by Robert Venditti, Doug Braithwaite, Laura Martin
Armor Hunters, the 19-part crossover appearing in 4 titles (as well as the primary mini-series itself), is easily Valiant’s biggest and most ambitious story to date. It’s also represents the publisher’s first attempt at creating the kind of high-stakes “event” that Marvel and DC regularly churn out. Unlike Harbinger Wars, which was relatively isolated, or Unity, where the stakes were high but mostly in a political sense (much like the Cuban Missile Crisis), the entire planet is at risk. While the final result isn’t particularly innovative, it is incredibly well-executed. As such, it’s hard to imagine that any Valiant reader (or superhero reader, for that matter) won’t find something to enjoy in this.
With Robert Venditti at the helm, it’s unsurprising that Armor Hunters spins off from events of X-O Manowar. Thus far, Venditti has kept most of the details surrounding the Shanhara armor close to his chest, so when a group of alien warriors show up on Earth declaring that the armor is an infection which needs to be eradicated, it captures the reader’s attention. Once the Armor Hunters demonstrate their intent by destroying Mexico City, it’s clear that the world will need its best warriors if they are to have any chance to survive.
Reviewing this trade is something of a challenge; Armor Hunters does tell a stand-alone story, but it is really meant to be read in conjunction with the tie-in stories, and the events that occur in the Unity and Bloodshot issues are summarized in as little as a single panel. When these moments occur, it is clear to the reader that they are not getting the full story. For instance, in the third issue Bloodshot is shown leaping at Lilt, but doesn’t reappear until the fourth issue, where he is shown holding Lilt’s severed armpit glands. While this was clearly Venditti’s intention, the nature of the crossover does make it difficult to judge Armor Hunters on its own merits.
To his credit, Venditti does generally excel when it comes to telling the primary narrative while also teasing or summarizing what occurs elsewhere. The Armor Hunters, for instance, are written in fairly broad strokes in Armor Hunters, because their backstory takes place in the X-O Manowar issues, but Venditti is still careful to give their primary motivation and hints of their individual personalities to Armor Hunters readers. He also wisely makes Aric the star of the title, thus regulating the Unity members and Bloodshot to smaller roles. Although this may disappoint fans of Ninjak or Livewire, if he were to devote more time to them, he wouldn’t have the space to effectively tell his story, and fans of those characters can read Unity vol. 3 anyway. This efficient use of space allows the story to be told in a mere four issues, a remarkable feat considering just how much occurs.
The trade also collects the “Aftermath” issue, which serves as an epilogue. Often with these types of events, the books immediately revert back to the status quo, so it was good to see the consequences play out. That said, they also change the direction of the entire Valiant Universe towards that of a more traditional superhero universe. On some level, this is a disappointing result because it takes away from what made Valiant different from the Big 2. However, it also creates a wealth of storytelling potential for every title, and I’m willing to give the creators the benefit of the doubt for now.
Since he signed with Valiant, Doug Braithwaite has essentially served as the publisher’s “event” artist, drawing the first arc of Unity before moving onto Armor Hunters. Having seen his work in both, it’s not hard to see why his signing represented such a coup for the company. His figures are excellent, representing a nice median between the overmuscled, Jim Lee-inspired style that’s been in trend at DC for the past few years and the cartoony styles of Clayton Henry and Pere Perez. Though Clayton Crain was responsible for the Armor Hunters character designs, Braithwaite really brings the team to life. Additionally, his storytelling is clear, yet dynamic. One complaint that I had about Braithwaite’s work in Unity was his tendency to heavily-line the male characters’ faces, which hindered his ability to convey their expressions and also gave them a kind of sameness. To his credit, he seems to have improved a bit, but I’d like to see him really concentrate on this area for the upcoming Imperium.
Laura Martin serves as the colorist, and it’s an interesting exercise to view the contrast between her color’s and Brian Reber’s in Unity vol. 1. Martin uses a duller palette, which is at times nearly monochromatic. It’s an interesting effect that has often been used by cinematographers in war films such as Saving Private Ryan and Letters from Iwo Jima to add a grittier feel. Given the narrative, it feels like an appropriate choice.
As great as Armor Hunters is, I cannot, in good faith, give the trade a perfect rating. Although it does read as a stand-alone, it reads best alongside the “Armor Hunters” arcs of Bloodshot, Harbinger, Unity, and X-O Manowar. That said, anyone who has no interest in any or all of the tie-in’s or those who are too impatient to wait until next year for the deluxe hardcover edition (guilty!) can buy this trade and follow along without trouble. While this may not be the most ideal method, in terms of cost, it’s a fine alternative.
Originally from ValiantCentral.com