Clad in chains (literally)

Publisher: Valiant
Writers: JJ O’Connor & Brian Buccellato
Penciller: Manuel Garcia
Inker: Raül Fernández
Colourist: Rex Lokus
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Cover Artist: Bagus Hutomo

Those of us who remember the Valiant of years past will recall that this isn’t the first Valiant concept involving the word ‘Armor’. In 2014 there was the Armor Hunters mini series. However when I first heard the name ‘Armorclads‘ my brain went further back to 1994 and the Armorines. Alas there’s no resemblance outside of the name having the word ‘Armor’ in it and the characters working in suits. That’s not a bad thing but it looks like I’m still waiting for my US Marines equipped with armour based on the X-O suit battling giant sharks reboot. Ah well.

Armorclads is something of a new direction in many ways. It feels far more standalone than the current runs of Shadowman and The Harbinger. Both of those books draw strongly on the history of past runs, needing some knowledge to get the most out of them. Armorclads feels a lot more like you could dive in as a newbie. Presumably because it’s not built around previously established characters. I wasn’t sure what I expected but I was pleasantly surprised.

I’m always up for the expansion of the Valiant universe. At present this feels quite divorced from the rest, again there’s no need for prior knowledge. Of course this is a first issue and who knows what will happen in future issues that might tie it back to the wider universe, but for now this feel like it’s own thing. Which again makes it newbie friendly. It’s always good to encourage new readers to jump on board.

There’s also some common tropes and plot beats that do help. Those are familiar and help you get an understanding quickly. I got a bit of a Starship Troopers vibe at points. I don’t know if that was intentional or just the way my brain reacts to images of bugs attacking people wearing helmets. Honestly that’s probably the only resemblance.

I realise I have not actually mentioned the premise of Armorclads! So here it is as per Valiant’s (excellent and useful) website:

In a different solar system, advanced mechs known as Armorclads are used to fight wars and build worlds. On Xeru, genetically engineered workers live out their short lives mining a valuable mineral called The Pure in construction-class mechs known as Ironclads. When one of their own is killed, the Ironclads’ world is turned upside down and they defy their oppressors. Along the way, they’ll discover they’re embroiled in a mystery dating back centuries that could change the world forever—as long as they band together.

So, this is not earth, although the main characters look pretty human, certainly in their actions and emotions they are pretty human and thus relatable. The Pure is not just a valuable according to propaganda ether. This resource allows another planet, Alpharon, to function, for people to breathe. Those of you familiar with media and tropes will probably view this broadcast as cynically as the characters do. It’s a neat way of making us empathise with the central characters.

The central characters in question are the Ironclads or Grubs as they are not affectionally called by the guards (who I assume are the Armoclads) The Ironclads are the workers, slaves really, oppressed by the guards. Their worth is only how much they can mine. Their lives are not worth the value of their suits (spoiler alert: do not get attached to one of the characters) and they are treated very poorly, mere numbers in a military mining machine.

The events of this issue however are the tipping point, especially for Peris, one of the Ironclads who we get to know. The others include Sam, Lela as well as Ada and Pulo. It’s really only Peris, Sam and Lela who the focus is on and they are identified in the artwork and lettering. It’s difficult to get to know characters in suits, particularly suits that look the same. I do appreciate that there are attempts in the art and design to show the differences; be it different tool attachments on the suits, or a panel where we can see the variety of different individual faces through the helmets.

The art generally is great. There’s a mix of action and quieter moments. The art has to do a lot of the lifting of establishing the world, the threats and the nature of the main characters. We get the dangerous caves where The Pure is mined, vast caverns with the brightness of The Pure standing out in otherwise blue caves of stalagmites and stalactites. It has that slightly alien world atmosphere to it. The danger of the caves is also well realised with the well drawn action of a line breaking and the onomatopoeic lettering adding to that tension.

Then there are the action scenes. As I already mentioned in a slightly spoiler-ish way there are giant bugs fighting people in suits. The bugs are almost fat scorpion like in design, and again nicely alien. Their grey-green colour with red accents around the limbs really makes them pretty intimidating. As are their giant gaping jaws. They look intimidating and the art gives them a definite menacing air in both design and movement The continuing onomatopoeic lettering throughout the confrontation panels gives them those weird alien sounds too which add to that.

Yet the quieter moments also work in the art. We see the domestic side of the Ironclads world. Well perhaps that’s the wrong word as they basically live in slave barracks but you know, the part of their world where they’re not fighting giant bugs or mining under duress. It’s a stark place. The mess hall scene with them all wearing the same uniform, sitting at the same style table with the same red, tube grown apples in a bare room that looks like an area of a factory helps underline how trapped they are.

There are hints through this issue of rebellion brewing. Judging by the preview of the next issue I am going to stick to my mantra of not getting attached but it seems things are changing and the worms, well grubs, have turned. I don’t want to spoil too much of the plot because I think this is better read with as fresh eyes as you can muster. I realise I have mentioned a few plot points but hopefully nothing too spoiler-ish.

Honestly, this first issue executes its setup pretty well. It has a lot to do in one issue as it is very much expanding out the Valiant universe somewhere we’ve not been before. That’s good for both new readers and older ones like me who want to see that Valiant universe expand and stretch somewhere new. I don’t yet know if Armorclads will win my heart the way pretty much every Valiant book has in the past but I find myself wanting it to. It’s got a lot going for it. If you like anything involving people in mechanised suits fighting alien bugs on a far off world then Armorclads is for you. It’s full of strong potential.

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