Are you looking forward to a new comic book but it’s impossible for you to wait for its release before you know what we thought about it? That’s why there’s DoomRocket’s Advanced Reviews—now we assess books you can’t even buy yet. This week: ‘The Forgotten Queen’ #1, out February 27 from Valiant.
THIS ADVANCE REVIEW OF ‘THE FORGOTTEN QUEEN’ #1 CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.
by Brendan Hodgdon. The revitalization of the Valiant Universe over the last decade or so has been a largely successful one, producing a solid and focused world with a hearty handful of distinct characters. Historically, the downside to such a small line of books is that many titles often felt dependent on the rest of the line to function. Many previous Valiant series only really worked when you’ve read the stories around them, which made them less fulfilling individually despite the obvious craft put into them.
Thankfully this is far from the case for The Forgotten Queen, the new miniseries from Tini Howard and Amilcar Pinna about the Valiant supervillain War Monger. Despite spinning directly out of the events of a story arc in Unity, Howard & Pinna have made sure to tell a tale that works independently of the surrounding universe, while also providing a compelling examination of the “villainous” figure at its center.
The issue sets up two parallel storylines. One takes place during the present day (continuing from the end of War Monger’s introductory story in Unity) as a group of undersea researchers come across her “final” resting place. The other flashes back to the days of Genghis Khan to explore the War Monger’s ancient origin. Between the two, the segments from the past are far more interesting and entertaining, as they actually examine War Monger (known as Vexana in this time) and her possibilities as such a character. The modern day segments, while most likely setting up what will be the bulk of the story going forward, so far only feature Vexana as a largely-unseen threat.
Whether you’ve read her previous appearances in the Valiant Universe or not, you’ll be hard-pressed not to love Vexana as rendered by Howard and Pinna. While the present-day half of her story feels detached from the rest of the proceedings, the character work being done in the flashback half is incredibly effective, and really elevates the issue as a whole. Howard gives Vexana an engaging, lively voice; lots of vulgarity and cocksure swagger to go along with her power, a real compelling sort of braggadocio. And the art is terrifically suited to both the character and her surroundings, as Pinna’s illustrations (and the accompanying colors by Ulises Arreola) capture not just the blast-furnace brutality of an ancient desert, but the vicious glee and lust that drives our protagonist.
The creative team’s success doesn’t simply come from a clear voice and identity, but from how their words and images contextualize Vexana in this story. Howard’s narration highlights a hollow loneliness at the core of the War Monger that her bloodlust can never fully assuage. Pinna’s rendition of her present-day return drives home the superhuman power and danger at hand. Perhaps the most telling storytelling choices from both writer and artist come right at the end of the issue, where they set up the emotional stakes of the story to come. In this low-key cliffhanger, Howard and Pinna tell us so much about Vexana’s heart and her desires, while avoiding pandering cheesecake imagery for male readership. They craft titillation to suit their protagonist, and to great effect.
The artwork is consistently solid throughout, though it definitely feels as though Pinna’s strengths are best served by the period elements of the tale. This is also true of Ulises Arreola’s color work, which is at its best when it comes to the reds and browns and oranges of the desert, and with Jeff Powell’s lettering, which gives the captions for the flashback warmer tones and languid italics compared to the harsh brightness and bold text found in the present-day sequences. While I wish the story was scaled a bit larger to better demonstrate Vexana’s martial prowess, the team can’t be faulted for wanting to keep the focus more intimate to better examine their protagonist. In this regard, it helps that Pinna does great character work, giving Vexana the energy of a shark in chum even in the parts of the book when she’s not actually underwater. Paired with Howard’s dialogue, it’s a charged and lively rendition of the character.
One of the great promises of any shared universe is the possibility of stories that benefit from the whole without completely relying on it. In The Forgotten Queen, Valiant has the beginnings of just such a story. Moreover, it’s a series that serves as a great showcase for both Tini Howard and Amilcar Pinna, not to mention its fearsomely cool antihero lead. This is definitely a title, and a creative team, worth remembering in the future.
Written by Tini Howard.
Art by Amilcar Pinna.
Colors by Ulises Arreola.
Letters by Jeff Powell.
8.5 out of 10
‘The Forgotten Queen’ #1 hits stores February 27.
Check out this 5-page preview of ‘The Forgotten Queen’ #1, courtesy of Valiant!
Cover A by Kano.
Cover B by Viktor Kalvachev.
Cover C by Veronica Fish.
Blank cover also available.