Indie comics fans rejoice! The Vin Diesel-led BLOODSHOT movie has begun production, signaling the beginnings of the Valiant Cinematic Universe. Many of you may be scratching your heads right now. For those new to the comic book scene, you may be unfamiliar with publishers outside of Marvel and DC. This is deeply understandable, as the MCU and the Worlds of DC have indoctrinated an entire generation of new fans.
Their popularity, though, has led to the rise of so many distinct indie attempts to break into the world of cinema. Comic books are bigger than they have ever been before. People want more superheroes. With that said, starting a cinematic universe comes with its own problems and worries. The Valiant Cinematic Universe has a number of hurdles to cross before its potential shared universe finds success. Is the risk truly worth it, though?
The Fast and the Deadly: Vin Diesel’s BLOODSHOT
Just after their 2012 reboot, Valiant Comics announced that they would also break into other entertainment media, including film. Partnering with Sony, Valiant signed a five movie contract that would launch the Valiant Cinematic Universe. Originally, HARBINGER was announced as the launching property, but due to monetary trouble, this film was pushed back to 2020. This paved the way for BLOODSHOT to become the company’s first mass-market film. At the beginning of this year, the company did work with Bat in the Sun Productions on Youtube to produce a low-budget web series titled NINJAK VS. THE VALIANT UNIVERSE. BLOODSHOT, though, is by far their biggest entertainment undertaking.
As far as hard facts about BLOODSHOT, very little is currently known. As I said, Vin Diesel will play the titular anti-hero. There are even rumors that Jared Leto of SUICIDE SQUAD fame will take on the villain role. Even this isn’t entirely clear, as Leto was originally in line to play Bloodshot himself. All we really know is that this film is slated for a 2019 release date, and that production has begun in South Africa.
This being the first film of the Valiant Cinematic Universe, it surprises me that the company hasn’t released more in the way of marketing. After all, this is a little known, albeit awesome, property. We don’t even know whether the film will follow the reboots lead Ray Garrison or the original character Angelo Mortalli. More information will likely come in the next few months.
The Long Game: Can the Valiant Universe Really Work?
The Valiant comic book universe succeeds due to its brutal action and its no-holds-barred approach. Nevertheless, we are dealing with comic books. We have seen brutal superhero films succeed before.
DEADPOOL and KICK-ASS both told incredible stories filled with gallons of blood and swearing. However, can the Valiant Universe really work in today’s cinematic climate? Personally, I truly believe it can. With that said, though, here are some of the hurdles that the Valiant Cinematic Universe has to overcome.
Recognizability: Valiant Who?
The biggest threat against the Valiant Cinematic Universe’s success stems from recognizability. Nearly everyone knows and recognizes the Marvel and DC brand, as well as their conglomerates. Spider-Man and Batman can instantly be marketed in nearly every store on the planet.
These characters have a long history of living in the public consciousness. For eighty years, Superman has cemented himself as a household name in both his heroic and civilian identities. Now, tell me. Have you ever heard of Peter Stanchek? Aric of Dacia? Jack Boniface? Faith Herbert? Amanda McKee?
Most people don’t recognize Valiant’s vast roster of key characters. This has its benefits, as you will see later, but it definitely exists as a drawback. These characters become immediately less marketable due to their general anonymity. People aren’t as quick to pay attention if an X-O MANOWAR movie releases than if a BATMAN film hits the big screen. This can work as long as Valiant keeps pushing its existence to the mainstream audience. This company has a huge, interesting universe at its disposal. Nonetheless, that won’t matter if no one knows about it.
The Atmosphere: Darker than DC
From my initial description of BLOODSHOT, you can tell that Valiant Comics isn’t afraid of dark storytelling. In fact, what initially drew me to their stories was their dedication to the gray area of superheroing. Very few of these characters are clean or innocent. In fact, only three or four come to mind. This allows the company to tackle themes of oppression, abuse, and ethical experimentation in really overt and potent ways. Sadly, it also doesn’t jive with the modern comic book movie atmosphere.
As divisive as the DC Universe is, their hardest selling point is their darker, more gritty tone. Marvel has set a standard of fun superheroing with witty banter and exciting characters. Even in its more serious films, like BLACK PANTHER, we get huge portions of lightheartedness. As such, the DC Universe suffered when it tried to go in a different direction. This moral ambiguity and darker tone may actually hinder BLOODSHOT’s success.
