Confession time: I'd never read a Valiant Comic title before I picked up the first two issues of the Book of Death crossover event series. At first brush, it struck me as a Marvel/DC wannabe, a shared superhero universe trying to emulate the successes of the big guys.

Then I actually read it, and discovered an instantly engaging, intriguing world full of unique characters. It hinges around the "Geomancer," a once-in-a-generation chosen one who protects the Earth in a symbiotic relationship. A Geomancer can control things like animals, plant life, weather and so on. There's a great deal more to Valiant Comics, including many heroes that have no connection to the Geomancer mythology at all, but the Geomancer and all the magic power connected to him or her is at the core of this entire universe.

Book of Death poses the fascinating question: What if the next chosen one was found by the forces of darkness — before the good guys could reach him? What if this innocent soul was corrupted and caused a terrifying future?

Robert Gill and Doug Braithwaite do an admirable job on the book's art, though there's nothing all that special about it. They seem capable of only two or three basic facial expressions, their favorite being I'm-gritting-my-teeth-and-I'm-angry-about-it determination.

But a big fight unfolds in issue #2, and fortunately, this battle gives the artists a chance to shine, depicting unapologetically brutal blows that convey the reality of superpowered titans in hard-hitting conflict. This is where the art finally comes alive with passion and purpose. On the other hand, the colors are a little too vivid, like an over-saturated photo. At times they approach neon levels.

Robert Venditti's story is by far the most compelling aspect of Book of Death, particularly when we get to see glimpses of a dark future to come. Is this future avoidable? Or is time a fixed constant? At the pace this story is unfolding, that question is unlikely to be answered by the end of this four-issue mini.

But your enjoyment of issue #2 will hinge on whether you like stories in which heroes fight other heroes instead of the bad guys. Is it a time-honored tradition of portraying differences of opinion on a magnified scale? Or a frustratingly barbaric example of superheroes failing to live up to the ideals they stand for?

That's for you to decide. Either way, with issue #2, Book of Death is turning out to be a perfect jumping-on point for the Valiant universe. It's already got me interested in picking up other Valiant titles.







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