After a long road, it appears the superheroes of the Valiant Comics Universe are finally poised to return to comic shops.
This morning, Valiant Entertainment – the company which purchased the rights to the '90s comics powerhouse's original properties in 2007 – announced that it will begin publishing new comics in both print and digitally formats in 2012 featuring heroes like XO Manowar and Bloodshot. The move comes in part thanks to a capital infusion from Cueno & Company, LCC – an investment firm headed by former Marvel CEO and Vice Chairman Peter Cuneo and his son Gavin. Cuneo left Marvel in 2010 as a result of the Disney buyout of that company and will serve as Chairman of Valiant, rounding out a management team that already included CEO Jason Kothari and Director Dinesh Shamdasani (the full press release can be read here).
Longtime comics fans no doubt recall at least part of the rocky history for the Valiant properties. A sales juggernaut during the speculator excess of the '90s, the original Valiant sold its properties to video game company AcclaimEntertainment in 1994 only to see Acclaim cease publishing before an eventual bankruptcy in 2005. The current Valiant Entertainment was formed in 2007 when it purchased the intellectual property assets for the characters associated with the comics line. Since then, the new Valiant has made a string of moves with the properties including a multimedia focused rebranding of the company, hardcover collections of titles "Harbinger," "X-O Manowar" and "Archer & Armstrong" featuring new stories by original Valiant Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter (volumes which saw delayed release thanks to additional legal challenges to Valiant's ownership) and even Hollywood options such as a proposed "Harbinger" film from director Brett Ratner.
However, for readers of the original comics, the hope had always been new stories set in the Valiant Universe. And with today's news, Kothari, Cuneo and company are declaring an end to the long string of challenges that have held back such a launch. CBR News spoke first with both the CEO and new Chairman of Valiant Entertainment about how soon fans can expect new comics, which heroes will find a focus in the months ahead and everything about the position the publisher hopes to take in the comics market in 2012 and beyond.
CBR News: For years after Acclaim went out of business, the fate and ownership of the characters was a hot topic on news sites and message boards, but since Valiant Entertainment as a company has been in full control of the properties, there've been fewer public announcements and publishing moves outside an occasional trade paperback and a website. Jason, what can you tell us about your background, how did you initially become engaged with Valiant and the properties and what you and Dinesh have been at work on with the library over the past few years?Jason Kothari: I am a long-time Valiant fan and remember when Valiant was creating such powerful characters and stories in the 1990s. The company was growing at such an unprecedented rate that it was considered to be the next Marvel. As a businessman, the opportunity to reinvigorate a strong entertainment brand with so much potential was exciting. As a long-time Valiant fan, the opportunity to use my broad range of business experience to rebuild something that was special to me and many people of my generation felt like a responsibility.
I partnered with talented film executive Dinesh Shamdasani, who is also a long-time Valiant fan and friend. It was very important for us to do this right and build a strong foundation for the company. Therefore, we needed to position the company to attract the significant capital investment that was required to do that. We secured all the rights to the Valiant library in 2007, which was the result of a long and difficult battle. Following that, we formed the new Valiant in 2008 and did four key things to position the company for a significant capital investment.
First, we successfully published a number of Valiant’s classic stories, showing Valiant’s readership potential in today’s market. Second, we developed a slate of Valiant major motion picture projects involving some of Hollywood’s top talent, demonstrating the potential of Valiant characters in film and other mass media. Third, we built a very accomplished management team with proven experience in all relevant disciplines. And fourth, we raised a modest round of capital to complete the above three steps.
The successful completion of these key steps enabled us to attract some of the leading financial partners in media and entertainment, many of whom you would have heard of. We chose Cuneo & Company, LLC because of Peter’s experience leading Marvel to extraordinary success, Gavin’s reputation in the financial community, and, importantly, their shared vision to rebuild Valiant into a world-class creative company.
Peter, a lot of fans know your name from Marvel, although as with a lot of people who work outside of editorial at the company, they may now be as familiar with your point of view and interests. What is it about working with comics publishing and licensing that made you want to come back to this world after stepping down from Marvel?
