Jab’s Image Deep Dive: Jim Valentino!

First of all: we lied. Jab wasn’t QUITE done with Rob Liefeld yet! Because he initially forgot about YET ANOTHER team book Rob created for Image…

Yes, Rob Liefeld created ANOTHER friggin’ superhero team in his first couple of years at Image Comics, the NEW MEN. Here, they’re another band of X-Men knockoffs who are “Nu-Genes”, which is the Legally-Distinct-From-Mutants of Rob’s universe… even though Marc Silvestri just called his characters “Mutants” like Marvel did. Here, they’re more notable for their name, as the logo puts the word-block for “NEW” so close to the “MEN” that it looks like the book is called NEWMEN , like it’s someone’s last name. Hyphens are important! Without hyphens, you get “Spiderman”, and “Spiderman” is an ATROCITY, dammit!

The creative team was again Rob pulling “scripter” duty and getting another artist to draw his original character designs- in this case, Jeff Matsuda was the artist. Jeff is of course more well known for doing the Jackie Chan Adventures and The Batman character design work. So “Nu-Genes” are the result of an alien experimentation on human genetics, intending to create a race of evolved humans. These aliens, “The Keep”, seem to be mysterious, as is usual with Image Comics. The New Men were sponsored by the government, like most of Liefeld’s super-teams- it was an easy way to give them access to whatever, and put them in dangerous situations.

The roster is largely unexplained online and I’ve never read any of their comics, so this is the only bio they’ll be getting:

REIGN (Jason Drew): Telepathic & Telekinetic kid, just in case you didn’t realize these were X-Men knockoffs yet. He was the Team Leader, and one of those guys who wears a cool leather jacket instead of a costume.

BYRD (Adam Booth): Avian-hybrid with wings and “razor-sharp” (you always have to mention the “razor” part) talons. He looked human-like at first, but eventually developed sharper talons and an actual BEAK-it his made him more isolationist and angry, like most “Animal Guy” characters. His costume looks tad supervillainous, probably owing to the fact that it’s a knockoff of Archangel of the X-Men.

DASH (Lisa Richards): Very fast teen girl who dated both Reign & Byrd. She has one of those “Lazy Rob” costumes that’s just a couple of colors with a random line going through it.

EXIT (Derrick Rowland): Team Teleporter who could also go into alternate dimensions. Distinctive for his RIDICULOUS bucket-helmet, which looks way too rounded and silly to be functional- never mind that the top is cut off so that you can see his hair.

Seriously, f*in’ what kinda helmet is that?

KODIAK (Thomas Runningbear, Jr.): The “Token Big Guy”- a Native American who turned into a huge, bear-like monster.

BOOTLEG (Jamie Forester): A new member created by Eric Stephenson & Todd Nauck. She had the power to mimic the powers of others.

Whew! Did you enjoy the exhaustive look over several articles into all of Rob Liefeld’s many Image Comics properties? Do you want a breather in the form of one of the Image founders who had substantially fewer books for the company and less notoriety overall (though arguably much more long-term importance)?

We can do that, too!

Jim Valentino was the oldest and least popular of the Image Creators, having been known primarily for a 50-issue run of Guardians of the Galaxy . He deliberately countered the “grim ‘n’ gritty” ’90s stuff with a more “fun” comic, but he quit to co-found Image. His work is probably the least notorious out of the line, and I’ve heard tell that some even within the company were annoyed that someone who wasn’t totally famous and successful was on the squad.

But he ended up being central to the line- as publisher in 1999, he focused on diversifying the company, being self-aware of Image’s perception at the time- Image dropped in sales overall, but he discovered guys like Robert Kirkman & Brian Michael Bendis (wait… that’s HIS fault?). He has since stepped down and revived his “ShadowLine” series, including bringing back ShadowHawk .

Jim Valentino’s only offering to the early Image Comics was that same ShadowHawk- one of three solo heroes in the line. ETM’s guides advertised in comic books of the time promised a “violent new series”, and it starred Paul Johnstone, a “troubled youth” from Harlem who nonetheless managed to stay out of trouble enough to become district attorney.

However, his crack-addicted half-brother is used as leverage by some goons to “look the other way”, and when he refuses, he is attacked and deliberately injected with HIV-positive blood- Paul goes through discrimination in the workplace over possibly being infected (this was a major hot-button issue at the time- even Captain Planet talked about it, and a real-life story with a teen boy who suffered from it was a sensation), then ends up fired and in jail.

Finally getting out, he was confirmed as HIV-positive and then beaten up by hoodlums- this was the moment where he decided to become a vigilante. A friend of his (who’d been kicked off the police for excessive force… wow this just keeps getting more topical) gets him a super-powered exoskeleton suit, and he becomes “ShadowHawk”. A brutal vigilante, he maimed and crippled crooks, breaking their spines when he caught them in the act.

He faced villains like the crime-boss Vendetta and her gang “The Regulators”, along with a few others. What little I’ve seen of ShadowHawk consists of the worst elements of 1990s comics (“I feel a certain amount of SATISFACTION as his spine breaks. This one will never threaten an innocent again”).

And… that’s it on Jim! I have to admit, I had a friend growing up whose favorite Image character was Shadowhawk. I never read the book myself. I collected a ton of Image when it debuted, but I just never found my way here. Hey, I couldn’t possibly give up CYBERFORCE to read a book that actually had controversial themes, you know?

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