In the last couple years, I’ve been reading comics more than I have since the early ’90′s, due specifically to the explosion of creativity that seems to have been sparked in large publishers and indie outfits alike. It seems appropriate then that my all-time favorite publisher, Valiant, is being has been resurrected to deliver the greatest comic universe ever to a new generation of readers.
Valiant, in its heyday, owned some of the most enjoyable franchises around for folks who actually read comic books, but this was largely (and unfortunately) overshadowed by then-booming collector market trying to cash in on their low print runs. But now that fans have retaken the industry, so too have fans-turned-businessmen brought Valiant out of bankruptcy. Recent interviews given by its new founders make it clear to me that Valiant is back to being a small company, run by a tight-knit group of passionate individuals that clearly want to retain the charm, beloved characters, and strong, interconnected universe that kept these 20-year old franchises fresh in fans minds for the last twenty years.
The first book of the universe’s four reboot titles, released this week, is X-O Manowar #1, which will be followed by Harbinger, Archer & Armstrong, and Bloodshot in the coming months. After having picked up a copy of the new X-O Manowar, I can happily say that I’m impressed with the book. Written by Robert Venditti (whose works include The Surrogates and The Homeland Directive) and pencilled by Cary Nord (who previously worked on Dark Horse’s Conan The Barbarian series for nearly four years), X-O delivers in a big way, immediately setting up the fundamentals that made the original story so engrossing while establishing interesting new mechanics.
Don’t worry, this book is clearly not falling into the same trap as the ill-fated Acclaim reboot — As in the original, this is a story about Aric of Dacia, a 5th Century Visigoth under Roman rule, and nephew to real-life King Alaric I. No need to wait for #0 issues this time around to explain his origin two years after the character gets introduced though; the first issue expertly establishes Aric’s character and how he first comes into contact with the Shanhara, the sentient, living armor that he is destined to bond with. A few plot devices were tweaked which I feel actually improve the narrative. For starters, the aliens are no longer simply called “Spider Aliens;” they are a bit more humanoid this time around (but every bit as grotesque) and their race is known as “The Vine.” “Shanhara” is now a name that these aliens call the X-O Class armor by as opposed to a name bestowed on it by Aric. In addition, the armor doesn’t appear to be the result of thousands of years of alien engineering — rather the aliens themselves seem to worship, but not fully understand, the Armor of Shanhara and offer it only to those deemed worthy of accepting its gifts, but the armor has not yet accepted any of them as its suitor. The way that Aric happens upon the alien race is also handled in a more subtle and believable manner than its previous iteration.
Aric himself, by the way, is much more intelligent this time around. Sure, he’s still a barbarian warrior, but his dialogue is sharper and he thinks a bit more tactically — which makes sense since the Goths weren’t historically just a bunch of savages. Another thing that was briefly worked into the first issue was a new plot point involving one of the Vine sneaking into the Visigoth camp, stealing a human infant and replacing it with a Vine sleeper agent in disguise. It’s unclear how this will play out, but it’s awesome to see some cool new twists that hint that the aliens will have a much more intricate plans for the human race this time around. I don’t want to ruin any more of the story for you though, so let’s touch on the art briefly. Nord’s work compliments the writing perfectly. With plenty of heavy dark tones and excellent use of negative space to frame the subjects, the visuals are tasteful, clean, and colored beautifully — they’re exactly what the book needs.
I couldn’t be more excited not only for the four titles that Valiant currently has planned, but for what the future holds for all their A-List properties. For now though, just know that the X-O Manowar reboot is a winner and, with the story now being told in chronological order, it’s easier than ever for a new reader to become acquainted with one of the coolest comic characters ever. In the coming issues, assuming the story continues to follow a similar structure to the original, Aric will don the titular armor and wind up in the 21st century. A Goth from 402 A.D. wearing a futuristic alien artifact, he will become simultaneously the most primitive and the most advanced person in the modern world. Such a great concept. Pick it up ASAP and don’t forget to hit your local comic shop this Saturday, May 5 for “Free Comic Book Day” and to grab a copy of Valiant’s preview book.