Valiant is really pushing their stable to mirror the shared universes of Marvel and DC. Between books like Unity, The Valiant, and now Book of Death, they’re throwing their heavy-hitters into shared stories to fight the foes no single superhero could withstand! Sound familiar? They’re also mashing up different teams for more lighthearted crossover stories, as in The Delinquents and Dead Drop.
Crossovers can be a great way to make a universe feel bigger and more connected than individual comic series, but they can also get bogged down by too much exposition and reliance on previous stories. The debut issue of Book of Death and the penultimate issue of Dead Drop are both out on July 15, so let’s see how successful they are as standalone stories.
The Book of Death #1 – Robert Venditti (W), Robert Gil & Doug Braithwaite (A), David Baron & Brian Reber (C)
Like many a Marvel crossover, this one has two artists and lacks coherence as a result. Braithwaite’s pages come out looking cleaner, although that could be partly due to Baron and Reber’s colouring serving his line work better. Gil’s work isn’t bad, but it’s less impressive next to the rest. I have to give Gil credit though for a few impressive gruesome moments. A two-pager early in the issue finds a unique and visceral way to commit a massacre, and an image of ants crawling into a character’s empty eye socket will stay with me for awhile. Let’s get this guy on a horror book!
Venditti’s script manages to exposit all of the information we need to get through the issue, but there’s still a sense that you’ll understand better if you buy the tie-in titles. A young girl with incredible power has come from the future to stop the apocalypse, but disaster follows in her wake. The whole Unity team thinks it’s time to take her out – except for the Eternal Warrior, who is willing to fight anyone to keep her safe. Taking another page from Marvel, this series is pitting superhero against superhero, promising a huge punch-up in issue two! I’m over superhero vs superhero fights, although we know they’ll all have to come together to fight the real foe at the end. It’s not a bad story, but it feels forgettably paint-by-numbers, and I think Valiant would be better served trying to make books that are less like the Big Two.
Dead Drop #3 – Ales Kot (W), Adam Gorham (A) & Michael Spicer (C)
This crossover book has a much simpler premise: dangerous people have gotten ahold of a vial containing a dangerous alien virus, and various Valiant heroes must work to capture the vial before it’s too late! Unlike a series bringing characters onto an unlikely team, each issue of Dead Drop has focused on a different character: the first was a kinetic chase following X-O Manowar, the second was a goofier story starring Archer of Archer & Armstrong, and this issue features Beta-Max, who before now was basically a background gag in a couple of issues of Quantum & Woody. Really, the success of this issue relies on Beta-Max; The first two issues used characters with more pull, but the creative team can do whatever they want with Beta-Max. His aggressive enthusiasm and outdated technology make him hilarious and endearing even over the course of one issue. The first two issues were fun, but Kot manages to stuff a lot more emotional stakes into this issue, both through Beta-Max and through the villain’s monologue about his motivation (which sometimes reads awkwardly, but it’s forgivable).
I have to point out Raul Allen’s fantastic covers, and the creative design work at the beginning of the issue, laying the credits over a map with markers indicating where different pages in the comic take place. But all of the art in this book is fantastic, with Gorham’s adorably agreeable Beta-Max (he looks so happy to be here!!) and Spicer’s textured colours enhancing Gorham’s linework. They clearly had fun with their alien designs too, they’re just humanoid enough that we can read their emotions, but these aren’t Star Trek-style people-painted-green. Throw in some really creative page layouts and the whole book is just fantastic to look at. I’m really looking forward to the final issue, featuring Detective Cejudo, also from Quantum and Woody.
Valiant has a lot of great characters, and it makes sense that they’d want to bring them all together into a shared world, but there are easier ways to do that than others. Fans don’t necessarily want to read several different series in order to understand something, which is one of the pratfalls of Book of Death – I was impressed by how much of the emotional work Venditti was able to fit in, particularly the bond between Eternal Warrior and X-O Manowar, but they don’t need to fight for that relationship to be dramatic. We’ve all had enough of superheroes fighting each other instead of villains – and that’s one of the ways Dead Drop succeeds. They have a common enemy, and I don’t need any information on these characters’ backstories to find the book engaging. I doubt most people who pick up this issue will know who Beta-Max is, but I suspect that many will come out of the issue loving him.
Crossovers sell well, and are an effective way to build a universe, but making a story compelling to new readers is an important way to make sure it’s remembered fondly.