I showed up pretty late to the Valiant relaunch party, but it was impossible to ignore the hype surrounding the company. I’ve heard almost nothing but great things about their amazing titles from Bloodshot to Harbinger. X-O Manowar, Valiant’s flagship title and their first relaunched release, caught my attention and I resolved to buy the first trade paperback upon release. Though Shadowman is the only Valiant series I’ve read so far, I went in with high hopes for X-O. Without further ado, it’s time to look at X-O Manowar Volume 1: By the Sword.
X-O Manowar follows Aric of Dacia, a Visigoth warrior and enemy of the Roman Empire. Aric’s forces lose a battle against a superior Roman force and most of their families are captured as slaves. Soon, one of Aric’s trackers arrives believing he’s found a group of Romans, who are really a group of aliens known as The Vine. Despite a valiant effort by the Visigoths, most are slain or subdued; those that are spared are taken aboard the Vine ship and become slaves. Aric refuses to be kept down and spends years planning an escape, a mission that will change his life forever as he gains control of the sacred Manowar armor.
Our story is courtesy of writer Robert Venditti. The best thing he does is make us care about Aric’s struggle: we’re instantly taken in by this underdog who’s willing to attack Romans and aliens wielding laser guns and mechs, with nothing but his sword and his courage. We see Aric is a man who’d sacrifice everything for his homeland and his family, and it’s hard not to root for him on each page. I also think this is a pretty cool way to approach a “man out of time” story; I hate to make the comparison, but in general Captain America is the most famous character associated with this trope. Aric, however, faces an even wilder change as he’s missed sixteen centuries of history when he finally returns to Earth. Venditti gives us somne excellent scenes as Aric arrives in modern Rome, at first thinking he’s witnessing the Empire’s power only to realize that the world has moved on without him and his ancient enemies are nothing but dust.
The writing, however, isn’t perfect. I really wish we could’ve seen a few more scenes of Aric with his family, and perhaps see more characterization for his comrades. I’m guessing the series is attempting to establish Aric as a loner-hero, but I think his initial persona as a man who cares about his fellow Visigoths, and later humans in general, should’ve been explored more through his interaction with others. Perhaps overcoming his new loner tendencies will be explored in future story arcs, since I know he has an upcoming team-up with Ninjak.
Artist Cary Nord’s pencils form X-O’s focal point. His character models are fairly strong. As befits this sort of series, the battle scenes are exciting and wild; it’s pretty cool to see sword-wielding Visigoth warriors assaulting Vine troops armed with advanced technology. The drawings of The Vine themselves and their ships are quite good as well. I think Nord’s biggest downfall is the faces of his characters: there’s little variation between the human faces and their expressions are flat most times. Colorist Moose Baumann brings the art up to a higher standard with his muted palette in the earlier sections which gives way to brighter shades upon Aric’s arrival in the modern era. Setfano Gaudiano’s inking is similarly good and helps bring the artwork to a higher standard. Overall, I think the art is quite good.
X-O Manowar Volume 1: By The Sword is definitely an entertaining collection of comics. Though it’s only my second foray into the Valiant Universe I’m definitely feeling more connected to this continuity already. I think everyone should give this series a chance: I’m definitely glad I picked it up. The fusion of medieval action and science fiction is unlike any comic or graphic novel I’ve ever seen, so that alone sets this title apart. Additionally, this volume bears a low price tag of $9.99 and is thus a cheap place to start. The volume also includes a cool introduction and some alternate covers in the back, which are a nice bonus.
-enjoyable plotline set in multiple periods of time
-Aric, the protagonist, is instantly likable
-art is good overall
-secondary characters receive little to no characterization
-characters’ faces and facial expressions are fairly similar
Brett Simon is a twenty-three year old comic enthusiast. Thanks to X-O Manowar he’s got high hopes for when Venditti takes over Demon Knights next month.
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