Valen the Outcast #1 Review

Originally titled simply Outcast, this new series debut is only $1, and do you ever get a lot of bang for that buck! Hyped as “undead Conan,” this new BOOM! Studios title written by Michael Alan Nelson with art by Matteo Scalera (Deadpool) lives up to that cool description with a rousing tale, and a fair bit of bloodshed.

Things kick off with King Valen Brand of Oakhaven as the last man standing of his armies, being captured by his enemy, the necromancer Korrus Null who tells the defeated ruler that he doesn’t want his kingdom, but “something else entirely.”

Flashing forward Valen is alive and well (sort of) and has just received a magic tattoo from the lovely Zjanna who is none too supportive of his death wish to reclaim what was once his. Through the next few pages we learn that Valen is indeed a member of the living dead and just wants his soul back.

It’s obvious Nelson is having a ball here, with a daring tale to be told and lively characters thrown together. I even noticed a subtle Star Wars, and Aliens, reference. Seeking the shifty Alexio Cordovan out from a rowdy tavern to be his guide through the dangers of Wraithendal, the pair aren’t off to a great start, but Valen finds an opportunist who gives him what he’s after and leads him to well, danger.

An unlikely fellowship is forged and the adventure begins, though Null has a surprising secret weapon.

Nelson does well to not cram in a lot of mythology and background information of the main cast. It’s done organically through the entertaining story. We have the comedic character, the sexy character and Valen, the outcast in every sense of the word. Having a murdered king who is now living and feared by the people he once ruled, and soldiers he once fought beside, is a great idea and gives a real emotional weight to Valen’s noble, though dangerous, quest. He’s a typical ruler, but also a man of quiet focus and inner conflict, willing to make the most of his current existence.

This is a great example of how to craft a premiere issue of a new series. It’s easy to follow, with enough hooks to grab the reader and bring them back for the second issue. It did take some digging, but apparently this is an ongoing series, rather than BOOM!’s typical mini-series, but this concept is certainly strong enough to live up to that scope.

Nelson is one of comics’ most underrated writers, who is consistently entertaining, as he’s proven with 28 Days Later, Hawks of Outremer and many other series, including one of my faves – Hexed. In fact, he’s been responsible for a lot of BOOM!’s output in the last few years.

Scalera’s art is dynamic and expressive, especially during the well realised battles, and although the background details aren’t ornate, he fills this fantasy world with great costume design and manages to make the tavern, the forest and the village square all retain the look of the sword and sorcery setting. Archie van Buren’s colours bring much life and intensity when needed too, particularly during Zjanna’s hectic fight with a few of Null’s soldiers.

At only $1, you’d be wise to pick this great action packed fantasy debut up.