Now that I’ve finally finished my reviews of the various “Armor Hunters” trades, it seems like as good a time as any to offer up a retrospective on the event as a whole. For quick reference, here are the links for the reviews in case you want to catch up on any that you might have missed:
- Armor Hunters TPB review
- Armor Hunters: Bloodshot TPB review
- Armor Hunters: Harbinger TPB review
- (bonus) Unity vol. 3: Armor Hunters review
- (bonus)X-O Manowar vol. 7: Armor Hunters review
Those five trades represent a combined 19 issues (plus two redundantly-collected issues), which is easily Valiant’s largest undertaking to date. For this event, they opted to continue with the same format as Harbinger Wars, in which the main arc is written as a mini-series while leaving enough gaps in the story for the tie-in series to fill. Generally, this structure works well, because it is considerate to the reader; unlike crossovers in which the story moves from title to title (DC’s recent “Superman: Doomed” being an example), Armor Hunters only requires the reader to purchase the main title in addition to anything that they would otherwise buy (and, from a trade perspective, it makes for clean collections).
That said, it also creates a few problems. One is repetition, which, to its credit, there is very little of even in nineteen issues. Obviously, this is a testament to how well-coordinated Armor Hunters was. It was also impressive of each of the writers attempted to tell a full story in and of itself while still tying into the main narrative. Additionally, when “filling in the gaps,” it’s often difficult to simultaneously tell a complete story that stands on its own. The Harbinger Wars issues of Bloodshot were almost entirely dependent on having the main story. To their credit, almost all of the tie-in series did mostly stand on their own (with Unity being probably the least to do so, and Armor Hunters: Harbinger being the most complete story).
At its core, the story of Armor Hunters is common to superhero comics to the point of cliche: a group of aliens attack Earth, and the Earth’s heroes must unity in order to defeat them. It’s the kind of plot that the Big 2 churn out on an almost monthly basis; however, anyone fearing that it reads like another of those comics will be relieved to know that 1) the comic doesn’t begin with a superhero being murdered leading to a mystery as to who the killer is, and 2) it doesn’t involve time travel (seriously, if I read another Big 2 event or crossover that involves either of those, I just might kill someone).
Yet, in spite of its cliched plot, Armor Hunters is actually an excellent story. Since this is the first time that VEI has done this kind of storyline, it doesn’t feel worn out. More importantly, Venditti has carefully crafted an event which is the organic result of everything that had been written prior to Armor Hunters in X-O Manowar and Unity (which is made especially clear in X-O Manowar vol. 7). For instance, the story begins with the Armor Hunters attacking a Russian base which had attempted to recreate their own version of the Manowar armor based on reverse-engineering salvaged remains of the Vine fleet (thereby tying into X-O Manowar vol. 3 and Unity vol. 1). These are the kinds of small details which both make a event feel earned rather than dictated by editorial and reward the reader for having read past issues. Finally, one of the most important decisions was to contain Armor Hunters to a mere four issues (as well as an epilogue). One of the major failings of many crossovers and events is that they attempt to stretch too little story over too many issues, presumably to goose overall sales for the publisher. That Venditti and Valiant opted not to demonstrates their commitment to telling quality stories.
As for the tie-in’s, they work because each tried to expand on the main narrative while also doing something completely different from another; Armor Hunters: Harbinger gives a thoughtful take on disaster relief and shows what happens when ordinary people are thrust into positions of leadership. Unity shows Bloodshot and Livewire bonding over shared doubts of identity while Gilad and Ninjak continue their bromance. Bloodshot continues to serve pure action, and X-O Manowar gives the backstory for the antagonists. One of the primary complaints of event tie-ins’ is that they’re not “important” to the main story (or, more cynically, that they’re just attempting to cash-in on the name of the main story). All of these books, except for Harbinger which is “merely” satisfied with telling a good story, address that concern by expanding on the main narrative in interesting ways. It’s difficult for me to imagine any reader leaving these books feeling as if they had been duped into buying something that they wouldn’t have otherwise purchased.
With the exception of the second issue of Armor Hunters: Bloodshot and parts of Unity #11, the art overall for the crossover was excellent. While that’s not particularly surprisingly given the caliber of the artists involved, what was impressive is the way that each was carefully assigned to the titles that were most suited to their individual styles. Diego Bernard’s clean lines, for instance, are perfect for a science fiction story occurring in other parts of the galaxy. Meanwhile, Trevor Hairsine’s grittiness is an obvious fit for Armor Hunters: Bloodshot. This kind of consideration on the part of the Valiant editorial really demonstrates why the publisher has been so success in such a short period of time. As for which art was my personal favorite, if you were to press me, I would have to say that Robert Gill’s work on Armor Hunters: Harbinger was incredible. He’s definitely an artist to keep an eye on in the future.
I’ve really appreciated Valiant’s decision to collect the various tie-in’s separately, because it doesn’t force the reader to read anything that they wouldn’t otherwise want to (and I say this even as a person who bought them all). That said, it does create a bit of a headache in terms of reading. Essentially, any reader who wishes to read the issues in the order that they were published (what we would assume to be the “correct” reading order) has to constantly switch between trades. Fortunately, the deluxe hardcover is released in April, and it will collect all 19 issues in the proper reading order. For anyone too impatient to wait until then, the trade paperbacks are perfectly serviceable.
My only complaint with the collections is in regards to Armor Hunters: Bloodshot and Armor Hunters: Harbinger. As I mentioned my reviews, these story arcs were only 3 issues so Valiant opted to included previously-collected issues, Bloodshot #0 and Harbinger Wars #1 respectively, in order to bring the trades to four issues. Personally, I hate the practice of having issues collected redundantly, particularly because it means that I’m essentially paying for something that I already own. If there’s a similar situation in the future, I would much rather have the trades only contain three issues at a lower cost.
This was a fantastic story, and is especially impressive when you consider how vast an undertaking it was for a publisher that’s really only been in business for 2 years. Five out of five GIN-GRs’.
Originally from ValiantCentral.com