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VALIANT EFFORT: THE PROSPECTS AND PITFALLS OF VALIANT’S PURCHASE

When news broke the other day about DMG Entertainment’s acquisition of Valiant it was met with mixed reactions from fans — and rightfully so. On one hand, DMG’s purchase of the publisher is a great sign that business is going well and we could look forward to more ambitious projects. On the other hand, we’ve seen this trend before and it nearly buried Valiant and its rich universe of characters.

There’s no easy way to determine the whether this move will immediately help or hurt Valiant. However, it has echoes of Valiant’s troubled history. Any concerns fans may have is well founded.

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In 1994 Valiant’s then parent company, Voyager Communications, was purchased by video game publisher Acclaim. The company capitalized on the acquisition of Valiant by developing games based on Valiant’s characters. These games, for the most part, were actually pretty damn cool and increased the profile of Valiant’s universe significantly. Turok: Dinosaur Hunter was one of the most celebrated games for Nintendo’s new N64 console. Acclaim followed the success of Turok with games based on Shadowman and X-O Manowar, both finding relative success across platforms.

Acclaim jumped on the newfound notoriety of Valiant’s IPs by re-dubbing the company Acclaim Comics — and things were good.

Then they were not.

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‘Turok’ was the high point for the Acclaim/Valiant partnership.

After losing the valuable WWF license to rival company THQ, sales slowed tremendously and Acclaim went belly up in 2004. The company was forced to auction off assets, Valiant properties included. In the process, rights to popular characters like Turok, Solar, and Magnus Robot Fighter were lost (now in the hands of Dreamworks SKG). The Valiant Universe seemed all but dead.

There was little hope for Valiant until Dinesh Shamdasani and his financing partners swooped in to acquire the remaining rights from Acclaim. He was intent on restoring Valiant to its former glory and immediately enlisted former editor-in-chief/founder Jim Shooter to conceptualize all new stories. Valiant Entertainment was reborn in 2007. Shamdasani continued to serve as chief creative officer and steered Valiant Entertainment toward producing high quality comic books that have become its hallmark.

Shamdasani’s stewardship comes to an end on the heels of DMG’s acquisition of Valiant and that should have everyone very worried.

Bloodshit

Back From the Dead: Dinesh Shamdasani resurrected Valiant. 

At face value it should be reassuring that DMG, a majority stakeholder in Valiant Entertainment since 2015, is taking the reigns instead of a completely foreign entity. Over the years they have largely left Valiant and Shamdasani to their own devices. As it stands, DMG and CEO Dan Mintz have no plans to alter course with any current or future titles. For the time being, it’s business as usual.

But make no mistake, the changes will come, even if Mintz is currently mum.

“This is about taking it to the next level.” Dan Mintz

So far, the sole motivation in DMG’s purchase of Valiant appears to be pushing the characters toward film and TV adaptations. DMG, after all, is a production company, so it only makes sense. There’s already a few projects in development, with Bloodshot undergoing the early stages of pre-production at Sony and Quantum and Woody being adapted for a CW series — but Dan Mintz’s vision appears to be grander.

With Marvel Studios being the toast of Hollywood and the biggest franchise this side of Star Wars, studios are in a frenzy trying to develop their own interconnected film universes to jack some of that MCU swagger. Warner Bros./DC Entertainment is experiencing mixed results, reactions, and receipts with the DCEU. Paramount’s Dark Universe, befitting its namesake, have slipped into the night following the failure of The Mummy . The action-adventure film franchise derby is a two-horse race and Disney owns both ponies, but Mintz is seeing the daylight between Marvel and the competition.

Though a small publisher in comics, Valiant is home to the third largest universe of characters, topped by only Marvel and DC. Now if you were, say, a film production company looking to build a cinematic universe, acquiring Valiant Entertainment would look like a solid business move. Dan Mintz hasn’t been the least bit shy about this. “This is about taking it to the next level. I am not looking on expanding from a publishing standpoint but from a motion picture standpoint,” said Mintz when he was discussing the acquisition with Hollywood Reporter. “This is something that is validated already and is on a road that has already been traveled by Marvel and DC.”

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Not even Marvel is above altering the comics to mirror its film franchise.

Clearly, Mintz and DMG want Valiant to be the next big thing in superhero franchises. If he can do that while not affecting the comics, then that’s great right? Reality is not so simple. A strong component of building and supporting these massive, expensive tentpole franchises is building brand synergy. This is something that even the mighty Marvel Comics hasn’t been able to accomplish.

Having been a top publisher for decades, Marvel could have easily let their comics stand on their own two legs, but corporate demands forces them to push titles and alter characters to capitalize on the marketing and success of their film projects. Likewise, it leads them to bury properties where the film rights are not owned by Marvel Studios.

Ask any X-Men or Fantastic Four fans how well the character have been treated in recent years.

In many respects, Marvel Comics have suffered for this. With every film released, there’s a trail of tie-ins, crossovers, one-shots, retcons, and re-imaginings that follows.  For Valiant, this will be inevitable. It’s foolish to believe otherwise. Whether or not future films based on Valiant’s comics are successful is almost a null equation. Convention dictates something must change and Valiant is now without Shamdasani, the man responsible for its resurrection.

Valiant’s books becoming glorified marketing material for a fledgling film franchise is a real concern. Valiant has been one of the few bastions left in comics that isn’t weighed down in a litany of licensed IPs and crossover events. This has allowed the publisher to focus on just delivering great comics and anything that disrupts that should be met with a healthy amount of reservation.

It’s possible Mintz will navigate the company safely through this transition. However, Valiant’s own history has taught us to be wary of these situations.

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Marvel and DC Comics are both owned by media giants, who collectively own like 85% of all money every printed. We will likely never live to see a future where these publishers go under. To put it bluntly, DMG Entertainment is not Disney.  They only have a handful of films under their belt and virtually no IPs of notoriety. If their plans of launching a film universe fails, then Valiant will sink, and possibly for good this time.

I’ll admit that it could be a bit early for prognostications of doom. DMG deserves a fair shot to prove what they can do. While the superhero TV and film markets may be a little saturated, to say the least, Valiant characters are fresh and unique. We should welcome projects that enhance their profile. The characters are deserving of the opportunity to duke it out with the big boys. As many have now proven, this will is not be easy.  It will take a truly collaborative effort and the utmost respect for the fans and characters to work — but even then there is no guarantee.

The only sure bet to be had is the current state of Valiant Entertainment. They’ve come this far by focusing on making great comics and honoring years of groundwork laid by some of the most talented people in the industry. DMG would do well to value the unique place Valiant holds in both pop culture and the hearts of fans around the world; fans who deserve to have their good faith rewarded, if not safely guarded.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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