Hunter Gorinson hosted Valiant’s X-O Manowar Panel at C2E2 in Chicago on Friday afternoon, and featured Robert Venditti, Fred Pierce, and Dinesh Shamdasani.
It’s the 25th anniversary of Valiant, but also of the character X-O Manowar, created in 1992.
Back in 1992, there were over 8 million comics sold for X-O Manowar. When the Valiant Universe launched, it had been launched with some characters from Gold Key, and they needed a brand new character, Fred Pierce said. They came up with a “barbarian in an Iron Man suit”. Bob Layton and Jim Shooter had both been at Marvel and were involved in the early days of Valiant. Some of the other early contributors included Barry Windsor-Smith, Joe Quesada.
When Robert Venditti was introduced to the Valiant characters, X-O stood out to him the most, since he likes to do things that are “different from things I’ve done before”, he said. It was a “perfect blend of historical and science fiction”, Venditti said. Seeing a Visigothic warrior, Aric of Dacia, abducted by an alien force, “The Vine”, then returned to earth to find that 1600 years have passed inspired Venditti. When he worked on it, he wanted to “examine the concept of heroism”. He sees that our notion of heroism has evolved over time, and wondering how we define things that are admirable or abhorrent. Aric didn’t get to evolve, and was from a more “brutal” time, so how does he begin to understand heroism these day, Venditti wondered.
Fred Pierce said that Aric is also “isolated” and has “lost his whole culture”, so how do you recreate that? People are always afraid of losing everything and becoming a stranger. At this point, everything Aric used to fight for is gone. How do you rebuild that? Pierce likened it to being an immigrant who has to “restructure” their life, but for Aric, he doesn’t have many options.
This time period is hard to pin down and know historically, Venditti said. There weren’t many visigothic towns that have been located or excavated, even. All Aric would find now would be a few artifacts in a museum to represent his past, which is impactful for readers. Pierce said that Aric has to fall back on his core values, and is totally “alienated”, someone who has nothing to lose, but also nothing to respect.
Gorinson said that when they came into the Valiant offices in 2010-2011, they had to decide who to focus on, and they chose X-O Manowar. He asked the panelists why they chose him. Shamdasani said it was the strength of the origin story. Venditti said that though his book came out first, other books were being planned at the same time, and that Valiant had to teach him a lot about working on monthly comics.
Shamdasani reflected that back in the day, Acclaim launched with X-O Manowar and it was considered a mistake since it went badly. But it was still true that they wanted to launch a “grounded” character you could start in the 4th century, a grounded time that’s not entirely fantasy, was important. It could be a “non superhero universe and still launch it in the same way”, Shamdasani said. It was something that differentiated Valiant from the Marvel or DC Universes.
Venditti said that the fact it was such distant history, he felt that he had to try to figure out how to give readers a sense of the time he came from, all that he had lost, and then put him in the suit of armor. It was a 29 page book just to fit it in. There was a double-page spread that was cut from the book, but it was thrown out and redrawn, the panelists recalled.
Pierce said that there were groups of Valiant fans among retailers and publishers, and what Venditti and others did so well is that they didn’t just “recreate” a 20 years ago, but stripped him down to his basics, and created him anew. Pierce was actually threatened by an army ranger fan if it wasn’t “as good” as the original when X-O first appeared. Pierce said that when you read the story, you will recognize X-O, but it’s a different X-O. And they’ve taken that same principle and applied it to their other legacy characters as well.
They wanted to create as strong a platform as you’ll see in any intellectual property today, and Venditti broke it down and then built it up again to make the “basis of the character”.
Gorinson said that when they saw the first costume re-design for X-O, it really spoke to the vision they had for the future. There were about 60 different designs, and three or four months designing the character. Gorinson asked what it was that made it such an important, lengthy process.
Shamdasani said they were “building the look of the Valiant Universe“, not just X-O. They asked, “how do you launch a universe?” The way to do it was to look at the smallest, first component and build from there, Shamdasani said. The final design ended up on the cover of their Free Comic Book Day issue.
Weaponry was also an issue, and it was editor Warren Simons who suggested they bring the sword back. They knew they’d done well when a blog called “Gutters” picked up on their FCBD image, with Spider-Man, Aquaman, and X-O making fun of the “lightning sword” as not being “relevant”. They were delighted by it.
