by Robert Venditti, Cary Nord, Stefano Gaudiano and Moose Baumann

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Prepare to have every expectation subverted. Ancient battlefields morph into sprawling expanses of space that are again brought thunderously back down to earth. One man’s passion for survival, for fighting for what are rightfully his are dimmed and lit aflame again. Swords break and missiles are fired and an ancient weapon stands tall above them all. This is a story that delights in steering you one way only to thrust you forward into an unforeseen abyss. In other words: it’s metal as hell. X-O Manowar volume 1 “By the Sword” is a resounding punch to the face announcing the triumphant return of Valiant Comics. Giddy up.

One would be remiss to judge this book by its glorious cover (courtesy of Esad Ribic and Cary Nord) and assume the contents therein held only galactic clashes between a hero and hordes of alien cannon fodder. Instead, Venditti crafts a centuries spanning narrative that focuses on the plight of one proud Visigoth being stripped of virtually everything he’s ever known, but refusing to ever give in. Aric of Dacia has seen his people slaughtered and the last vestiges of Visigoth ways of life torn asunder by the expansive Roman Empire. And he has had enough. Despite being heavily outmatched, he charges headfirst into conflict time and again because he refuses to go gently into that good night. During a failed attempt to rescue prisoners, among them his beloved, Aric falls victim to a truly disastrous case of mistaken identity as the Romans he so gallantly strikes down are revealed as yet another group Imperialist oppressors, the Vine. And that’s where the story takes its first magnificent U-turn, throwing the reader from ancient Rome into the bowels of colony ship. The story will continue to zig before you can zag, the titular and iconic suit of armor is revealed nearly halfway through for instance, but at its core the story is about survival and the costs of fighting for it.

Aric and his amazing technicolor dreamcoat of punishment
Aric and his amazing technicolor dreamcoat of punishment

What’s so successful about this reintroduction to Valiant’s armored hero is the density of the storytelling. This story arc never intentionally misleads or distracts, but it is richly layered. Robert Venditti and Cary Nord are world building on a tremendous scale in creating a fully realized alien culture. The Vine could have easily been one dimensional villains, but instead they are a multi-faceted race of individuals with nuanced belief systems. Nord’s splash of the prison garden aboard the Vine ship is awe-inspiring. Things like thorned living vines that serve as shackles and how corpses serve as compost to sacred plants are just an absolute delight and playfully hint at this complex alien society. Cary Nord is simply stellar with confident line work that plays with shadows to create pitch-perfect atmosphere. Characters are appropriately rough and action sequences, specifically those at night, convey honest desperation and brutality; inker Stefano Gaudiano is clearly working in lockstep with his penciler.  Moose Baumann provides colors that both sing and hum when needed; there’s a serenity to the bright daytime vistas and a turbulence to enclosed darkened spaces. Bauman’s colors on the Manowar suit itself are particularly well done, highlighting the sheen and sinewy nature of the protective weapon. The art rarely falters, save for one lull during a 3 pages long talking head sequence aboard the bridge of the colony ship in the fourth issue which is awash in reds and holds one perspective without variation for such a long sequence. It is the slightest blip in an otherwise perfectly executed collaboration between writer and artists. Venditti clearly has a plan for the long haul and delivers a perfect blend of intrigue and raw action in this first outing. This is a collection that reads much longer than its 112 printed pages, but still will leaving you starving for the next installment.

It’s easy to see why this was awarded flagship status for a rejuvenated Valiant; X-O Manowar is a tour de force that gleefully hops between genres. At times it’s The Walking Dead at others it’s Prophet and even has the essence of Captain America thrown in for good measure. Whatever it’s reminiscent of, be assured that it is uniquely its own entity and a blaring trumpet sounding the arrival of a relaunched universe of characters.

It's still better than the acid mines
It’s still better than the acid mines

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About The Author Former Contributor

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