Annotated Book of Death #2
So it was written. So it shall be. Welcome once again to part two of our Annotated Book of Death, a monthly guide annotating Valiant Entertainment’s universe-changing summer event. The first installment of this column was full of amazing information, first appearances, and Easter eggs and as the event heats up, we take a deep look at the incredible newly released second issue which continues to expand on this amazing story. While the first issue was a veritable cornucopia of subtle nods mining the Valiant Universe’s past and present incarnations, this issue focuses more on establishing the present conflict and the relationships of these richly diverse characters. That being said, there’s still plenty of moments worth expanding beyond the surface layer to explore.
Be aware that this column is full of spoilers so if you haven’t read Book of Death #2 be sure to catch it at your local comic book store today!
The book opens with a shot of the Love Boat, a massive flying ship that is the headquarters for G.A.T.E., the Global Agency for Threat Excision being headed by Colonel Jamie Capshaw – think of it as a way cooler version of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Helicarrier.
Capshaw and Neville Alcott, head of the MI-6 agency are seen monitoring the Unity team composed of Ninjak, Livewire, Gin-GR and X-O Manowar as they get ready for a showdown against Gilad, the Eternal Warrior, picking up directly from the end of the first issue. Alcott seems concerned about the mission as Gilad is known to be thousands of years old, but Capshaw is sure that the Unity squad will be successful as this team is unlike anything Gilad has ever faced – except he certainly knows the inner workings of the team, its strengths and weaknesses, as he has been a part of the team since its inception.
Here we see the Unity team straight on getting ready to face Gilad, with a little introduction on each team member and each having a line of dialogue perfectly suited to their personalities. Gilad remains quiet and on guard. Having lived for thousands of years, he is a master strategist.
Tama, the new Geomancer appears out of the cabin in which she and Gilad were seen hiding in issue 1 only to be commanded back inside by Gilad. Unity demand Gilad return Tama to them so they can put a stop to the death and destruction they feel the girl is causing, unaware that there is another Geomancer who is actually causing these events.
Livewire attempts to negotiation with Gilad for the return of Tama, but Gilad stands his ground. He knows that Tama is not the cause of these events and is willing to face his former team in battle to prove it. While Gilad may not yet be aware of the dark forces manipulating world events, he is adamant about Tama’s innocence. After all, he sent the girl back from the future himself as seen (kinda) in the conclusion of The Valiant, why would he ever do anything that would cause harm to the Earth, the source of his immortality? Gilad may seem like a stubborn ox in his resilience, but he has acquired vast knowledge through the centuries and his duty as the Fist and Steel, the protector of the Geomancer, goes above all else, regardless of the doubts he may have at times (see Eternal Warrior #1-4 and Eternal Warrior: Days of Steel #1-3).
It’s time for a showdown.
PAGES 5-6 Battle with Ninjak
Ninjak strikes first. He and Gilad were often seen as a bit of a buddy team in their time on the Unity ongoing, often sent on missions together because of their complimentary but vastly different fighting styles and personalities (see Unity #8-11, the Armor Hunters tie-in arc, for some great examples of their interesting dynamic). Ninjak quips it will be the quickest death Gilad’s ever had, highlighting that simply because he’s immortal doesn’t mean he’s never died – quite the contrary.
It is quickly becoming obvious that Gilad has chosen this place specifically for this showdown, something that will come up again later in the issue. There’s also the confirmation of the landmines placed around the cabin that we speculated about in our last annotations.
Little call-back here to Unity’s first mission together in Unity #2 that sets up the importance of team dynamics and ties into the theme of circumstantial allies that runs throughout this battle. Gilad grabs Ninjak’s sword as Aric – X-O Manowar – makes his attempt to fight his former teacher.
Ninjak tries to warn Aric of something only to be knocked out by Gilad. Don’t worry, we’ll see what exactly what that warning was shortly.
PAGES 7-8 Battle with X-O Manowar
While we have seen incredible character growth from Aric in X-O Manowar, he is still very much fueled by his emotions and gung-ho attitude. Aric immediately charges after the fall of Ninjak, only to be stopped by another one of Gilad’s traps – a huge explosion which knocks Aric unconscious.
Gilad then speaks to Livewire and reveals that he has chosen this location because it is in the middle of nowhere, and there is no technology which Livewire can use to help her in battle. Those of you who have been following Valiant titles for some time may have recognized this location from Unity #1 though, as it is the same cabin that was used by Livewire between the time she left the Harbinger Foundation and when Toyo Harada (see Imperium) recruited her to join the Unity team. Check out Harbinger #8 to see for yourself!
