Marvel and DC are seen as the two main pillars of comic book movies with an interconnected universe and although they are seen as the two titans of the space, there is more than enough room for other comic book entities to make a name for themselves — and peeking its head around the corner and raising an eyebrow is Valiant Entertainment.
Over two years ago, Dan Mintz’s DMG Entertainment took full control of the indie comics outfit Valiant Entertainment with over 2,000 characters in its library and now they are ready to disrupt the comic book cinematic universe in a space that has been occupied by Marvel and DC — and mostly dominated by the former.
“Disney is the IBM of the entertainment industry…it’s just really big and very difficult to be,” Valiant boss Mintz told Deadline. They can’t stand on anti-establishment. They’re not raising the pirate flags, so to speak.”
Mintz, who served as an executive producer on Iron Man 3 continues, “They do great stuff, but there is a very defined lane. There [are] certain things that Disney won’t do because they’re Disney…and there are some things that Valiant is going to do because it’s authentic to who we are. All the Marvel movies are great, but I’m saying is…if they’re network TV, we’re HBO. If they’re PC we’re Mac.”
Last year, fanboys and fangirls put a target on Martin Scorsese’s back when he compared superhero movies to theme parks and claimed that they were “not cinema”. Mintz takes this and leverages it into a challenge Valiant. “If there was a [comic book] movie he was going to direct, it would be a Valiant movie,” he claims, “because the characters relate on that level.”
Compared to Marvel and DC, Valiant has a diverse array of complex comic book characters that introduce familiar types of heroes but are presented in a way that’s fresh, subversive and delivers a different kind of hero from classic household names like Captain America and Superman.
There’s Rai, a Japanese cyborg warrior who fights to protect those who can’t defend themselves as well as Mary-Maria a master martial artist of Latinx descent who is also skilled in firearms and weaponry that leads a rogue group of assassin nuns. There’s also Faith, a plus-size hero who has the ability of flight and telekinesis and Livewire, a teletechnopath. In other words, she has the ability to communicate with machines with her mind.
Valiant Entertainment has all the elements to create a cinematic universe that could very well shake things up. In the books, the characters exist in the same universe across time and space and all of this had a soft-launch with the last big studio movie released theatrically before theaters shuttered: Bloodshot, which stars Vin Diesel as the titular vengeful metamorph soldier who has no memory of his own history. He has a connection to the Harbinger Foundation, which is headed by the power-hungry Toyo Harada. The organization studies “psiots”, a sub-species of humans with psychic powers. He calls them Harbingers and it makes for a team, each of them straddling the line of hero and villain, which is the foundation of the next Valiant film at Paramount that could be the official launch of its cinematic universe with other titles like Shadowman, Archer & Armstrong, Eternal Warrior and X-O Manowar in the works.
Deadline talked to Mintz more about the challenges and advantages of building a Valiant Cinematic Universe (or VCU) in a Marvel and DC-dominated genre and essentially being a punk rock “wrecking crew” who are here to rattle expectations, change the game and give fanboys and fangirls something new and juicy to sink their teeth into.
DEADLINE: Marvel and DC have been the main players in the superhero cinematic universe game and they have plenty of household names like Batman, Captain America, the Incredible Hulk, Superman and Wonder Woman. How does Valiant beginning navigating waters where it seems like everything is working against you?
DAN MINTZ: There are only three connected universes — that’s it. It’s not like we’re competing necessarily against Hellboy or The Walking Dead. Valiant is defined enough that I think we build on previous work from a character-wise perspective. We’re all standing on the shoulders of giants.
The advantage we have is that they’ve already built a lot of the visual vocabulary that we understand superheroes to be. We don’t need to talk about that anymore. If somebody’s sitting there in a spandex thing with ray beams coming out, we don’t need to talk. We know what this is. People want more. They want something deeper. They want that pathos that [a character like] Thanos represented. I think that is very much what Valiant leans into.
That first cycle of The Avengers was a very defining time because people are saying, “What’s next? Is it just more of the same?” In the first Avengers, when the sky opened up and the aliens came in, I was like, “Where are you going to go?” Then after a while, it’s just superheroes hurling planets at each other. It becomes so big. There is a point where there’s a reverse of that. Where there’s more human than superhuman and people need to lean into it. This is why you see stuff like The Joker and that’s why it did so well.
Marvel’s first film was Howard the Duck and their second movie was David Hasselhoff as Nick Fury. Around that time, Tim Burton was developing the first cinematic Batman. So if you and I were sitting there back then, I think we would say, “Put a fork in Marvel, they are a joke. DC is the future.” All I’m saying is, don’t put too many nails in that coffin because there’s a lot of things that are happening. It’s about the right time. When you look at it, the turning point for Marvel really was Blade.
DEADLINE: Of the three, Valiant is fairly younger and has grown immensely with its catalog of characters and stories.
MINTZ: The three are really a product of their time. Obviously, DC is from the ’30s, Marvel is from the ’60s and Valiant is from the ’90s. In that respect, when Valiant was started, it’s got more of a worldview. The characters are more diversified just because of that. Their problems are closer to our problems. I think the characters are grayer.
DEADLINE: What are some of the challenges in building the VCU and introducing some of these obscure characters to the masses?
MINTZ: That’s a question we deal with internally all the time. It always comes back to what’s authentic to who you are. Again, Valiant is a product of this time. So Faith, for instance, is a plus-size, superhero woman. It sometimes takes 30 years sometimes to get up to a certain level. That character has been around for over 25 years. Only now, with the movements that are happening is that character relevant. 20 years ago, Marvel and DC wouldn’t have touched something like that. So it’s an interesting cycle number one.
