by Robert Venditti, Rafa Sandoval

X-O Manowar #33 takes a small step back from the action to give us a look at Aric’s inner struggles and gives new readers a perfect jumping on point for Valiant’s flagship series.

The book begins with a flashback to Aric’s past as he and his best friend, Gafti, attack a group of Roman soldiers. The exploration of the dynamic between Aric and Gafti is quick and subtle, but even in those few pages, Venditti does a terrific job at establishing who these characters are, and how close their relationship is. Having known these characters for years, I could be a little biased, but they’re personal dynamic is clear – they would do anything for each other, and Aric, anything for his people. We also learn a bit about his personal relationship with his first wife, Deidre, who is just as tough and as great a warrior as he. The struggle that ensues is not only telling of the times Aric lived in, but also of the kind of people to whom he belongs.

The best part of this story is that this is not simply a story about Aric’s past, but is very important in understanding the present. The events in the first part of the book have already happened, but Aric is remembering them, reliving them even, through a sequences of dreams which most definitely are brought on by his connection to Shanhara, his armor. There are a few panels of Aric floating alongside his bed, unconsciousness and with his new wife Sanaa confused and worried about his behavior which are very touching.

The relationship between Aric and Shanhara has not been fully explored in this series, but after the revelations of Armor Hunters – that Shanhara is a living, thinking being – is sure to have lasting repercussions for Aric and serves as a great segue into the upcoming Dead Hand arc. The reintroduction of the Vine’s homeworld at the end of this issue has me excited not just about the return of the Vine, but just how interconnected every single issue and character in this book really is. Certainly says quite a bit about Venditti’s writing style and direction and why he is the longest running X-O Manowar writer to date.

Rafa Sandoval is on art duties for this one issue, no doubt to give Diego Bernard a little extra time to finish art duties on the next arc of the book. While we haven’t seen much from Sandoval at Valiant, you may remember his work from Harbinger: Omegas and it is really stunning. As much as I have enjoyed Bernard on this book, it was refreshing to have a new artist step in just for one issue and give us his interpretation of Aric and cast. Sandoval not only does a tremendous job in penciling very powerful action panels, but provides a great level of emotion to the facial expressions in each and every character. From the dark age pages to Aric in space, to the Vine’s homeworld, Sandoval shows that he has no problems tackling Aric’s universe. I cannot wait to see more interior work from Sandoval in the future.

Overall, X-O Manowar #33 serves as a great standalone story, with plenty of exposition for new readers, without tedious or repetitive information which might turn old readers off. The exploration of the subconscious connection between Aric and his suit was a great way to bring readers up to speed and has me excited to see what Venditti has in store for us next.

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