Last Christmas my brother gave me a booster pack of random, non-sequential issues from a variety of popular comic book titles that syndicated in the late eighties to mid nineties. The nineties was a time of groundbreaking work in the comic community that gave birth to the age of modern comics. Sometimes, not so much. These are snapshots of the industry at its best and worst. This is Brian’s Comic Book Grab Bag.
Eternal Warrior Volume 1 #18
“Black Desert Rose”
Writer – Kevin Vanhook
Penciler – Ted Halsted
Inker – Stan Drake
Letterer – Jade Moede
The comic boom of the early 90s is evidence enough that there is such thing as “too much” of a good thing. With the slow ceding of the market share from the grasp of the “Big Two,” indie comics were beginning to gain a bit of an edge in the mainstream pool, despite their poor overall quality. Certainly there had been other companies out there, boasting moderate success over the years, but did anyone care? Not to say that the comics put out by the numerous imprints scattered across the decades weren’t good, but the ultimate buying power, distribution, and scope of the DC/Marvel racket inevitably has eclipsed these markets. This is not ironic, however, because these aspects are what keep the aging giants from going out of business themselves. Publishing has always been a high overhead market, but comics specifically boast grave profit margins, so indie publishing already faces tremendous hurtles. The Valiant Comics imprint is one of the few exceptions.
Indie comics, to me, are “love-hate,” specifically over the issue of quality control. Valiant, initiated (and revamped) by ex-Marvel talents, shares a genuinely positive publishing history (with only one major third-party acquisition!), despite clearly not having the edge in printing technology at their initial launch. First impressions are everything in comics, and I wasn’t impressed. The writing, however, was lively enough to keep me interested. The Eternal Warrior himself isn’t a revelatory character, but he’s got a curious past and intriguing future to keep readers invested. Currently, finding good artistic talent isn’t a problem at all, especially considering the resurgence of niche fascination and followings with a variety of “underground” artists like Ramón K Pérez and Royden Lepp. The New 52 Flash imprint featured Francis Manapul’s experimental art styles and hybrid use of colored pencils with digital and conventional line work for this exact purpose: to draw in prospective fans that were looking for more adventurous house styles similar to the work the admired in independent comics.
Good artistry, though, doesn’t make up for poor storytelling.
I wasn’t impressed with Flash #1 for this reason, despite being a long time supporter and fan of the character. But the use of Manapul’s brilliant illustrations is a sign of a new era, a return to indie styled distinction, only without the new and in vogue characters that made indie comics the success they were (even if many of the prime imprints of the 90s have since become acquired by their overbearing masters, or gone out of business). Eternal Warrior has my respect for its bold regard for narrative. Granted, there is nothing special about an immortal, especially one living out the ages innocuously. There are already far too many that I’d rather read. DC Comics Vandal Savage, Marvel’s Apocalypse, and even Neil Gaiman’s interpretation of Captain America from his work Marvel 1602 are already popular takes on the trope. Grant Morrison’s thematic conceptualization of character archetypes being eternal expressions of humanity takes the “immortal” concept further, allowing the actual character to become a transcendent figure beyond the bounds of ink and paper. These are frighting contenders to say the least. So, it’s with satisfaction that I can say that Valiant’s Eternal Warrior is worthy IP.
For those of you “uninitiated” folk, the history of the Eternal Warrior (the character) is unique in that he is not a blonde haired, blue eyed, Übermensch (a la Aquaman, Power Woman, Captain America, et al), but actually from the Mesopotamian region of Saudi Arabia, Born in 3268 BC as Gilad Anni-Padda. Rather than being mutated by a fallen asteroid, or willed by a supernatural force, he is simply an immortal by birth, “naturally” occurring. This frustrates any ambitious amplification of worth or purpose. He’s just a normal guy. Rather than living for himself, he serves the Geomancers, a descending line of living prophets to the Earth, which, in Valiant comics, has been upgraded with a divine will and consciousness. Issue #18 plays with Gilad’s age through subtle tie ins to Jesus and his impending crucifixion at the hands of Pontius Pilate, grounding him in real historical events with semblance to authentic corroborating histories. The comic opens with Gilad traveling with a potter who had just sold his field, obtaining the thirty shekels of silver that was payed to Judas Iscariot to betray Jesus. Using the crucifixion and its impending aftermath is not necessarily noteworthy here, but the conversation itself, which seems conveniently analogous to the ending of the Gospel of Luke. There, two of Jesus’s followers lament the passing of the prophet, frustrated by the failure of Jesus to deliver on his promises. They discuss the nature of Jesus’ ministry and share the outlook that many 1st century Palestinians had towards the itinerant Galilean, only to find that they are entertaining the resurrected Christ himself. Gilad’s frustration at not being able to intervene in history with the proceedings of Jesus’ crucifixion, as well as the potter’s comments about his ill gotten gains (the silver acquired for the sale of his field), give a layered psuedo-history to this obscure, but well penned indie property.
What comes of the rest of the comic is far less interesting, riding out 80s action movie throwbacks from films like Escape From New York, Highlander, and The Road Warrior. This isn’t bad, in theory. It’s not good either. It is one thing to draw on inspiration from a noteworthy concept, but another to shamelessly emulate it. The concept is what endures, which explains why Gilad’s exploits continue to contribute to Valiant’s great commercial success and profitability as an indie publisher.
The Eternal Warrior, who he is, how he feels about his position in life, is hard to place. Much of issue #18′s exposition is spent on Gilad’s sexual attraction to Janine Noire, a conveniently mysterious archeologist that is close to finding one of the remaining shekels used to seal Jesus’ fate in the garden of Gethsemane. Of course she is evil, (with a name like “Noire,” who wouldn’t be?) but Gilad doesn’t know; not yet. How Gilad’s past lives have been lived is not given attention in this issue, but one can speculate the immense loneliness and fatigue he must endure. Remember, Gilad is not a man of his own will, but an immortal bodyguard and sword of the eternal prophets that guard over the planet. It’s not like he can go out and become great at bumper pool to kill the time! How this existential frustration is explored I cannot say, but to the schmoes at Valiant I say, “You’re welcome, chumps!”
My past observances to date have been compromised by abject narrative sterility, but thankfully I found a good item here, one which I may actually have to procure and research further. Eternal Warrior is proof that a good story can prolong a series. Whether the 2013 relaunch has what it takes, only time will say. I hope that Gilad himself can read it when he’s still fighting evil in 4000 AD.
9 Quickenings (of 10)