Annotated Book of Death #1
So it was written. So it shall be. Welcome to the first edition of Annotated Book of Death, your monthly guide annotating Valiant’s huge summer event, Book of Death! *Thunder cracks* Our most beloved Valiant heroes are not long for this world and the future and present collide all because of one little book in the possession of one little girl under the care of one not-so-little axe-wielding immortal. Allies become enemies and the battle against the inevitable promises to be etched in the annals of Valiant history forever more.
Right off the bat, let’s establish that the obvious spoiler-laden annotations below will be exceptionally in-depth. If you’re afraid of being spoiled, go look-up the word “annotation” in the dictionary and then feel free to read Book of Death #1 prior to reading the following. Good? Great! Moving on, Book of Death is absolutely packed to the brim with Easter-eggs and nods to Valiant’s past, so more than a passing familiarity would help you get the most out of this. That being said, the most essential piece of reading prior to picking this up is The Valiant, which aside from conveniently being new-reader friendly all on its own, also introduced Tama, the Geomancer from the future that is at the epicenter of Book of Death. Not much was revealed about her, but suffice to say her presence in the present and, more importantly, the death of Kay McHenry have caused a nasty ripple effect that serves as the catalyst of the Dark Age that is foretold in the book she carries that outlines how the death-train is coming rip-roaring through the Valiant Universe and everyone’s got a ticket to ride. Let’s do this.
Establishing shot of a home in Concord, North Carolina. Mostly here to denote the time period, one month ago, and give us a timeframe for how long the “disturbances” seen on the next page have been occurring. Nice home, surrounded by trees, traditional Sunday routine of going to church gets uprooted.
Snakes. Why’d it have to be snakes? Meet David, our new present-day Geomancer that will go on to be something of a problem. The “singing” line is certainly interesting, though at this point could mean simply that the Earth talks to him like a song.
Snakes play an important role in some previous incarnations of the Valiant universe which we haven’t seen with the current Valiant Entertainment incarnation. The obvious thing to come to mind as David is playing with snakes is an allegorical reference to the dark forces of the Valiant universe which makes sense as we dive deeper into this issue and see David controlled by a mysterious force with very familiar dialogue bubbles (more on this later). Of course, we have seen from upcoming solicitations that Master Darque will play a prominent role in this event. See here for an earlier prediction about this particular antagonist’s potential role. The original incarnation of Shadowman had Jack Torrent, Jack Boniface, a.k.a. Shadowman’s father, as a key figure who was also a snake charmer. In fact, upon Josiah’s death, his body turned to dust and snakes, two themes which seem prevalent in this issue. Whether this is a direct reference to Josiah or not remains to be seen. For those of you who have followed Shadowman into the End Times miniseries, you may remember that Josiah played an important role, and with the way that miniseries ended, it is certainly possible that either Shadowman or Darque took some of Josiah’s power onto themselves.
Snakes also make an appearance during a battle with a Geomancer of the original universe, Clay McHenry (name sound familiar? The McHenry’s have a long history of being Geomancers), and Elyot Zorn, a shadowy figure who was obsessed with acquiring the power and knowledge held within the Book of Geomancers. During this battle, Zorn uses necromantic (read: evil magic) energy to attack Clay with a group of venomous snakes. The snakes should therefore be a sign that while David may be a new young Geomancer taking the place of the defunct Kay McHenry after the events of The Valiant, his powers may be corrupted by the dark side.
Something is rotten in the town of Ashlee. Deserted in a hurry it would appear, briefcases and watering hoses abruptly dropped.
GREAT GOOGLY MOOGLY!! Book of Death, indeed. All the townsfolk have been impaled by gnarled tree limbs, the work of a Geomancer that leaves the squad dead in their tracks. Notice the placement of the church in the center of the frame, our second mention of church/churches in only 4 pages so far. Bathed in light, death is super-imposed on top. Hope and darkness in the town square.
The appearance of Neville Alcott, and Colonel Capshaw marks what is happening across the country as being of the utmost importance. GATE (Global Agency for Threat Excision) and MI-6 working together has always spelled some trouble for the world as we have seen in the past, and most recently during The Valiant miniseries – that is, if the previous pages showing bodies impaled upon the trees was not enough to cement the trouble our heroes will be facing.
