For a Valiant Cinematic Universe to Succeed, They Need a Little Faith (Herbert)

Harbinger Faith 0, Valiant Entertainment 2014

The superhero tide isn’t ebbing any time soon. Year after year, we see new adaptations of comic book properties arrive on every screen we have access to. From familiar names to relative unknowns, viewers are being bombarded by some new hyper-powered being or other. Valiant entered the game this March with their live-action adaptation of Bloodshot. Starring Vin Diesel as the titular anti-hero, the film has received middling reviews.

As a society, there is a need for hope, especially in the current climate we live in. Hope for many of us comes in the form of escapist entertainment, such as superhero fare. But why do so many of our heroes look alike? Not literally, of course, but the general aesthetic of an actor playing a superhero is the same. We still veer towards the muscular man that exudes an archaic sense of masculinity – Bloodshot doubled-down on that trope. Women, on the other hand, are the slender definition of femininity but can pack a punch. The only female character of note in Bloodshot epitomized this tradition. There is nothing wrong with either of these looks. The problem lies in that being the only look that a superhero should have.

Despite the lukewarm response to Bloodshot, lead actor Vin Diesel is keen for the film to launch a Valiant Cinematic Universe. Expansive universes have become the determining factor for many franchises but Valiant has more than just the character roster to make it possible.

Valiant has an ace up its sleeve that its big-name comic book competitors do not—a plus-size superhero who has headlined her own series. Neither DC Comics nor Marvel has ever introduced such a character, and no, Thor’s transformation in Avengers: Endgame doesn’t count. Thor’s weight gain was written for shock and laughs, and he was played by the muscular Chris Hemsworth, who wore a fat suit. Thor is treated poorly by his fellow Avengers, suggesting to viewers that if you bumped into Rocket Raccoon and Tony Stark in real life, they’d mock you for your size. That’s not the kind of representation all plus-size viewers are looking for.

Chris Hemsworth wields his ax and hammer as Thor

So far, the only plus-size characters we’ve seen in superhero films have been Jacob Batalon’s Ned Leeds in the Marvel Cinematic Universe Spider-Man films, and Julian Dennison’s Firefist in Deadpool 2. We also briefly saw Etta Candy (Lucy Davis) appear in Wonder Woman. Somehow, fat-rep on the small screen is even worse.

Long before Bloodshot was even mentioned, Faith ‘Zephyr’ Herbert was supposed to make her way to the big screen. Faith, who debuted in the Harbinger comic series that introduced the characters of the Valiant Universe, is a psiot with the ability to fly, hence her codename Zephyr. Her telekinetic powers can be moulded into a ‘companion field’ to engulf her allies, making Faith a hero of action and protection.

Like many superheroes before her, Faith lost her parents in an accident when she was a child. Raised by her grandmother, Faith escaped into the world of pop culture that her parents had introduced her to. Reading Faith is like looking in a mirror – she is a geek like the very fans reading her books.

Faith’s greatest desire was always to be a hero and she grabs the opportunity to unlock her psiot powers at the Harbinger Foundation, despite the possible risk to her life. She comes out unscathed and immediately strives to save people. She does all this while being fat and never doubting her abilities because of it. It’s who she is; Faith doesn’t have to think about her size every second she’s alive.

Faith #1 by Jody Houser (W), Francis Portela (A), Marguerite Sauvage (A), Jelena Kevic-Djurdjevic (C); Valiant Entertainment (2015)

Faith becomes involved in a rebel group of psiots called the Renegades. Led by Peter Stanchek, an extremely powerful telepath, Stanchek’s fight is with the big bad of Valiant Comics – Toyo Harada. Stanchek builds a team of his own, which includes two blond jocks, the smart girl, the sexy girl and a woman of colour. And then there’s Faith. Faith’s effervescence stands out even more than her non-conforming shape. The characters, for the most part, do not fat-shame Faith, though there are certainly a few cringe-worthy moments. Faith is allowed to be a hero irrespective of her size.

Where the Harbinger series failed Faith was in the creators’ insistence on subjecting her to an uncomfortable romance with one of the most misogynistic characters out there. Torque (John Torkelson) is a disabled boy whose psiot powers give him superhuman abilities. Since most pop culture creators struggle with creating believable disabled characters, John has a hard shell that allows him to visualize his dream version of himself. John has no personality aside from dreaming of being surrounded by conventionally attractive women. This was the early 2010s and the Torque form designed by series creators Joshua Dysart and Khari Evans embodies the quintessential look of the masculine superhero, which was a good enough reason for the creative team to pair Faith and him together.

It’s no wonder that the moment Faith got her own solo series, Faith: Hollywood and Vine, in 2016, writer Jody Houser broke the pair up and showed Torque for who he really is, a shallow cad who didn’t deserve a kind heart like Faith.

Houser’s comic was many people’s—including mine—introduction to Faith. Up till that point, few of us had seen a fat character lovingly illustrated on a mainstream comic book cover. On the cover, Faith is content and defying the odds by perching on a couple of thin cables. She is unashamed to be where she is and that’s what will make you fall in love with her. It certainly worked on me.

The first Faith volume was a masterpiece in navigating life as a fat person without making the entire story about being a fat person. Faith is aware of her uniqueness but, like most people in real life, she doesn’t have time to get bogged down by it. There’s too much to do in a day, including holding down a day job as a columnist in disguise and moonlighting as a superhero. Subsequent volumes featuring the character saw her become the rightful protector of Los Angeles.

Faith hasn’t had a long-running solo comic series. And, in the past two years, she’s only featured in one limited series. Valiant knows she’s hot property but can’t seem to give her a launching pad. Faith is a game-changer if written correctly. Female characters in comics are rarely written well, forget one that doesn’t fit the norm. Why should that be? We’ve been asking that question since time immemorial.

Imagine seeing a character like Faith on the big screen? Living life to the fullest; being visible! Valiant would have a golden egg on their hands, but only if they cast a plus-size actor. Hollywood tends to shy away from casting fat actors as fat characters – just look at Leah Burke in Love, Simon and Art3mis in Ready Player One.

Unlike most other Valiant properties, Faith’s stories are bright and cheery. She’s a vivacious character who is quick-witted and never too far from a geeky reference. If there’s darkness in a Faith story line, it’s of the emotional and psychological kind. You won’t see copious amounts of blood, violence and luridness around her. All of which contrasts with the aesthetic of Bloodshot.

If Valiant chose Faith and eschewed the gore for her film (because it simply wouldn’t fit the tone of her film), everything they imagine they’ll lose in gritty fanboys, they would gain in the hoards of underrepresented women flocking to see the film. Pop culture would make you believe that a fat woman is non-existent at best and beneath contempt at worst. She’s real and part of everyday life and she’s been looking for someone on screen to shout it out to those in the back.