction from this survivor — not to mention the way it impacts the assembled heroes — goes a long way toward imbuing what might have been another big fight with emotional stakes and illustrates the lasting psychic damage these characters have learned to live with.
This first issue manages to cover a lot of ground without losing its sense of intimacy and focus on characters over spectacle. And if this opening is anything to go by, fans of Valiant’s scarier side are in for a real treat.
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