Learn here that Gilad has been on the run with Tama since sometime shortly after The Valiant. Keep in mind the toll that series had on Gilad, the constant cycle of watching Geomancers, whose care he is charged with, die. Until finally he broke the cycle through temporal shenanigans, making Tama his greatest success to date.
Or was it a success? This is where things can get a little muddy. By bringing Tama back from the future (See: The Valiant #4), Gilad hopes to give the new Geomancer time to learn about her abilities and become a formidable force to battle the dark ages brought about by the Immortal Enemy. Yet, as seems somewhat evident in this issue, Tama is a Geomancer out of time, and David is to be the current speaker of the Earth. Will Tama’s presence bring about a time of light, or is it part of what is causing the darkness? GATE and MI-6 certainly seem to think the latter.
Bodies begin to fall at the growing tension between Neville’s loyalty and Capshaw’s impatience. The (body) gauntlet has been thrown: bring the Eternal Warrior in.
Tama and Gilad are hiding out, with X-O Manowar about to bust up their fun. Presumably Gilad’s comment here about “the path I showed you” implies that he’s booby-trapped the surrounds of their hideout.
For fans of the classic Valiant universe, this is a nice return to form for Gilad in his role as protector of the Geomancer. We have seen some glimpses of this in current continuity in Archer & Armstrong #5-8 (not coincidentally, issue #6 also marks the first appearance of Kay McHenry, the much beloved and recently defunct Geomancer) as well as more recently in Gilad’s own Eternal Warrior: Days of Steel miniseries, but it isn’t until this issue that Gilad regains his role of decades past. Sure, it has been great to learn a bit of Gilad’s story in his own solo series, Unity, X-O Manowar and beyond, but one of the things that made Gilad really interesting in his original incarnation was his relationship with the Geomancer. Robert Venditti has definitely done his research with these characters and this page really marks a new direction for the character.
Aric is pretty good at entrances. Obviously these two have quite a history that spans millennia as mentor and apprentice, occasional opponents, and teammates. This scene is reminiscent of X-O Manowar #15 where Gilad reminds Aric exactly who had taught who how to succeed in battle.
Gilad’s referencing of Aric’s “masters” is referring to GATE, who first began dictating Aric’s activities to a degree back in issue #13.
History keeps repeating itself, no one knows that more than the Eternal Warrior. Tama is his chance to try to put a stop to it. Nothing sub-textual here, just two type-A personalities going at it, but a nice nod from Venditti who has written this interaction between Aric and Gilad in X-O Manowar’s fourth arc. Gilad’s “I didn’t teach you everything I know line” is pretty killer, though.
Finally get a chance to get to know Tama a bit through dialogue. She’s every bit her young age, despite her enormous responsibility. She is, after all, a Geomancer. But what does that mean exactly?
A Geomancer is a person who communes with the Earth and act on its behalf. Their exact power has yet to be explained in the current Valiant Universe, but what has been established is that their power stems directly from the Earth, and without that connection, they are powerless. Based on the brief glimpses we have seen of the Geomancers in Archer & Armstrong’s second arc, and The Valiant miniseries, we have seen the Geomancers have control over the elements; particularly earth (obviously), but most definitely air, manifested in the form of flight as we saw from Kay McHenry in The Valiant #1; and fire, as witnessed during her final battle in The Valiant #4.
Other aspects of their abilities are yet to be explained, but it is possible they may have some sort of latent psionic abilities. Their control of the elements may be in part why Kay’s removal of Bloodshot’s nanites in The Valiant #4 was possible though that has yet to be revealed. See the first arc of Bloodshot Reborn if you’d like more background on this as well.
The introduction of the Book of Geomancer is a nice nod to old fans, but again, something we haven’t seen in the current Valiant incarnation, so if you’re a new reader you may be unfamiliar with it. What has been explained so far is that it is a history of the Valiant Universe, and with Tama being from a time one thousand years into the future, it also holds the key to the fate of heroes we know and love today which is why we’ll see tie-in books such as The Fall of Bloodshot, The Fall of Harbinger, The Fall of Ninjak, and The Fall of X-O Manowar.
