With Dead Drop, Valiant is feeling its oats once again and trying something impressive with its universe. Thank god it keeps doing this kind of thing, because even when it doesn’t necessarily work, it’s a sign of a healthy, growing universe, and they are experiments that should be encouraged. This issue starts in true in medias res, with X-O Manowar falling to the ground in Times Square. Much of the issue is, as Kot teased, Valiant’s serial-numbers-filed-off Iron Man vs. apparently the most agile woman on the planet in a parkour-off (each issue will apparently be a different character from the Valiant Universe and their part in the scheme). The action flows from Times Square to the Flatiron District, Chinatown, and a final gambit on a Brooklyn-bound Q train, with plenty of exposition peppered in along the way, as well as teases for the rest of the issues. All you really need to know about the series gets laid out in this issue: there’s a virus, it can end the world, terrorists want it, the heroes won’t let them get it. The virus itself has a nice escape hatch built in as a plot device to take each hero out of the action at the end of their issues.
If there’s one place where Ales Kot truly shines in comics, it’s his stylistic panache. I mean, the guy’s main creator-owned series is illustrated by a different artist, telling the story of one secret agent. His superhero comics have been good, if not great, but now it seems like Valiant is giving him the editorial leash to bring some of that creator-owned style to their universe. The series itself is four issues that take place in about a half hour, with four or five different protagonists. It’s an interesting way to tell a story in general, but the fact that he’s bringing in so many disparate pieces of the Valiant universe to do it is even more interesting. What other book do we get to see X-O Manowar, Archer (not Armstrong), Bloodshot’s handler, and two of Quantum and Woody’s supporting characters as the stars?
While I applaud the stylistic experiment, I’m not sure how well it’s going to play out, based off of this first issue. It’s a fun issue, and there’s a lot of action, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of meat to it. There’s exposition, there’s amazing panelling by Adam Gorham, and there are a lot of cool packaging choices -- there’s a “table of contents” at the beginning that shows on a map of Manhattan where they are on which page in the story -- but finding out at the end that you won’t be following X-O anymore, it’s tough to give a shit about anything you just read. The virus is a McGuffin and it doesn’t have the urgency to pull me through to go “oh no, what’s gonna happen to that virus in Brooklyn with Archer?” It just makes me wonder if the people on that Q train will live to see the other side of the Brooklyn Bridge. And I know this isn’t anything that can really be called criticism, but if this book weren’t premium priced at $3.99, I would absolutely recommend buying it. It’s intriguing in all the right ways, and it’s gorgeous to look at. It just feels like an awful deflating issue, especially at that price point.