Valiant's in their second wave, or 2.0 phase and have been coming up with some really innovative stuff and big reveals. We've got Bloodshot Reborn written by Jeff Lemire with great artists on board for the long haul, Divinity and Ninjak written by Matt Kindt, Ivar Timewalker written by Fred Van Lente, and all of those titles are changing things up and introducing us to new character or situations that bring new light to established roles.
Dead Drop, the first issue of which came out last Wednesday and has sold out, but is going to Second Printing, is another strong example of the energy behind the new Valiant titles right now. It features the seminal Valiant character, X-O Manowar, aka Aric, a 5th century Visigothic ruler who wears an advanced alien armor suit and protects earth in the present day since getting stranded here. Yeah, just accept all that and move on because he's a very interesting guy and a core character to the Valiant Universe. Anyway, what's particularly interesting about Dead Drop, written by the high-flying Ales Kot and drawn by Adam Gorham, colors by Michael Spicer, and letters by Dave Sharpe, is that it's very much a capsule story perfect for a limited series. It has a very specific, enclosed premise that Aric is chasing an anarchist with a vial containing a deadly illness through the streets of Manhattan (and perhaps beyond) and human life pretty much depends on his success. He's air-dropped into New York, right into Times Square, and then the plot really begins as his quarry attempts to drop off the vial of what is actually a malignant alien antibody at a series of drop points.
By "enclosed", I mean this plot is built like a race car with slick and streamlined art to match. It is a "chase" comic. I won't say that's never been done before, but I will say that it is very, very difficult to do well. After a couple of pages, readers have usually seen every running body pose possible and quips or dialogue won't change the tedium of it. And yet we watch so many movies that have a prolonged chase scene. What keeps our interest then and what keeps it here?
Mainly the significance of the chase–it has to be pretty damn important– but also the setting and the artistic skill with which it is handled. I do feel like giving the creative team a slow clap for coming up with a person on foot running through Manhattan. As someone who's very familiar with New York myself, I love that. And even those who have only visited the city a couple of times will have the chance to recognize landmarks (like Times Square). But add to that the fact that New York is part of comics history and identity–turning up in many hero, noir, and drama stories. It just sits well as a setting. But it's ingenious for providing the ultimate complexity in on-foot backdrop to keep the reader interested. The designer, Jared K. Fletcher, may be responsible for this, though I'm not sure, but the inside cover of the first issue has a great feature–a map of New York hinting at which locations are going to feature in the chase. Just in case you needed a little heads-up following along as the plot gets hairy.
However, boy does artist Adam Gorham have his work cut out for him here as well. You can have the greatest setting in the world, but if you don't render it in interesting ways through a longform chase, it's going to fail. You can have the best plot and the best backdrop, but if you don't render the human figures interesting, that too will cause the comic to fail. Here's Gorham has got Aric in his X-O armor, which is probably quite the difficult thing to draw that many times over and over in motion, but he also has a young African American woman in sports-like clothing who not only is a marathon-like runner or sprinter, but may have some serious parkour or ninja skills. And he finds every way he can to render her motion, speed, power, an ingenuity interesting and impressive. I want to add that colorist Michael Spicer, too, pulls out the stops, since instead of bringing flat color, which might be difficult enough when everything is visually appearing at high speeds, he brings in highly rendered surfaces with shades of color and reflecting surfaces that bring added realism and physicality to the scenes.
What's obviously great about Dead Drop beyond all this is that anyone can read and appreciate this comic. You don't need to be an expert on Valiant continuity, or even have met Aric before to appreciate the basic premise, the energy being expended, and the stakes involved. This is the comic version of Speed that makes itself a classic quite easily.
Dead Drop is published by Valiant Entertainment, will return with Issue #2 June 3rd, and will run for 4 issues.
Dead Drop #1 has also gone to second printing, which will be arriving June 10th.