In the original Valiant universe, the Book of Geomancer was also a recorded history of things, originally written by the Geomancer Tashi Khatun in the 12th century to pass on his knowledge to the next Geomancer. This is actually where things get interesting and directly tie to the current Book of Death miniseries to previous events of the classic Valiant Universe. When Tashi dies, he is unable to pass on his gifts of geomancy to a successor, and seeing an opportunity, Master Darque invades the monastery which holds the dead Geomancer’s bones to steal the power of geomancy for himself. If you’re interested in some of the details here, be sure to pick up The Second Life of Doctor Mirage, originally published in 1993. What’s interesting is Darque’s aforementioned involved in Book of Death, so it makes sense that he would try to seize this power again after the untimely death of Kay McHenry. What remains to be seen is why a similar event didn’t happen when Kay took over the mantle of Geomancer in Archer & Armstrong #6, though it could be argued that David is a much more powerful Geomancer than Kay ever was.
Not only is Gilad charged to protect the Geomancer, but the stakes are even higher being that they are the only ones who can read the book which conveniently foretells of the horrors to come. Or, since the book is from the future, it’s actually a chronicle of the past and as we’re about to see; it’s not pretty.
First mention of Kay McHenry, the previous Geomancer, who was killed in The Valiant and now appears (or a version of her anyway) in Bloodshot Reborn as one of Bloodshot’s many hallucinations.
Okay, here’s the big splash we’ve been waiting for. The future version of several characters assembled to fight a great threat. But who are these characters? Some are making their first appearances here, while some we’ve become quite familiar with. Familiar faces that pop up include:
- Silk, in a gown and chair reminiscent of his appearance in the first arc of Rai.
- Bloodshot, looking a bit more menacing than we’ve seen him before and sporting a somewhat Hulk-ish look. The reasons for this may no doubt be revealed, though it could simply be chalked up to artist rendering.
- Gilad, sporting a slightly different look than we’re used to, and whose character design is reminiscent of his Warmaster alter ego during the Acclaim years of these characters.
- Faith, every fan’s favorite comic book loving psiot
- Gravedog, the mercenary for hire formerly of H.A.R.D. Corps and currently serving as a puppet to Harada’s will in Imperium
- The Myth, of which we know next to nothing other than his brief affiliation with the United Nations backed. The United, an antithetical team to Unity.
- Roku, one of Valiant’s new original characters, she is quickly growing a large following due to her kick ass, take no names attitude and martial arts skills easily on par with Ninjak.
- Hwen and Shan Mirage in interestingly reversed roles with Hwen having a physical presence, and Shan looking very ghost-like – definitely not how things left off at the end of The Death-Defying Doctor Mirage which has us very interested to see what will happen in Second Lives when it hits stores later this year.
The rest of the characters seem to be either original characters, or revamped versions of existing ones. It could be easily to speculate on who these new characters are, but we really don’t have enough on any of them to make a judgement call. The only one that bears a resemblance to any previous characters is the boy standing behind Silk who could be Geoff McHenry, himself a Geomancer, though time will tell.
More interesting are the characters appearing on the right-hand of the page. One looks like a new Vine character wearing red X-O-style armor (remember the Vine did have their own armor fashioned after the look and abilities of Shanhara – see the ‘Planet Death’ arc of X-O Manowar). Most interestingly are the new characters to the left of Hwen and Shan Mirage. One bears a stringing resemblance to Shadowman, but wearing a wearing a suit (again, a look that appears to be a nod to the character’s original incarnation) and a woman standing behind him ominously flying in. It’s interesting that these characters would appear next to the Mirages as it could be the first sign of more horror/magical entries from Valiant in the future. Definitely, a very exciting splash page.
Things start to get really interesting here as we start to see more glimpses of the Valiant universe. In the top panel, we see what looks to be various Gin-GR-type vessels leaving Earth. When this happens exactly is uncertain, though it may occur sometime after the third Armor Hunters war as mentioned in this book.
Next, we see a reunited Renegades squad, from Harbinger #1-25, with Archer as their leader. For fans who may pay close attention to little Easter eggs, Archer and Faith of the Renegades were introduced to one another in X-O Manowar #38 recently during Aric and Saana’s wedding. If you’re a fan of Archer & Armstrong, you may recall this pairing mentioned by Ivar Anni-Padda, better known as the Timewalker, as he was rescued from The Faraway in the book’s third arc. It is here that he mentions of Archer and Faith’s future love romps and something fans have been looking forward to seeing for quite some time.
Of course, we also see Bloodshot fighting dinosaurs, and a glimpse of Divinity apparently having built a new world for himself.
