Reminiscent of Valiant Entertainment's status in the comic market for over a decade, the ValiantFans.com: The Unofficial "Summer of Valiant" panel at Comic-Con International in San Diego was tucked away in the back corner of the Convention Center and played to a small, but enthusiastic crowd, and after the panel had ended, Valiant CCO Dinesh Shamdasani gave CBR exclusive first word on the return of the popular Gold Logo Program.
Brian Wells of Valiantfans.com hosted the fan-run panel for the first time since 2007 -- only this year Valiant has a line-up of titles currently being published. "X-O Manowar," "Harbinger," the newly released "Bloodshot" and "Archer & Armstrong" in August complete what has been dubbed "The Summer of Valiant."
Wells' asked the panelists what comes after the Summer of Valiant, the event which marked the first time in over a decade the company published a comic book, let alone four different ongoing titles.
"'Ninjak is showing up in 'X-O' #5 this September. This second story arc is the first in the new Valiant universe. It's part of the grand scheme for what comes right after." Simons answered, not wanting to give too much away during the panel.
On the first appearance of weapons master Ninjak, "X-O" writer Robert Venditti said, "In this continuity you have a character like X-O who shows up out of nowhere with super advanced weaponry, and in that same universe you have someone who considers themselves the worlds-most weapons specialist -- it would seem to me contrived to not have these characters meet. If X-O has this kind of weaponry, Ninjak would want to find what it's all about. Something I'm pretty excited about in "X-O" #5 is where there's a fight scene that contains what I would like to be X-O's signature move. It came out great the way Lee Garbett drew it."
On the subject of "Harbinger," writer Joshua Dystart said, "It's hard to talk about 'Harbinger's' future because our idea is to base our decisions on what happened in the first book, but to pace it right."
Dystart name dropped co-starring characters from "Harbinger's" original series in the '90s, evoking audible excitement from the room. "The relationships being established right now will come to a head in #5, which leaves Peter no choice but to build his team. Faith, Torque and Flamingo show up in #5 and things get really interesting. I'm dying for you guys to see what we do with Torque."
When asked why he waited until "Harbinger" #5 to introduce the rest of the leading players, Dystart mentioned the antagonist of the series, Harada. "In order for this series to be successful, it's important our focus is on the Peter/Harada relationship first. It's what fuels this whole thing."
Simons switched gears to talk about "Bloodshot," saying, "Everything that happens in 'Bloodshot' #1 is going to be critical to what happens in the Valiant universe in the next year or so. And in 'Archer and Armstrong' we'll see a number of characters introduced to the new valiant universe."
The panelists noted recent appearances of the Eternal Warrior character in Valiant's Free Comic Book Day 2012 issue and in "X-O" #1. The character will also make an appearance in "Archer and Armstrong" with an "amazing costume design," according to Simons.
A universe spanning crossover event is still way down the line for the company as the current leadership believes in pacing and fleshing out the story as opposed to creating quick cash grabs. "I don't want to run into a gigantic crossover," said Simons. "Part of the strength of our universe is it's a shared universe. It's a good idea to wait awhile before we do a big event, but at the same time content drives the story. I don't want to force someone to buy a book that ties into an event solely to boost sales. In our shared universe, the characters already crossover -- i want to lend to the strengths of the properties without having the books crossover for the sake of crossing over."
Pierce added, "People need to care about the individual characters first before we do a huge crossover."
Akin to the original Valiant titles, characters continue to pass through each series in this new continuity as guest stars in other titles, but the panel members were tight-lipped about teasing any details on all-new characters appearing in the modern Valiant continuity. "There was a baby in 'Harbinger' -- it was a past scene, but now in the story it's 10 years later so he's that age now," said Dystart. He rebuffed a fan who claimed a 10 year old boy couldn't carry his own solo title, saying, "Yes he can. I'm going to push [the editors] to do what I want to do."
"We love new characters. A bunch are coming up, and we're going to populate our universe with new characters," said Simons.
When asked about character diversity in their line-up and if the company maintained awareness about having more ethnic and leading female characters in their universe, Simons said, "We're working towards that across the board -- There's an idea for a female lead on a team book."
Valiant announced a long term, three-year goal of publishing around 15 monthly titles. "We don't want so many titles that there's not enough time to absorb it or for the retailers to know how many to buy. We can't have too few, because then you aren't taken seriously in the market place," Pierce said. "Before the end of the year, you'll see another launch, and in April 2013, another launch. We're planning on doing not more than four new books a year, but we're not sure what the limit is. We grew slowly so the retailers could have a chance to take a chance. 30%-40% of the retailers who are powerful in the industry today were Valiant fans at a time.
"We believe we can be a real player in this industry. Valiant is still cutting edge -- we want to ask today's questions. It's what we've always been about."
A fan inquired about the Classic Media properties which Dark Horse Comics tried reviving in 2010, including characters like Turok, Magnus Robot Fighter, Doctor Solar and others. The project quietly faded away, and nothing has been heard on the characters since. Pierce answered, "Those 'Dark Horse' properties are owned by Classic Media. We don't know the plans Dark Horse has for them. The Valiant universe as it is stands nicely without them. We'd be happy if we did have those characters, but we don't."
Pierce did have good news regarding the classic Valiant titles coming back to print. "We're launching a plan to repackage the old stuff. The next HC you see collecting the old material is 'Bloodshot.' It will be a slightly different package than the recent reprint collections. We've been looking at how other companies package their books."
After the panel concluded, Valiant exclusively told CBR the return of their Gold Logo Program. Valiant's Founder and Chief Creative Officer, Dinesh Shamdasani explained, "There is a long history at Valiant of passionate fans and the company embracing, rewarding and enabling that passion to create a sense of equity.
"The Gold Book embodies this in a way nothing else can. We do this for the fans -- for being our secret weapon, our fifth Beatle," Shamdasani said. At the end of the Valiant panel at Comic-Con, Shamdasani debuted their first new Gold Book in "X-O Manowar" #1 and passed a free copy off to every person in attendance.
Each of the new Valiant #1's has a Gold Book edition on the way which can be won by fans. Shamdasani described how far fans used to go in the 90s to obtain these Gold Books -- or Gold Logos as they were called back then. "Fans would take a photo of themselves promoting Valiant -- a themed wedding, mowing the logo in your neighbor's lawn, dressing your baby as Magnus." He added to the list a man who created Valiant web icons back when the internet was still in its youth, and a church replacing a Bible verse on their board with the phrase "Read Valiant Comics." "If you showed up at a convention dressed as a Valiant character, you'd get a Gold Logo. They were crazy," Shamdasani said. In the 90s a photo would be featured in the back of Valiant's monthly issues, but there were 30-40 winners at a time.
"It's a way to have fun, to embrace the universe and help it grow," Shamdasani said. "To feel a part of it. It's really no different than what Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and those guys did at Marvel in the 60s -- embrace the fan. Make fandom a part of creating this universe so we can all do it together.
"We're re-instituting the program of 'you support us, we reward you,'" he continued. "Send us a photo of you going out of your way supporting Valiant and you'll get a Gold Book." Beginning next week, Valiant is working with The Wounded Warrior Foundation charity, auctioning off Gold Books.