Being the youngest of the three, we’ve sold over 90 million and have over 2,000 characters. It takes just that much amount of time minimally, to actually connect and have stories that get to a certain level. You can’t obviously build these things overnight. Then you have to figure out your lane. The superhighway has been built by Marvel and DC…but what’s your lane and what differentiates you? Again it comes down to being authentic to who you are, which is the worldview character.
DEADLINE: Like Faith, you mentioned characters like Rai, Mary-Maria as well as many female characters and people of color which certainly speaks to this time of inclusion. We have seen different iterations of traditionally white superheroes where they are people of color or women.
MINTZ: I think there’s a couple of things. If you take a character that was traditionally “this” and then all of a sudden it’s going to be a person of color, transsexual or Muslim, it’s either authentic to who they are or not. When Valiant was incepted, they had Japanese, Latin American and all kinds of characters where you didn’t really have that before — from the beginning anyway. It’s sense of, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we saw this story through these people’s eyes?”
DEADLINE: There are also epic characters that are thousands of years old which seems more traditional in terms of character narratives in comic books.
MINTZ: There are three characters in the center…the three Immortal Brothers. There’s Archer and Armstrong, The Eternal Warrior and Ivar, Timewalker. These are 10,000-year-old characters that are not only connected horizontally but also through time. So they see everything that’s happened. Not only is it wide in the sense of diversity the worldview is also deep that sense. Valiant not only has stories horizontally connected characters, but they are also through time. So they see everything that’s happened. Not only is it wide in the sense of diversity, the worldview is also deep in the sense.
The Eternal Warrior was brought back to life by Mother Nature to do her bidding to protect the Earth. So anything that she can’t take care of herself, like with an earthquake or tsunami, he goes in and basically handles. It becomes a real dilemma for him because after a while, it’s yes, protect the Earth, Mother Nature is important. But what about humans? Where is that balance? So there’s the complexity. These are the things that make them ambiguous. Sometimes they’re good and sometimes they’re bad. That constant give and take is very much woven into the fabric of Valiant in that respect.
DEADLINE: What is the strategy to use these characters to build a universe?
MINTZ: One of my jobs is to take what took Marvel 20 years and compress that down. That’s in defining who you are — more importantly who you’re not — and really, really hammering on that differentiation. I see Bloodshot as our Blade. It certainly isn’t Iron Man — [Kevin] Feige got in there and connected it [to a universe] and that really delivered that value to the fans.
I remember one of the films I worked on was Iron Man 3. This was when [Marvel was still saying], “I hope this works.” At that time, normally, the third installment is the one that kills the franchise. So the beauty of what we have in a connected universe is that we can still see our favorite characters in our movies long after they can handle their own or support their own film. So even after Iron Man 3 you can still see Robert Downey Jr. flying around and saying snarky things in other Marvel films — and basically, every time that comes out, it’s really great.
I think we’re able to develop and bring that next level of character that people really want now. I think Hollywood really gets comic books wrong. I think perhaps they get fooled by the format. They look at it and they say it’s a bunch of drawings with some little people talking in bubbles. What they don’t realize is that comic books are the serials of our time. They are the gangster films and westerns, but with one defining difference. They are the anchor of pop culture. So the stories are as diverse and as layered as any group of stories. It’s not the format, it is the evolution of story, and I believe that Valiant is an evolution of storytelling in a comic book.
DEADLINE: You say that if Martin Scorsese — who was very honest about his opinion about comic book movies — would make one, it would be something from Valiant. Why do you think that?
MINTZ: You watch one of his movies like Goodfellas or Casino, you feel like you’ve lived a lifetime. You can see why these characters make the decision there because you’re seeing them in that environment. They’re not good or bad or right or wrong. They just are. You almost suspend judgment at a certain time and I think it’s very real. I think there’s something about that, that we can relate to. It hits a different timbre in you and attracts you in a different way. I believe it’s in a time right now when everything’s so big and over the top in a certain respect.
You still need that big, epic adventure, but you need grounding too. I think that’s what a lot of people were reacting to when they see the old school filmmakers. Maybe they might look at it and go, “Oh, a bunch of things blowing up and people flying around and whatever.” But again, it’s the format that they’re reacting to or seeing in a way. What it really comes down to is the story and the characters, obviously. That is something that I think Valiant will show on a next, deeper level.
DEADLINE: Do you see a difference between Marvel, DC and Valiant fans?
MINTZ: I’ll use an analogy between being a sports fan and a comic fan. If you’re a native New Yorker living in New York, you have to pick a sports team: the Mets or Yankees, the Giants or the Jets. But if you’re a native New Yorker living outside New York, you’re excited to watch any New York team that makes it on your local broadcast. Similarly, if you’re a comic fan, you’re excited to see all different types of comic IP on the big screen, because you love comics in general.”
DEADLINE: It’s clear that Valiant differentiates itself on the page, but how do you think audiences will respond to the VCU as it rolls out?
MINTZ: Honestly, man, we are the wrecking crew. It’s no disrespect to anybody else. They’re great and they’re going to continue to be great. Great is great, but there is a lot to explore in this. This is not about comic books being a single, one-note, one-trick pony.
I definitely believe that the reality is that this has already played out in the comic book space. So there’s always these data points to say that these things have been successful to this point. Again, we’re standing on the shoulders of giants, but disrupting. We are the wrecking crew — we are coming in and I think we’re going to make a difference. Not in the sense of being different just for the sake of being different, but because that’s what we do. We are the voice that we have and we are the characters that we have.
We have characters that, back then, weren’t in the front part of people’s thinking. It’s about being yourself when maybe it’s not the most popular time to be that, but you’re still doing that because that’s authentic to you. And when that time comes around, then it is your time — and it’s tough to copy. It’s like my old man — he used to wear the same jacket and I’d say, “When are you going to get a new jacket?” He says, “Don’t worry. This will come back in fashion.”