Peter Cuneo: My career has been centered on businesses that are very dependent on strong brands and vibrant intellectual property. Nowhere is this more exciting and plain fun than in entertainment. Nowhere is the bond between brands or characters more powerful than in entertainment and specifically in the
community. The challenge of rejuvenating characters and stories that were successful in the past is particularly attractive. It is a pleasure to go to work every day with the express purpose to make customers, consumers and fans as happy as possible.
As a follow up, what specific parts of your work with Marvel and the Marvel business model do you hope to carry into your relationship with Valiant? Are there ways in which this company will be fundamentally different for you outside of the sheer scale of the operations? What are those?
Cuneo: Although we might say we are the proverbial gnat on the elephant’s back, the Marvel business model which was created in the late '90s and through the last ten years should also be very relevant to Valiant.
Some of our central beliefs at Valiant are worth mentioning. We think the comic book industry is the best means to nurture and grow characters that can expand into other mass media channels. We recognize that comic book retailers are the key ingredient for success. They are the blood that runs through the veins of this industry. We believe that this can only be achieved if our content is highly imaginative and is unafraid to explore new creative approaches. We do think film is the best way to promote and create excitement for our characters with consumers worldwide. Most important, we will be focused on aligning Valiant with the best talent, old and new, to accomplish our goals.On to the immediate news: a launch in 2012. The release I've seen mentions plans for both print and digital. In general terms, what can you tell us about how many titles you'll launch with, when we might see the first issues and whether or not there will be a simultaneous release both in comic shops and online or whether things will be more staggered?
Kothari: It’s little too early to discuss specifics regarding titles and dates, but I will say that we have a powerful publishing plan that will breathe new life into Valiant. We are very excited and look forward to unveiling more of the details over the coming months.
Digital distribution opens up significant new opportunities for comic books to reach a wider audience on a global-scale, but we also consider our retail partners to be the backbone of this business and are committed to them. We believe one of our key responsibilities is to do our part to help drive business to the comic book stores, and we will not be shying away from that responsibility.
Valiant certainly has a number of big names in its creative history. Who will be working on these new series with the company's library? Can fans expect some of the previous names associated with the company to be invited back to play in this universe along the line?
Kothari: Valiant was blessed to have an incredible roster of creative talents work on its characters and stories, such as Jim Shooter, Bob Layton, Barry Windsor Smith, Joe Quesada, Jim Lee, Frank Miller, Garth Ennis, Warren Ells, Mark Waid, Bryan Hitch, Rags Morales, Bernard Chang and Sean Chen, just to name a few. We would love to have some of them back with Valiant.
There are a lot of names comic fans will remember in terms of the library – X-O Manowar, Bloodshot, Harbinger, Ninjak, etc. – but the construction of this line will be a bit different in that the original Valiant comics had the old Gold Key characters at their center. As you've been discussing the best way to reintroduce the Valiant Universe to fans, what character (or characters) have been at the center of things? In other words, who's "the Superman" of this line?
Kothari: Valiant has a huge library of characters, and we have the Valiant Universe which is larger than any one character as it plays an invaluable role in supporting and strengthening all the characters within it. The Gold Key characters are part of our past, but they are not important to our future. Within the Valiant Universe framework, we are initially focusing on 9 or 10 of Valiant’s A-list characters, such as X-O Manowar, Bloodshot, and Harbinger, and the interactions between them.
One thing Valiant was always known for was unity. The events within the individual titles often impacted and reflected each other. In what ways will the new comics published by Valiant work to present this idea? Is there any fear that you could do too much at the start considering the state of the economy and the market?
Kothari: In periods of economic downturn, people want to escape more and comic books may actually benefit from this. Either way, though, we are not concerned, as we have strong financial partners, and we believe that comic books are here to stay. As long as the companies in this business have high levels of creativity, it will be a vibrant and healthy industry.
It's early yet, but I know you've been working on various Hollywood projects tied to the characters in recent years, including a rumored Harbinger film from Brett Ratner. Any updates on that front?
Kothari: Valiant has a number of major motion picture projects in development with Hollywood’s leading producers and directors. We will provide more details at the appropriate time.
Overall, what's the big takeaway fans should be getting from this announcement, and when can they expect to learn more?
Cuneo: The message is that Valiant is really back. Once the business expands from the nucleus we have today, we will keep everyone informed.