Seeing Major Mech, a.k.a. Sunlight On Snow, presenting the Armor Hunter Helix a bouquet of digital flowers is one of the few, if not only, tender moments in this book and really nice to see. Sunlight On Snow is currently running alongside Toyo Harada in Imperium and is by far one of the more human characters in that series, so it would make sense that he would fall in love, especially with a being made up of pure data such as Helix, whom we haven’t seen since last October’s Armor Hunters: Aftermath #1.
Next we see Aric and Saana, fresh off their wedding in X-O Manowar #38 holding a child and finally, images of a revamped H.A.R.D. Corps force entering into battle which leads us into…
By far one of the more exciting things for us as fans of the original Valiant Universe is the large focused placed on the H.A.R.D. Corps over a series of pages in this book, not because we’re such fans of the Corps themselves, but because of our love for one of the classic Valiant Universe’s often overlooked titles, Psi-Lords.
The first mention of the Psi-Lords occurs in the classic Rai #0, a book which definitely served as inspiration for Book of Death because of its method of storytelling, and the way in which it shapes what is to come in the Valiant Universe. If you’ve never heard of the Psi-Lords, or Starwatchers as they are also known, they were the natural evolution of the H.A.R.D. Corps. After the events of the third Harbinger War, events which appear very similar to the destruction we’re seeing in this first issue of Book of Death, a group of H.A.R.D. Corps leave Earth and wander into space to form a society of their own. The Psi-Lords divide themselves into various castes, identified by color (more on this in a second) and ruled by the power set which each of these castes possesses. After thousands of years in space, they return to Earth in the year 4003 and help Earth rid themselves of a Spider Alien infestation – think the Vine, but with a taste for humans. This also marks one of Valiant’s last gimmicks, Valiant Vision, a crude attempt at creating 3D for comic book pages, hence the colors assigned to the various castes of Psi-Lords – red, orange, and yellow.
While Psi-Lords was ultimately not very popular, it holds a special place in our hearts as huge fans of science fiction, and this page certainly gives us hope that with the right creative team, the Psi-Lords could resurface and play a big part in the Valiant Universe again, as an expansion to the fantastical world that Matt Kindt is creating in Rai.
Speaking of returning characters, this page offers us a glimpse of some possibilities as well as the introduction of some new, interesting characters.
First is the mention of both Outcast and The Visitor, which again has us excited. Outcast was never utilized in any previous incarnations of Valiant, only having one issue published, but the concept of a powerful alien being was novel to the universe, and legendary artist Norm Breyfogle’s character design was unique among Valiant characters. The Visitor is another character whom some of us love more than we probably should and who had an interesting 13 issue run (plus a two issue miniseries event) towards the end of the classic Valiant incarnation. His origins were shrouded in mystery, but it turned out to be someone with whom we were very familiar, and whose past (and our future) was tied into the same events that lead the H.A.R.D. Corps to leave Earth. In fact, it turned out to be “SPOILER ALERT”, Peter Stanchek of the Renegades.
We also see a new Unity team with some familiar faces, namely Gilad and Aric, along with some new ones in Punk Mambo (technically last seen in The Valiant #4, but it’s just a brief appearance. For more on her, check out the Punk Mambo #1 one-shot), Quartz (last seen in Armor Hunters: Aftermath #1) and one of the Zygos Twins (last seen in Armor Hunters: Harbinger #3). Alongside them is the Beast Brigade, a group of powered animals being lead by Gilad including a suited bull, possibly a nanite-infused Bloodshot-looking dog (Bloodhound?), Jaunty, the monkey from Shadowman, a flying dolphin, and of course, the Goat from Quantum & Woody. What will happens with this characters remains to be seen, but we’re looking forward to seeing the Beast Brigade in action.
We haven’t seen the Bleeding Monk, from Harbinger, in quite some time, and his fate after the events of Harbinger #24 is still a bit of a mystery, but here we see a recap of his vision of the future being destroyed by a tidal wave as seen in Harbinger #22. This may be an allusion to the next Harbinger Wars as mentioned in that book and would certainly fall in line with the events we expect to see in Book of Death: The Fall of Harbinger #1 as Harada and Peter Stanchek have their final showdown.
What is interesting is that the Bleeding Monk is no longer bleeding. Could this mean that he has been healed of his affliction? Is he now human? Or is it something much more?
