By Robert Venditti, Cary Nord, Trevor Hairsine and Moose Baumann
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Remember how Aric was just the teensiest bit upset about that whole enslavement-in-space-for-1600-years-so-that everything-he-ever-knew-and-loved-was-stripped-from-him-thing? Yeah, well volume 3 of X-O Manowar is titled “Planet Death”, so you can probably guess that he successfully gets that rage monkey off his holy-armored back. He doesn’t just get it off his back either; he grabs it by the throat and screams “where’s your God now?” before melting its face off. It is face-splittingly brutal, but ultimately Planet Death is about finding new life and, perhaps, a greater good. Or at least a good that’s greater than mass enslavement under an imperialistic banner of false pretense. Look, it’s all relative.
Where the previous installment was a little more grounded (or as grounded as a ninja team-up can possibly hope to be) Planet Death sends us hurtling back into the bloody cosmos. Aric takes his vendetta back to where it all began, slaking his bloodlust with the glory of vengeance against the Vine on their own flora-rich home world of Loam. But his primal nature is juxtaposed atop a conflicted society, one where the old teachings are at odds with the violent reality they find themselves participating in. While the selling-point of this volume may rest upon the shoulders of vehement fury, the most rewarding aspect is the continued development of the Vine culture. After the initial Hairsine penciled two-part prelude that soundly, and surprisingly quickly, lays waste to the perilous threat introduced in the previous chapter, Venditti and Nord present a charming and beautiful six page religious history of the Vine. It’s a great way to set the table for the events that follow, highlighting hypocrisies and validating motivations, but it also serves in making the Vine’s would-be messiah a gruesome figure.
Robert Venditti’s X-O Manowar doesn’t bask in the testosterone fueled gore, but very clearly portrays Aric as a warrior through and through. Venditti shows the headstrong choices he’s made and prices he’s paid for it, the pyres he’s lit far too many times, and will continue to pay for it. His entire raison d’etre since feeling the colony ship lo those many issues ago (back in #4, technically) has been to seek vengeance on those who hurt him. He’s had nothing else to live for and so driven has he been to spill their green-hued blood his endgame is nothing short of genocide. That’s a pretty harsh stance to give your book’s protagonist, but Venditti isn’t oblivious and very smartly throws a life re-affirming wrench into Aric’s plans. It’s a clever twist insomuch as it will force Aric to reevaluate his role and allow for growth, if not redemption. There is hope in what was a bleak world and an armor with a shell of a man inside. There’s a longer game at work here and up to this point it’s been expertly paced, though there’s something about the climax of this volume that just feels a little too clean. Not quite too easy, more like too quickly, but that’s likely the result of reading it all in one fell swoop as opposed to the forced tension of reading monthly installments.
Cary Nord, the series original artist, makes a glorious return to X-O Manowar, but not before Trevor Hairsine takes over art duties for the prelude chapters. Hairsine’s thinner line and darker style fit very well for tone and setting of the opening, wherein confronts the X-O Commandos. Which is when you’re not wearing anything under your battle suit (kidding!). Sketchier than Nord, Hairsine renders the skeletal Vine better than any other artist to date and the action flows together really well. Brian Reber provides colors and they’re appropriately moody with a lot of grays and washed-out colors. We’re on the city streets for most of the action and this art team dirties the page in just the right way.
Nord’s style lends itself to the more intimate moments, violent and serene alike, than it does to the wider shots. Much like in the first volume, the way Nord plays with shadow to reveal more detail, particularly facial features is excellent. Again, he gets to play architect to the Vine culture and the designs for their artillery, vehicles, native plants, buildings, etc. are all as captivating as ever. The praying mantis-like walking tanks are especially great, as is the creature design of quite a few new alien races introduced. Moose Baumann is back and once again his colors crackle over Nord’s pencils and inks, providing great energy to every limb-severing blow. There’s a real painterly hand to the blended colors on the surfaces and skies of Loam. Together, Nord and Baumann once again make the case for being the preeminent X-O team.
Planet Death certainly delivers all its title’s premise, albeit just a smidgen too neatly for something that has been building since the inaugural issue. There is also a gun left unfired that must have Chekhov rolling in his grave. Those are minor nitpicks though in what is yet again an immensely satisfying read that marches through the darkest trenches and sets its sights towards a brighter, promising future.
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