(Translation: Secret operations are essential in war; upon them the army relies to make its every move)
― Sun Tzu, The Art of War Chapter XIII, 6th century B.C.
X-O Manowar #45 presents readers with the third installment of writer Robert Venditti’s “The Kill List” story arc. It is a story that plays out like a political thriller with multiple factions fighting for control, and with espionage on both sides of the story. It is well-written, with an element of real-world applicability despite the title’s obvious science fiction setting. There are no punches pulled or any room for paper-tigers given. Shots are fired. Blood is spilled. This is war, and as all veterans of battle know, war never changes.
What is most interesting about X-O Manowar #45 is how Venditti’s story is multi-dimensional. Wars are seldom fought on a battlefield between two opposing armies volleying artillery at one another until one side wins. There are political, sociological, psychological, and logistical realities that are always in play. How victory is defined is potentially as important as how it is achieved. There are the hearts and minds of the people who must be considered, or such efforts at best become a Pyrrhic victory at best. Venditti understands these concepts, so his story reads quite well and with such additional nuances of emotional pressure, strategic risk, and objective commitment. Our hero can not simply shoot the bad guy and win. There is much more at stake and Venditti “gets it” clearly.
Artist Robert Gill provides a strong character focus while minimizing the use of landscapes or backgrounds. Rather, Gill has chosen to provide greater detail for each character insomuch as their movement and emotion. A number of pages showcase events that transpire in such a way that has previously been seen in the pages of Valiant Entertainment’s Imperium. Gill captures this in strong detail, which is completely golden in that it provides a level of continuity within the Valiant Universe and the helps to solidify the laws in which it functions. Gill’s pencils and inks have a comic book appearance of quality. Characters and setting appear as though they belong in a comic book, but are by no means cartoony; nor are they photo-realistic. They look great, and provide colorist Ulises Arreola a wonderful canvas to work with. Arreola’s colors take on three forms in this issue. The first is the early setting and background featuring appropriate earth-tones. The second is within the Vine collective consciousness where the color saturation shifts to a heavy used of blue and white with purple accents. The third is during key moments of action where there is no back ground, but rather shaded color that reflects the moment and places the attention on the character involved. Skin tones and hair color all appear natural, as do the Vine (as natural as they can appear, seeing that they are an alien race of course).
As this series heads towards its finale in X-O Manowar #50 later this year, Venditti is proving that he has more than one ace up his sleeve and an extra story to tell. This story is entertaining and engaging, and a solid read.