As we come to the end of the flash forwards, we begin to zoom out of Earth and see a vision of a Ninjak-purple X-O suit torn to pieces after a battle, and the appearance of a mysterious figure flying down towards Earth as the heroes we saw in pages 12 and 13 look on to his descent? Could this be The Visitor, a new Geomancer, or something else entirely?
Here we return to the present as Tama stops reading from the Book of Geomancer and Gilad speaks of the dark forces which are after them as a group of insects approaches Tama’s bed. Who could this be in reference to? There was certainly a character in the original Valiant Universe with dark powers who enjoyed eating bowls of insects…
We now turn to the Unity team as they fly into Gilad and Tama’s location discussing their plan of attack and whether they are reading to take on one of their founding members. Gilad has been a core member of the team since its inception and even long before, having fought in past incarnations such as Unit-Y in World War War (see Unity #20, for example). Their confrontation in the next issue is certain to break the team apart (SPOILER: it’s titled “Closing the book on Unity”).
Finally, the moment we’ve been waiting for: the appearance of the now corrupted David from the first two pages of this issue talking to a mysterious force which remains off-page. David is in a dungeon, and this part of the narrative takes places thirty-one days after the events of the opening page. His attire has changed, and David is wearing black and red clothes, covered in insects as we saw in pages 20 and 21, approaching Tama with an ominous red glow about him and oddly, missing his eyes.
The figure he is talking to isn’t seen, but Dave Lanphear, Valiant letterer, has given us a hint as to whom it could be – the only character that we have seen with black word balloons and white lettering in all of Valiant: Master Darque. This should come as no surprise to you based on some of the observations presented in this article, or if you’ve read solicitations for upcoming issues, and it definitely cements Darque as one of Valiant’s most ominous, powerful, and evil beings by having him take such a central role in a large and world-changing event, such as Book of Death is shaping out to be. Darque famously wields the power to control the will of others and while this was only hinted at in the Shadowman and Shadowman: End Times series, it was part of what made him so powerful in his classic Valiant incarnation. Some examples of this include the classic Eternal Warrior series issues #6 and #7 where Darque took control over Buck McHenry (Kay’s uncle in the current Valiant Universe), and Solar, Man of the Atom #22 and #23 as Darque took control of Solar to try to reshape reality itself, and resulting in Solar splitting into two personalities, Solar and the Destroyer, a character who would have an important role to play in the world of 4001 AD. Sure, Valiant no longer holds the rights to Solar, but the use of the Geomancer in a similar way could have some long-lasting effects on the future of the Valiant Universe itself, if the events written in the Book of Geomancer as read by Tama in this issue are to be believed.
Here we see how young and inexperienced Tama is as she cowers at the oncoming invasion of insects. David has found her location! Fortunately, Gilad has thousands of years of experience dealing with evil and working alongside other Geomancers and guides her to safety, again, Gilad returning to form.
“He gives her courage, David. BREAK him,” says Darque in the background. Powerful stuff!
We see Tama using her raw power to fend off against the insect and scorpion attack as the roof blows off and…
Unity appears! Gin-GR and her giant friendly smile are awesome. This is a beautiful page bringing Unity right into the action. Gin-GR uses her powers to fry the invasion of insects while also affecting David’s telepathic attack and knocking him unconscious. Gilad and Tama are safe for now only to be attacked by Unity. You see, GATE seems to still believe that Tama is the one responsible for the trail of deaths across the country and want to bring her in to study her and contain her, much like they did with Divinity at the end of Divinity #4 or with Malgam in Unity #19 – the only way they really know to protect themselves against beings of immense power.
A full page of Gilad bleeding, but ready for a fight against his former team mates with the phrase, “You bleed next,” a perfect example of why Gilad is arguably one of the most powerful beings in the Valiant Universe. He may not have energy blasts, or mind-being abilities, but his resolve and thousands of years of battle experience make him a powerful foe for any enemy – even those he once called friend.
Phew! And that was only the first issue of Book of Death. Just imagine what Valiant has in store for us in the next three month if this is what they throw down to wet your whistle. Make sure you pick up this book because, folks, this is undoubtedly going to be one of the biggest books (and series) of the year and you’re not going to want to miss out on it. Big thanks to Josh Eves for his big assists on fact finding for this meaty first issue.
Join us next month for another look at Book of Death and don’t forget to check out All-Comic.com’s Valiant Central section for all things Valiant!