People don’t necessarily want a deep, dark superhero film. We have an expectation that superhero films are meant to be uplifting (thank INFINITY WAR for ruining that). The trend may already have changed. However, the darker, more serious tone of BLOODSHOT may throw some viewers off.
Parody or Rip-Off
Every story has already been told. New writers are simply telling different versions of these tales. Still, the internet is not afraid of screaming, “Rip-Off!” at the first signs of similar plots or characters. Never mind if certain characters are meant to parody existing tropes. We are quick to turn a film down due to its similarities to other properties.
Sadly, with comics, everybody inspires everybody else. Take BLOODSHOT for example. He takes obvious inspiration from Captain America’s backstory, the Punisher’s ethos, and Wolverine’s power set. No, I have never seen this particular amalgam before, but these are the obvious parallels. Even HARBINGER, another flagship Valiant title, has obvious ties to the X-MEN
Is it fair to draw these conclusions? Absolutely. However, judging a film off of them isn’t. Nevertheless, the digital age is not fair to characters and films that share resemblances with other materials. The Valiant Cinematic Universe will have to work extra hard in order to stand out from the rest. They need to distract the masses from the similarities to other properties. Only in that way will their films work. A decent plot and acting will work toward this process, of course.
What will truly work, though, is emphasizing the elements of the character that supersedes their inspiration. Bloodshot purposefully darkens and parodies the super-soldier, government experiment aspect of Captain America’s origins. Focus on that. Look at the inhumane nature of these experiments and compare it to the good the hero does. Focus on the ethical dilemma/ This will set the story apart from the rest.
BLOODSHOT: The Right Starting Place?
In terms of finances, BLOODSHOT simply makes sense. His story will largely mirror the long history of spy and military movies, with little CGI necessary to sell a believable story. In other words, it is much cheaper to make than a CGI heavy superpower-battle-fest like INFINITY WAR. In terms of tone, though, I don’t know if starting with BLOODSHOT is the best bet.
After all, my main concerns for the Valiant Cinematic Universe are epitomized in this film. The dark tone, the similarities to other properties, all of my concerns rest in this film being the impetus for the Valiant Cinematic Universe. In fact, the youth-based cast necessary for a HARBINGER film, the original intended first film of this universe, would have worked better from a marketing angle to draw in new fans.
A movie like BLOODSHOT may draw fans in, but it could just as easily push them away. We aren’t saturated with a lot of overt violence in our superhero films to date. No one truly important dies, and if they do, there isn’t a lot of violence or gore. A BLOODSHOT film needs that violence to stay true to the character.
Now, the Netflix superhero shows have made this darkness work, especially Punisher, because they focused on character first. And if Sony leans on the tragedies of this character, his complete uncertainty about his place in the world, then this film could work well.
The Pros: How Might the Valiant Cinematic Universe Work?
With all of this said, BLOODSHOT and the Valiant Cinematic Universe’s chances seem pretty bleak. And if the company doesn’t take the right steps, their storytelling could easily fall apart. However, that doesn’t deter my total excitement for this universe’s possibilities. With that in mind, here are the strengths that these upcoming films have going for them and why I believe they can succeed.
Recognizability: Fewer Expectations
Ask most fans why they disliked BATMAN V. SUPERMAN, and you’ll likely hear that the film didn’t capture their sense of the characters. You see, Batman and Superman and all of their famous tights wearing friends have been around so long that they carry expectations with them. If Superman isn’t the beacon of all that’s good in the film world, something immediately feels off. And it should. These are iconic characters that have defined modern pop culture.
Indie comics characters don’t have that same problem. Here, a lack of recognizability works in the Valiant Cinematic Universe’s favor. People going into BLOODSHOT or the future HARBINGER or SHADOWMAN films will see these films with fresh eyes. The hardcore fans of these characters may keep an eagle eye out for discrepancies (the internet always knows). Nevertheless, most viewers will meet Bloodshot for the first time on the big screen. If they go back to the comics, they’ll hear Vin Diesel’s gravelly baritone in their head when they read. With fewer expectations standing in their way, fans can build a more unbiased opinion of the film and the rest of the Universe.
The Themes: Darkness for a Purpose
The dark atmosphere in DC’s suite of films hasn’t worked largely because it feels unnecessary. The themes explored don’t warrant such a bleak outlook in many cases. However, this doesn’t mean a dark atmosphere can’t work. Take a look at the BLADE franchise. They don’t have many laughs, but the films (the first two anyway) are beloved by fans.
Why? Because the darkness had a purpose. In films like BLADE, the bleak environs add into the horror and gritty action elements of these franchises. They still have endearing characters. They still allow for the viewer to enjoy themselves. At the end of the day, though, the darkness has an overt purpose.
