With the comics industry slowly returning from the pandemic, Brendan Allen and I are taking the opportunity to introduce each other to comics that the other might not have read. I’m more of a capes, laser guns and swords guy, while Brendan loves dark magic, criminals and things that go bump in the night. This week we visit one of the most significant relaunches in modern comics!
In 2012, Valiant Comics had been dormant for over a decade, but with new ownership these classic characters were returning to comics as Valiant Entertainment. The relaunch was missing the Gold Key Comics characters like Solar and Turok that had been core to the old Valiant, so the company needed to center its universe on characters it wholly owned. The first out of the gate was X-O Manowar, by Robert Vendetti, Cary Nord, Stefano Guadiano, Moose Bauman, and Dave Lanphear.
In 402 AD, Aric of Dacia was once one of the mightiest warriors of the Visigoth. However, a fateful encounter with an alien race called the Vine would forever change his destiny. It was the beginning of one of the greatest wars the universe had ever seen, and the origin of the hero who would become known as X-O MANOWAR.
Tony Thornley: I’m so glad I put this book into our line-up because I had truly forgotten how much I loved it. Valiant was functionally dead when this story started, and had been for years. Long enough that their successful return was a genuine surprise for many people. And while this isn’t my favorite of the four relaunch titles, it’s really close. That’s largely because of how strong this arc was out of the gate, and how solid it stayed through its entire run.
Brendan Allen: I’ve covered an arc or two of XO Manowar, but had never read this origin arc, or reboot origin arc, as it were. There’s a lot of great stuff here. The buildup of Aric as a badass warrior, the religious significance of the armor, the unresolved love story as his motivation… Solid storytelling.
TT: I really like the time that Vendetti took to build up Aric as our protagonist. The entire first issue is devoted to creating this battle hardened warrior, and making him a sympathetic character. We don’t even see the armor until the end of the first issue, and Aric doesn’t bond with it until the last few pages of the second.
I’ve often said that most of the Valiant characters are pastiches of other comic book icons. Bloodshot is a combination of Wolverine and the Punisher, Harbinger is X-Men if everyone was kind of a jerk, etc. But taking the time that he does with building up the character, Vendetti avoids the obvious pastiche that Aric is (Conan combined with Venom and Iron Man), and ensures he’s a fully formed protagonist.
BA: As many stories as have been told in comics, it’s really not possible to have a completely new character, is it? There are always going to be comparisons drawn, especially when you’re trying to draw your friends into your fandom by getting them to read that first book. Conan, with Venom and Iron Man? Okay, yeah, sure. The first Conan story was a rewrite of Kull. Tony Stark is modeled after Howard Hughes.
TT: Yeah, very true.
BA: That first chapter does a lot, not only to establish Aric’s background as a fierce warrior, but also to establish his character. The armor rejected every single applicant, until this dude rolled around. His motivation is never glory or riches. My man just wants to get home to his wife and live in peace, from the outset. First, defending his home against the Romans, and then again against the bug-things from outer space.
TT: Yeah, he really wants to beat the hell out of the Romans, but that’s because he’s defending his family and his people, not because he’s just looking for a fight. He wants to escape and get revenge on the Vine for the same reason. This is a driven man, not a mindless fighter. It’s really great character work.
BA: There’s a really cool dynamic with the Vine, too. They obviously don’t see themselves as aggressors. They’re perfectly justified, in their own logic, for every transgression against the humans. They’re the victims. Holy relic stolen. Must retrieve.
TT: I love the Vine as antagonists. They’re like the evil Star Trek races, but there’s this edge to them that you can’t get on network TV. I mean, they murder slaves, turn them into compost, AND THEN MAKE THE SURVIVING SLAVES WORK IN THE COMPOST ROOM. But like you said, they don’t see anything wrong with that. They’re the imperialists that don’t get why they’re not the good guys. That’s just scratching the surface too!
I also think they absolutely nailed putting together this art team as well. Nord started his career in cape comics, but he really made his name drawing the Dark Horse Comics Conan series. So he gets both sides of Aric, and puts it on the page. Guadiano has inked a lot of street level comics, so he knows how to add a bit of grit to the page, which is exactly what the story needs as Aric and his allies are enslaved on the Vine Colony ship.
BA: Ha! You already made the Conan comparison, and I was reluctant to mention it again, but the artwork does call back to Conan quite a bit. The love scenes that show just enough heat to make it interesting without getting gratuitous, the fight scenes, general layout and progression. Very Conan the Barbarian.
TT: Yeah, definitely. Then when he puts on the armor, it becomes very Iron Man, but because he’s a Visigoth warrior, he doesn’t fight like Stark, he fights and moves like a medieval warrior using this weapon.
This is another thing I like by the way. Valiant released their style guide a few years ago in regards to characterization. They specifically said X-O isn’t a primitive. He’s intelligent and cunning. Basically “don’t treat him like a caveman seeing fire for the first time.” That comes through on the page really well, both in the writing and art.
BA: Oh yeah, he immediately adapts. Oh, this thing shoots power blasts like that, cool, let’s do it again. He sees a new weapon, finds its abilities, and instantly sees the value in the hand-to-hand situation he’s currently engaged in.
TT: Exactly. One of my favorite things he does (which unfortunately doesn’t show up until the next arc) is figures out how to create an energy sword. And not like a lightsaber- it’s this crackling lightning sword, which is just awesome. But it’s this sign that he figures out how to do something familiar, but still evolves his tactics. Then that becomes his signature weapon, even as he uses the X-O armor’s other weapons.
BA: He’s got a Valofax? Sweet.
TT: Oh it’s really cool. It’s a broadsword made out of lightning. It’s just smart conceptually, and fantastic when put on the page.
So I think this is up there as one of the best reboots in comics. It gives the reader a great foundation for the character, concept, and the conflict moving forward. It also modernizes the concept without getting too cutesy (I’m looking at you Uncle Ben’s ponytail from Ultimate Spider-Man!) and still feels relatively timeless.
BA: If you hadn’t reminded me it’s a reboot, I would have forgotten. It’s damned good, and doesn’t take for granted that the reader would know anything about the character or this world going in.
TT: Yeah, it really just works, and it’s an extremely entertaining story to boot. So final verdict is a win?
BA: Yeah, I liked it a lot. This is definitely something I might go back and read at least the first two or three collected editions.
TT: Fantastic! So what are we reading next?
BA: I don’t know if anyone noticed, but we were originally going to do Coyotes last week, but it got bumped out to do Dead Inside. It’s up again, so next week we’ll dig into Coyotes Volume 1, by Sean Lewis and Caitlyn Yarksy. Southwestern werewolves and a badass teen female assassin. Creepy dolls and corrupt cops. Ultra-violent, and smart as hell.
TT: Awesome! That’ll be fun.
X-O Manowar Volume 1: By The Sword is available now from Valiant Entertainment.
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