In part one, I gave a general overview of the Acclaim/Valiant line, may it rest in peace. But I don’t want to undersell what were some very, very good comics that fell under the Acclaim umbrella. The line didn’t fail because the books were bad, in my opinion, but because there was no market for them.
So let’s dig into the comics that made Acclaim/Valiant memorable.
Quantum and Woody
Yes, I’m starting with the obvious one but, honestly, it’s only obvious because it got the most press and it only got the most press because it was freaking fantastic.
I have to guess that at this point Q&W is known for the fact that it talked about race, albeit as a side story. And that can’t be understated. But Quantum and Woody was set up in such a way that not addressing race would have been a disservice to the story and the characters. It wasn’t created to talk about race, but Quantum was black and Woody was white and they were brothers, so it would have been impossible to tell this story without discussing race.
In fact, the early issues of Q&W included the N-word, which was later replaced with “noogies,” as the lawyers at Acclaim apparently got nervous about dropping the N-word in a comic book. To their credit, creators Christopher Priest and MD Bright (along with inker Greg Adams) rolled with these punches, as I’m sure deep down they never expected to be allowed to use the N-word in these comics to begin with.
Actually, I should let Quantum and Woody explain it:
I think the fact that these are the first few pages of the 4th issue should give you an indication of what this book was like. It was self-aware and self-deprecating. And it dealt with race.
But it was much more than that.
MD Bright deserves a lot of credit for penciling this series. His work is absolutely essential to the series. His story telling chops are second to none. He is a master of timing and his ability to pull off jokes that required deliberate pacing is phenomenal. Only a true professional could have given life to this series, truly done it justice. This books would have failed without him.
For all the stories that Christopher Priest wrote both as Jim Owsley (his birth name,which he legally changed in 1993) and as Christopher Priest, it was Quantum and Woody that made him a cult favorite. He would go from this book to a much loved run on the Black Panther. The fact that he was also helped write the bible for the Milestone universe only added to his legend.
Priest’s had the freedom to embrace his narrative style which was built around strong characters, intricate plotting, and non-linear story telling. While reading individual issues written by Priest is fulfilling in and of itself, it’s the long term payoff that sets his work apart. One line from an earlier issue can come back with huge consequences a year later. Priest’s style isn’t made for publishers who are quick with the cancellation trigger. Hiring Priest means giving him the time to work his magic.
Quantum and Woody would be one of the few Acclaim books to come back after the entire line was ended, albeit briefly. It is, so far, the only original creation from the Acclaim run to return with the current Valiant Comics.
Solar, Man of the Atom
Here are a few names to consider: Warren Ellis, Darick Robertson, Jim Krueger, Patrick Zircher, Christopher Priest, and Chriscross. That’s a pretty hefty line-up of creators and I didn’t even mention the likes of Jimmy Palmiotti and Romeo Tanghal. These are the people who put together a series of interconnected comics about Solar, Man of the Atom for Acclaim and it was phenomenal.
Warren Ellis, Darick Robertson, and Larry Mahlstedt lay the groundwork with the Man of the Atom one shot and it’s exactly what you would hope for from this team on this character. Ellis drops some deep science and some creepy religion and Robertson makes the whole thing dark and intense. It ends with twin siblings Frank and Helena Seleski one step closer to their goal of finding God.
Fitting, then, that Jim Krueger would write the next one shot, entitled “Revelations,” as Krueger (according to Christopher Priest) is a theologian. While the first one shot introduced the original Valiant Comics Solar into the Acclaim universe, this comic gives some background on that while building a future for a new version of the character.
In the simplest sense, the Valiant Solar created the Acclaim universe while trying to change HIS universe. In the end, he gives his powers to the Seleski twins who become the new Man of the Atom.
Priest gets twice as much space as Ellis and Krueger to tell his Solar story; instead of a single, double sized one shot, he writes a four issue mini-series. Patrick Zircher comes over from “Revelations,” although this time he’s joined by layout artist Chrisscross and inker Romeo Tanghal. The series is called “Hell on Earth.”
It’s a big event comic, but never feels like it, in part because it doesn’t crossover into a dozen titles each month. But X-O Manowar, the Eternal Warriors, Turok, Magnus, and, of course, Quantum & Woody all appear in this series. Priest makes most of that seem relatively natural.
“Hell on Earth” looks great and reads like Priest pushing the envelope of non-linear storytelling, something made easier given Solar’s powers. Priest also introduces a backstory for Frank and Helena that wasn’t there from the start, but which gives added depth to both the characters and their motivations. It’s a very dark story, but it gives us a better idea of why these characters are behaving the way they do.
That said, Solar is forever changed by the end, and we are left with two halves of the Man of the Atom, one whose morality is questionable by his actions, the other who, over the course of the series, has become the personification of love. To a certain extent, Solar has become a merging of good and evil, of the devil and God.
And the God portion is a black lesbian.
God bless you, Christopher Priest.
There are so many reasons why the Turok books (mostly one shots) are great that it’s hard to know where to start. I’m going to open with a perhaps less articulated reason: how many comic books starring Native Americans can you name?
Honestly, it was a breath of fresh air to read a book whose lead wasn’t a straight, white dude. And the fact that Turok aka Josh was Native American was essential to both the character and the story.
Turok was a familial mantle, passed down from generation to generation, and it worked well with a Native American family, better than it would have with a white family, that’s for sure. Because Josh Fireseed is already at odds with his family simply on a generational level, without Turok being thrown in.
Honestly, the Turok quarterly one shots and the few issues of the regular series were got (there were only four) were just really entertaining comics. Josh and his roommate Barry are great characters and the stories are filled with equal parts angst and humor. You know all the things you loved about Fabian Nicieza’s work on the X-books? It’s all here in Turok.
But, really, you only need one reason to read these comics: Rafael Kayanan.
I would fail at describing how great Kayanan’s art is, but suffice to say that the person who drew Captain Atom and Firestorm for DC kills it on Turok. These are gorgeous comics.
They’re also a lot of fun. Yes, there’s plenty of family drama, but Turok is also an adventure comic — he’s fighting dinosaur people, after all. It offers a nice balance to the hijinks and social commentary of Q&W and the philosophical issues of Solar. Really, if someone somewhere could start a new shared superhero universe with these three concepts, it would be amazing (and, yes, I realize that’s next to impossible at this point in time).
I bought all of these comics when they first came out, but I would imagine they can be found for fairly cheap at your local comic book store. I highly recommend tracking them down. The Quantum and Woody issues can also be found in a series of trade paperbacks and one, complete, hardcover omnibus.