By Matt Kindt, Tomas Giorello, David Mack, Zu Orzu, Diego Rodriguez
The final chapter in the “Soldier” arc comes to a close with this tale of a monumental battle and an even grander man.
X-O Manowar relaunched recently after having undergone some major changes. Aric of Dacia is still bearer of the X-O armor, but for reasons that have yet to be revealed, he is no longer on earth. Not only has he abandoned his home, but seemingly the wearing of his armor as well. The armor is now fashioned into a sentient ring. Aric continues to have a relationship of sorts with it, with the ring attempting to compel Aric into wielding the armor again. Aric is reluctant to do so. Writer Matt Kindt is playing his cards close to the chest in this first arc. Why Aric is not using the armor and why he left earth has not been revealed, but there have been ominous hints. Instead of focusing on the past, Kindt moves the story decidedly forward, focusing on Aric’s current situation. It’s likely that bits and pieces of the impetus for this radical change will be teased out through the current conflicts. Even if we are never given a complete reason, this ambitious epic in the life of Aric is strong enough to stand on its own.
The story is heavy on science fiction and action, making the adventure more exciting since readers do not know what to expect from this alien land. Kindt is an imaginative and thorough world-builder. Societal norms, rules of engagement, landscapes, and creatures are all original to this arc. The uncertainty of what Aric may come up against keeps readers on their toes, but the alien races are relatable, their behaviors and vices not so far-fetched from our own. Kindt makes sure that what Aric does encounter, however bizarre to the reader, makes sense in how it fits into the pieces of the world. He keeps Aric’s reactions and behaviors true to characterization, creating a stable playing piece in an otherwise unpredictable world.
X-O Manowar #3 follows Aric and his band of fellow soldiers as they take on the daunting task of infiltrating the enemy’s fortress and bringing down their shields. The dizzying action is well-paced, with Kindt weaving stops throughout that allow both a brief respite of the adrenaline rush and which engage the reader with insights.
No spoilers here as to what the team encounters or the outcome, but suffice it to say that it feels momentous. There’s something else important happening in this story as well. Kindt has taken Aric the king with the hero’s cape and turned him back into a man. In taking away the armor, Aric is no longer a “superhero.” This story gives us a definitive look at the man behind the armor. We know he can lead. We know he can fight. We know his stubbornness and his determination. The tale is a testament to the capabilities of the man without his suit. But we’re seeing another side of Aric – one which is guarded and perhaps regretful. A warrior who knows that having access to the ultimate weapon doesn’t mean he should use it. Perhaps the knowledge of how his life will change if he becomes the army’s champion while wielding the armor is part of why he is keeping it at bay during such a crucial time.
One other quick note to address Schon, Aric’s Azure companion. Her role was not without controversy for fans who were quick to remember his wife, Saana. While we don’t know Saana’s fate, this book demonstrates why Aric may be drawn to Schon – and no, it’s not her tail. Schon bears qualities similar to Saana. Her ability to distill the essence of him, even that which he hides, indicates her emotional intuitiveness and her devotion. Readers will come away from this book with a deeper appreciation for her character.
Artistically, X-O Manowar #3 is phenomenal. The story begins with a beautiful opening sequence collaboration by David Mack and Zu Orzu that tells the history of the Cadmium race and their relationship to the other races on their world. The beauty of their painted depiction is in stark contrast to its horrifying truths. Mack’s work is the stuff of legends, and for good reason. I believe that this is Orzu’s first work with Valiant. Like Mack, Orzu illustrates and paints her subjects, making her work complementary to his. Their script is fluidly told and bears the look of historical art preserved from an archaeological find.
Main story artist Tomas Giorello’s detailed pencils are a visual treat. His work is polished and tight. Giorello excels at depicting physicality – not just muscular physiques, but the way in which the muscles move and how physicality can define an actor’s mindset. Outwardly, this may be a story with plentiful battle scenes, but the expressiveness of his work tells of the characters’ inner stories. From the set of the jaw to the width of the eyes – Giorello’s characters are fully acting. An excellent demonstration of this is a panel with a headshot of Aric looking determined versus another warrior who is apprehensive. Both looking at the same thing, but obviously experiencing different emotions. Even without text, it is easy to decipher their mental states. The story offers some gnarly sci-fi elements and plenty of explosive action that will shock and awe the reader. This is Giorello’s third and final book in this epic. His work has been outstanding, and he has defined this new world and the changed Aric.
You may have noted that there is no inking, just Giorello’s pencils and the color work of Diego Rodriguez. Rodriquez does fine work. Even without inking, his work remains clearly defined, and none of the panels become muddy. The colors are strong and cool, predominately blues, purples, and gray, with the warmest colors being that of blood and explosions. There are some yellows and oranges where necessary, but it’s reasonable to suspect that the strong golds will come into play when the armor shows up.
X-O Manowar #3 is the culminating piece is this arc of determination and ascension. It’s intense and driven. Don’t miss out this excellent book.