PAGES 9-10 Battle with Livewire and Gin-GR
Of course, there is still one machine in the vicinity, the giant alien robot, Gin-GR which also serves as the team’s transport. Livewire uses her abilities to control Gin-GR and shoot energy blasts at Gilad. Unfortunately for both Unity members, Livewire’s actions have played directly into Gilad’s plan and he uses a massive electromagnetic pulse to disable Gin-GR’s electronics, while at the same time knocking Livewire down because of her connecting to the giant robot.
As a side note, it is interesting to see Livewire using Gin-GR in this way. Throughout the Unity series, and since Gin-GR’s introduction, we have seen Livewire be very friendly with and protective of Gin-GR, but here she is using not just a machine, but an intelligent, conscious being. Ironic that she would lose control in the location she once used to learn how to control her abilities.
PAGES 11-15 Battle with X-O Manowar, part II
Gilad urges Livewire to take her wounded team and go as he has no problems with them, he is simply trying to accomplish a mission, and take on an enemy which only he can face. This kind of attitude is something that we also saw in The Valiant #4 as Gilad begins to see that he can only trust himself to accomplish critical missions against powerful enemies, and his allies will only serve to hinder his plans. On top of that particular trust issue, he is also presumably feeling very much responsible for the death and destruction being caused by David, even if he isn’t altogether aware that there is another Geomancer at the moment. It could be argued that had Gilad not brought Tama back from the future, David would not have become corrupted by the dark forces controlling him (literally, as in Master Darque of course) but Gilad hasn’t shown any indication that he suspects another Geomancer’s involvement; he’s certainly feeling the sting of guilt because of his actions whatever the specifics may be.
Gilad and Aric face down again in weapon combat as they have a great interaction quickly explaining their millennia old relationship. Gilad was Aric’s teacher after all, and has made multiple appearances in X-O Manowar, but specifically issues #15 and 16 really help explain the background the two share (including the specific reference to his Aric shattering Gilad’s arm in X-O Manowar #16) and interestingly enough, the battle in this issue plays out very similar to the one from their first encounter – only now Gilad has the upper edge.
As it turns out, Ninjak’s reliance on gadgets, and his encounter with Aric in X-O Manowar #5-8 (one of the best arcs to come out of Valiant in the past few years) has yielded a secret function to Ninjak’s swords which directly affects the Shanhara armor which Aric wears. In “X-O Manowar mode”, the sword vibrates at a frequency which seems to interfere with the connection between the armor and its wearer and at least temporarily paralyzes it.
There’s that allies and enemies by circumstance thing again, with a little ‘Batman always has a plan’ twist thrown in. Trust is a big part of this obviously, as we have Gilad dealing with putting his trust in Tama, Gilad’s teammates not trusting his belief about what is really going on, and of course Ninjak never really trusting anyone just in case.
The perspective changes and we are taken to the dungeon in which Master Darque is holding David, the new Geomancer. Darque has long been known to be able to control the minds of others (see Annotated Book of Death #1), but it becomes especially creepy to see when it is a child’s mind that is being controlled. David is pleading to see his mother, which obviously makes sense for virtually any child in this situation, but it’s interesting as we’ve often seen a lack of connection with Geomancer’s and their family, especially in the original Valiant Universe (VH1).
Now we see the fallout from the battle between Gilad and Unity as Capshaw orders immediate reports from the team so they can explain how Gilad could have defeated them and the robot Gin-GR, who some of you may remember was responsible for the destruction of Mexico City during the Armor Hunters event last year (see Armor Hunters #2, Unity #8, Armor Hunters: Harbinger #1-3).
Livewire and Ninjak had a great interaction as Livewire, team leader, scolds Ninjak for having a weapon that could put a stop to one of their most powerful members. Ninjak’s reaction is priceless (and again references their first encounter during the second X-O Manowar arc), and really telling of how weak some of the alliances we have among members of the Valiant universe.
“It’s like [Gilad] said, we are [friends] until we aren’t.”
We see Unity completely decimated, Livewire, barely standing, assessing the situation of her team and in contact with Neville Alcott. The line coming out of Gin-GR as this is happening is incredibly funny and very indicative of her character:
“I hope Mr. Neville is *zzk* not disappoint*tzzz* in me.”
Alcott pleads with Capshaw not to launch a missile strike and she hesitates as G.A.T.E. loses visual contact with Gilad and Tama and they enter a massive dust storm.
The tension between Alcott and Capshaw here is palpable, but one of admiration. Capshaw has a tremendous amount of respect for Alcott. After all, she gave him a piece of Reebo’s spear, the only weapon that can pierce the XO armor (besides Ninjak’s vibrating sword I guess) as seen in X-O Manowar #29.