BLOODSHOT and other more serious Valiant Cinematic Universe films can work with serious tones. They can delve into dark elements all they want if they prove their worth and necessity. BLOODSHOT, for example, needs to focus on the ethics of experimentation or the horrors of this character’s battle for the greater good.
HARBINGER needs to emphasize Harada’s manipulation of his young charges and his forcing them to become superpowered soldiers. It should also take a hard look at lead character Peter Stanchek’s drug abuse. These focuses have to be in place to present a believable backdrop for the dark atmosphere. If the filmmakers do it right, we could see the Valiant Cinematic Universe flourish with this tone.
Diversity: A Universe of Many Backgrounds
Like nearly all comic book publishers, Valiant Comics has some room to grow when it comes to diversity. Nevertheless, they have made some major strides in this regard. A large number of its characters come from diverse and unique cultural backgrounds.
Amanda McKee, a.k.a. Livewire, is an African-American woman as well as a founding member of Unity, the Valiant Comics’ version of the Avengers. Faith Herbert might be the first and only female superhero that fits a plus-sized description and isn’t shamed for it. My favorite character in this universe, Shadowman a.k.a. Jack Boniface, comes from a mixed-race marriage and fights crime in New Orleans, one of the most culturally rich locations on the planet.
The indie nature of the Valiant Cinematic Universe will allow it to play with race, gender identity, and sexuality in a way that mainstream superhero films shy away from. After all, SHADOWMAN is already slated among the VCU’s first five films. This means that it has an African-American led film far earlier in its release schedule than even the MCU. This possibility for diversity should not be overlooked by fans or by filmmakers.
Creators need to focus on these elements, especially if they want fans to take these films seriously. The comics already have a good level of diversity going for them. That doesn’t mean, though, that filmmakers can simply rest on their laurels. They need to push it even further for this new visual medium.
NINJAK VS. THE VALIANT UNIVERSE: The First Foray
Probably one of the greatest indicators of the Valiant Cinematic Universe’s success comes from the company’s past forays into other media. In the early nineties, the company released a number of Playstation-based video games like SHADOWMAN. These not only gave the general public a chance to explore Valiant’s characters.
It allowed the company to experiment with new and different storytelling mediums and working with large teams of creators. These games opened the door to Valiant’s current endeavors. Yes, they are a bit simple, especially by today’s standards. However, these experiments in storytelling will only help the success of BLOODSHOT and other films.
A greater indicator still is the short web series NINJAK VS. THE VALIANT UNIVERSE. Pairing with Bat in the Sun productions, Valiant Entertainment developed a short, four-episode web series that showcased all of the company’s most important characters. This series gave Valiant a chance to branch into cinematography, which in turn gave them the opportunity to see how their characters translated to the screen.
The series is definitely low-budget, but it is well-acted and the fight sequences are deeply choreographed. In many ways, we can look at this series as the practice runs for the company. NINJAK VS. THE VALIANT UNIVERSE gave the company a solid list of things that worked. If they heed this list in the upcoming films, the Valiant Cinematic Universe could find deep success.
The Fan Base: Die Hard Doesn’t Describe It
As with most indie comic book fans, those who love a certain property love it with a unique kind of passion. They take pride in the discovery, in finding that one hidden comic book gem. For me and the Valiant Universe, that first discovery was SHADOWMAN Vol. 1, which sparked a zealous love of the entire universe that has yet to die out.
Being an indie publisher may make the Valiant Cinematic Universe less accessible to the general public, but the hardcore fans of the property will buy whatever the company sells. Seriously, if BLOODSHOT only captures the feel of the original comics, those major fans will drop everything to see it five times. The success of the Valiant Cinematic Universe rests on the long-time fans of the comics, especially these early films.
On the Valiant Cinematic Universe: Final Thoughts
We have an entire year before BLOODSHOT releases, and yet the hype train is already rolling. Much of this can probably be attributed to its star, but even more is due to the fantastic depth and possibility of the Valiant Cinematic Universe. Don’t get me wrong. Valiant has a long way to go to make this universe a viable option.
After all, the Worlds of DC and the MCU already have a foothold on the Cinematic Universe game. Even with that said, I have high hopes for these films’ possibilities. The four announced or rumored films cover a lot of necessary world-building, and the themes presented in them will immediately acclimate viewers to this darker superhero reality. In other words, I cannot wait to see what Valiant plans to do next.