By Robert Venditti, Amy Chu, and Jody Houser; J.G. Jones, Pere Perez, Mike McKone, Adam Gorham, and Roberto De La Torre; Matt Hollingsworth, David Baron, Jeromy Cox, Andrew Dalhouse, and Dean White
The X-O Manowar Annual 2016 #1 is worthy of the fans’ love. Expanding on our knowledge and understanding of the X-O storyline, it makes connections to the larger Valiant Universe and keeps readers thoroughly engrossed.
The annual is comprised of short stories that expand our familiarity with, and add depth to, the characters and events directly related to Aric of Dacia, X-O Manowar. The pleasant surprise is that while this is an X-O book, its sole focus isn’t on Aric. Instead, readers are treated to multiple viewpoints, and each of these stories has its own value. Absolutely none of it reads like filler.
The composition of the book is done smartly, presented to readers as “chapters.” We are treated to a prologue, three individual chapters, and an epilogue. The prologue succinctly and clearly explains the origin of X-O Manowar – a must for new readers. Plus, it’s short enough that there isn’t too much redundancy for those well-versed in the lore. It is a good lead-in for the first “chapter” of the annual, Robert Venditti’s “Heritage.” Venditti, for those of you new to this series, has been the writer of X-O since its launch in 2012.
“Heritage” has a charm all its own. Set during Aric’s youth, the story provides a history lesson and a deeper look into the psyche of Aric. It’s the type of feature that creates empathy and gives the reader insight into Aric’s attitudes and decisions as an adult. Valiant is rapidly approaching X-O’s 50th issue, and it is noteworthy that during the run, Aric’s character has undergone personal growth and change, just as any real person would. It’s a refreshing change to see the publisher allow a character to change without losing sight of who he is at his core.
Chapters Two and Three, written by Amy Chu and Jody Houser respectively, explore the wider X-O universe. Both stories take place in the recent past. Chu’s piece centers on Colonel Capshaw, a frequently used character in the X-O storyline. Capshaw has been a capable figure, but one that hasn’t been explored much until now. Chu gives us an intriguing storyline and leaves us with an unsolved mystery, opening up the possibility for more on this topic. This is definitely a character with potential, and Chu once again hits the mark in her portrayal of a strong female.
Houser’s chapter, entitled “Taking a Meeting” connects X-O’s Vine leader Trill to the Faith miniseries. Houser did a fine job, proving that she has the chops to write in a markedly different voice than that of Faith. One of the satisfying features of this piece was the solid connection made between these two books. It gives credence to the events in Faith while explaining Trill’s movements.
The final story, simply entitled “Epilogue,” was also written by Venditti. A tale of the Vine’s past, it points us to the future and prepares readers for the events in the upcoming X-O #47. That confrontation promises to be spectacular as Aric faces the arrival of The Torment – beings that enslaved and nearly decimated the early Vine. Their defeat, at the hands of the sacred X-O armor, is legend and a religion unto itself to the Vine. Most fans likely believed that this story of the great oppressors, The Torment, was merely a fable. Now we are seeing the seeds that Venditti planted long ago come to fruition.
As with the writers, a large roster of artists created this book. J.G. Jones, Pere Perez, Mike McKone, Adam Gorham, and Roberto De La Torre provided pencils and inks. While each artist has their own recognizable style, these unique creations worked well together as a whole. The shift in style served as a cue that a new chapter was beginning, making it easy for the reader to mentally transition. Valiant did an excellent job of pairing artist to story, playing on the strengths of each. Several fan favorites are represented, including Perez, Gorham, and De La Torre as well as J.G. Jones and Mike McKone, who are new to Valiant but not to the industry. These shorter stories are a smooth way to introduce fans to their storytelling talents.
The colorists changed with each section of the book as well. Here, as with the artists, are several creators new to Valiant along with long-time contributors. Matt Hollingsworth, David Baron, Jeromy Cox, Andrew Dalhouse, and Dean White each performed coloring duties. Readers will appreciate the cohesiveness of their work. There are subtle differences among their work, but the palette had enough consistencies to make the stories complementary.
The X-O Manowar Annual 2016 #1 should be on your short list this week. Solid, entertaining, and well-executed, this annual is a good expansion upon the X-O lore.