Venditti recalled deciding to have Aric’s hand cut off, and how momentous that was for future issues. Now in the new series, you see that on the issue. Big companies are afraid of “changing the characters” because they are afraid that fans won’t like the characters any more, but Valiant don’t like that approach, according to Shamdasani. To live in one way for thirty years wouldn’t be good for the character, he added.
Looking back now, there are 13 volumes of X-O Manowar, and Robert Venditti has written more than any other person on that character. Venditti likes things the most that other people don’t notice. One of the things he liked was after Armor Hunters, there’s a moment where Aric thinks it’s “all over” and lies down on the grass, with the sun on his face. Then the grass starts moving, and an air craft appears. The idea that he only had peace for one panel was one of Venditti’s favorite moments.
Fred Pierce’s favorite moment was when Aric gave up his armor to a friend who would die without it. He’s so strong as an individual that he’s able to give it up, Pierce said. There’s “truth in the character”, and he didn’t know if he’d get the armor back, but he gave it up anyway.
Venditti said there are lots of loose threads that he could pick up on and finish someday, or others working with the character. But not Matt Kindt, who has flushed his work down the toilet, Venditti laughed. Then assured he was joking, and said he’s “super proud” of Matt Kindt.
Gorinson turned to their “highest selling independent comic book of the year” at 90,000 copies, the new X-O Manowar, by Matt Kindt and Tomas Giorello.
The new arc for the 25th anniversary needed to “honor” what had come before, Gorinson said. Shamdasani said the character was “custom built” to be “out in the cosmos”, and then they started to tease a lot of cosmic stuff leading up to it.
Then, in the new series, it’s a jumping on point, seeing Aric on an alien world, just living as a farmer now. This planet was in the midst of a civil war. Aric is conscripted into an army, and it leads to a “massive action-packed book”. Kindt constructs something “the size of the battle of Normandy” but set on a cliff-face, with things falling all around, Shamdasani said.
It’s a “non-stop freight train”, Gorinson said. Issue #2 comes out next week, and will feature another massive battle, this time subterranean. There’s a hidden reason why Aric won’t use the armor, and we don’t know what it is, but it’ll be revealed in time and startle everyone. The armor is “sentient”, Pierce reminded, and that’s going to be explored here. Aric has a love-hate relationship with the armor, and here a hate-hate relationship. There are “unknowns” about how Aric and the armor relate that are eerie, a little “Twin Peaksy”, Gorinson said.
The audience was shown some of the designs by Matt Kindt and Tomas Giorello to create a world from “scratch”. It’s a little dirty, steam-punk, fantasy, Aztec, and many other things, Gorinson said.
Shamdasani said that they are already working on issue #15, where Aric has moved up through the ranks to Emperor and some bounty hunters turn up, as revealed at the Valiant Summit 2017.
At issue #10 there’s an “interlude” called “Bounty Hunters”, with art by Mico Suayan, coming up in December 2017, Gorinson reminded. It’s a standalone “jumping on point” for readers. It’s going to introduce some new characters into the Valiant Universe.
Shamdasani also teased that things are “building up” to something very large after the Visigoth arc. Pierce added that when there’s this kind of build up, you know that you have to deliver, and they’ve put that kind of attention into X-O Manowar. They even created “X-O Manowar Wednesday” for the 4th Wednesday of each month, anchoring all their titles to X-O Manowar. Alongside those issues, each time, there will also be a new #1 launched in the Valiant Universe.
Another incentive that launched with the new X-O Manowar were the pre-order bundles that included extra material, which they are bringing back for issues 4-9. If you pre-order the bundle of issues for normal price, then you get the special copies with extra pages. The new bundle can be ordered until April 27th, 2017. These will include a “deleted scene” in this bundle.
There’s also a pre-order bundle coming up for Secret Weapons #1, 2, 3, 4, which can also be ordered by April 27th.
The second printing of X-O Manowar #1 will also be arriving next week.
The new X-O Manowar was the first in the “Icons” incentive going throughout the year, and the same attention is going to be given for Faith, Bloodshot, and more, as they have recently announced at the Valiant Summit 2017.
Also, remember that Chicago is brewing X-O Manowar Galactic Ale, launching tonight in town at C2E2 to benefit the charity Hope for the Day.