The reason for this unexpected massive dust storm, is of course, Tama, who is using her connection to the Earth to help hide their escape. It is here that we get a great interaction between Gilad and Tama as she explains to him the pain that the other Geomancer is putting the Earth through.
Tama: “The earth hates it you know.”
Tama: “What’s happening? The way it’s being made to hurt people. That’s not what a Geomancer is supposed to do. Whoever’s doing it, they’re bad.”
So what exactly is it a Geomancer IS supposed to do? It’s often been vague and Geomancer’s appear to have more abilities in VEI than in the original Valiant Universe. We know a Geomancer can communicate with the Earth; we’ve seen Kay fly for instance. In the Valiant RPG handbook other powers include Elemental Control, Earth Sense (whatever that means) and Elemental Blast. The 2014 FCBD handbook adds limited telepathy and the ability to convince object to accede to their will.
Interesting that just a sliver of doubt begins to enter Gilad’s mind here. Tama begins reading from the book.
The book switches as we revisit what seems to be the events preceding the epic two page spread of the first issue of Book of Death. We see the Shadowman-looking character from that same spread dying with a sword piercing his heart, and Roku, the deadly assassin we have seen in Ninjak being attacked by her own hair. Still no indication who this new Shadowman could be. Is that Ninjak’s sword run through him? How can the villainous Geomancer turn Roku’s own hair against her, it’s not a part of the Earth, right? These future visions remain intentionally, but captivatingly, vague for sure.
The appearance of Roku in this story is particularly interesting because there is undoubtedly a connection between her and Master Darque as seen in Ninjak #4. A further connection will no doubt be made in future issues of the book, particularly as Ninjak faces the Shadow Seven in the next arc.
We then switch to a panel with Darque, ominously looking over the death he has caused but oddly missing some of the facial markings which clearly identify him. Could it be that this isn’t Darque?
Gilad is the only one remaining in this battle as he drops down with his battle axe to attack Darque. Love those buccaneer boots, EW.
This page shows a brief recap of Gilad’s history as we see three panels set in different eras – ancient Greece, the Viking era, and a scene set probably sometime in the 1800s in the Western US. Some of these are direct references to some of the Geomancers we see dying at the hands of the Immortal Enemy in The Valiant #1 so it’s nice to see the reference to that book.
We now learn that the enemy that’s appearing in these future scenes isn’t Darque himself, but an older looking David, but with a very Darque-looking disguise and facial features. He still possesses the power of the Earth and uses some vines he raises from the ground to trap him.
Gilad is not afraid, of course, but we get some terrific narration about how Gilad’s only fear is the fear of failure – failure to locate the corrupted Geomancer, and protect the power of the Earth from being stolen.
Gilad escapes the clutches of this Anti-Geomancer and we are shown the two battling – Gilad with axe in hand, the Anti-Geomancer with the power of the Earth, impaling Gilad with a massive number of thorns, leaving Gilad to die…
…of course, Gilad isn’t dead, for as long as the Earth exists, his life is directly tied to her. He wanders off as the narrator outlines the universal truth and tragedy for Gilad:
“For the Eternal Warrior there is forever another day.”
As Tama finishes reading from the beginning, we see a large flock of crows flying towards Gilad and Tama – David has found them once again and we can begin to surmise that what he is actually tracking is the Book of the Geomancer. In the original Valiant Universe Darque used former Geomancers, partially trained Geomancers, and the bones of dead Geomancers to try to locate the book. Also, always wear your seatbelt, kids!
We cut back to David and he tells Darque that he has lost Gilad and Tama. Obviously, he is lying, and he still seems to have some semblance of self-control at times. Darque tells him that he must try harder that he is not going well enough, but David is obviously in pain. Surely, there must be a serious toll in holding the power of the Earth within while being controlled by necromantic energies.
All this talk of Master Darque over two columns and we still haven’t seen him…until now! This final page of Darque holding onto David’s head is breathtaking and we finally get to see just what kind of struggles David is undergoing while trapped in this dungeon. What happens to David in the future is foretold in this issue so it appears as if Darque will be successful in taking the power of the Earth onto himself.
And so concludes the second issue of Book of Death. While this issue did not hold as many Easter eggs as the previous one, it no doubt shows that Valiant is once again creating a fascinating and thrilling event for its readers. Book of Death is without a doubt a must-read event.
Join us next month as we take a look at the third issue of this miniseries and don’t forget to check out All-Comic.com’s Valiant Central section for all things Valiant.