It’s entirely possible that you missed the news on Monday that DMG bought the comic book company Valiant Entertainment, so the odds are that you also don’t know what a shame this ultimately is. Essentially, what started out as an interesting reclamation project about 12 years ago had become one of the comic industry’s best success stories in recent years, and now it’s poised to fall apart because the people who bought it may not understand what, exactly, they have. Allow me to explain…
Back in 1989, an industry legend named Jim Shooter started Valiant, introducing an enormous number of characters and earning thousands of fans who found them to be a satisfying alternative to the Big Two of Marvel and DC. This was during the rise of the indie publishers, right before the industry bubble burst in the mid-’90s. The company was bought in 1994 by Acclaim Entertainment, which ran the comics division into the ground before itself declaring bankruptcy in 2004. One year later, a group led by Dinesh Shamdasani stepped in and bought the remnants.
It took until 2012 for the first new batch of comics to be published, but the revamping of old characters was an immediate hit, especially since the company kept itself small, focusing on a limited number of titles each month and hiring strong creators, both established and up-and-coming. In 2015, DMG bought a minority stake in the company (which soon grew to a majority stake), but did so without any editorial control, which is an important detail to which we will return shortly, but first, a few more basic facts.
While other independent publishers moved more books, none of them averaged more sales per book than Valiant, technically making it the number-three publisher in the entire medium. More than that, the high quality across the entire line helped to further set Valiant apart from everyone else. That, in fact, was the company’s biggest draw — it was so focused on six or eight or 10 titles at a given time (as opposed to the literally dozens that other companies put out each month) that fans had no choice but to read most, if not all of them, and their devotion only grew.
The popularity of the various characters led to an output deal with Sony Pictures, which now has two films in active development — Bloodshot, which will go before the cameras this year and star Vin Diesel, and Harbinger, which is still casting — as well as a TV series based on the action-comedy team of Quantum and Woody, which will be overseen by Avengers: Infinity War directors Joe and Anthony Russo. Other characters caught Hollywood’s eye, but all of those projects in development were secondary to the comic books that spawned them. In taking a page from the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s model for success and respecting the fans by respecting the source material, Valiant continued to grow, and seemed on the verge of becoming a major player — not just in comics, but in film and television as well.
But here’s why that momentum is likely to slow now that DMG has taken over: Dan Mintz, the owner of DMG, has no interest in comic book publishing. He sees it as a sort of ghetto art, and is focused solely on turning the company into an output factory for the big and small screens, rather than focusing on the publishing entity that gave the company its value in the first place. Don’t take my word for it, either. Mintz said as much himself in an interview he gave to the Hollywood Reporter earlier this week, in which he not only said, “I am not looking on expanding from a publishing standpoint but from a motion picture standpoint,” but he also said, “You can expect more strong storytelling with a defined road to other platforms. I’m also looking forward to bringing the writers close to the filmmaking process, which is something that is also important, and not keeping them siloed into the comic book area.”
If the meaning there isn’t clear, I’ll translate: He’s not going to put too much energy into the publishing side of the business because it’s not terribly important, and what attention he does pay it will go towards creating content for the specific purpose of adaptation. In other words, forget quality control — this is, in its simplest form, a purely and utterly mercenary attitude towards creation, with no interest at all in pleasing fans or continuing to cultivate critical approval. Instead, it’s a straight cash grab. Now, as an avowed capitalist, I have no problem with that on its surface, but when the intention to make money comes at the expense of the source material with which one is attempting to grab said dollars, thereby hurting the underlying quality and chasing away fans in the process, that doesn’t seem like a terribly intelligent way to do business.
Of course, this misguided thinking about how to handle one’s properties goes hand-in-hand with an operation that doesn’t even understand the investment it’s making when it first buys into a company. In 2015, when DMG made that major investment in Valiant, it eventually bought out other investors in an attempt to take over, ending up with 57 percent of the company, even though it didn’t actually get creative control in the process. This fine print in the contract was something that was missed by the DMG team, and led to a humiliating smackdown in the one and only board meeting it had with the Valiant people, right after the investment was finalized. Mintz and his team went in and started talking about the changes they wanted to make, only to find themselves running face-first into a brick wall when that fine print was shown to them. From there, it was apparently only a matter of time before this move, which DMG had the contractual right to make, would happen. When it finally did, CEO Shamdasani was forced to resign, getting a sizable buyout in the process.
Full disclosure, I have written about Valiant a couple times in the past year, and so I have a fair amount of familiarity with both the company and with Shamdasani, though he wouldn’t talk to me specifically for this column. I asked, but honestly, I didn’t need him to do so, because I already knew the background from previous conversations with Valiant personnel, and the new stuff is, as noted, out there for all to see. But there’s even more, which only adds to the intrigue.
Mintz’s company is essentially Chinese money, and he used that money to make an investment in several Hollywood movies (the biggest being Iron Man 3 and Looper), as well as to act as the key connection needed by some American films to get into the crucial Chinese market. That would, to most people, label him as a financier, which would be appropriate, especially because he’s the first American to take a company public in China. And yet, in the press release announcing the deal, he was referred to as a “filmmaker,” which some found odd because, while he has directed a couple of features, neither of them have ever been distributed in the U.S. That doesn’t disqualify him from the title, obviously, but it does seem strange that this would be the part of his career that would be stressed, rather than the clear financial success he has achieved.
Ultimately, none of this week’s news seems too good for Valiant fans, and that’s the real crime. Highly-respected creators like Oscar-nominated writer Eric Heisserer are already abandoning ship, or planning to, and thousands of fans reacted on social media sounding alarmingly like Chicken Little, convinced that the sky is falling. Sadly, Mintz and his team have yet to give them, or any of us, good reason to think different.