When Valiant relaunched their comic book universe in 2012, it was with just four titles, one debut per month. The first of these was X-O Manowar, and according to writer Robert Venditti in an interview leading up its 50th issue early this year, it was pure happenstance that his comic was the vanguard. I don’t believe that for one second. Every major shared superhero comic book universe has a leader. Marvel has Captain America, DC has Superman, Image has Invincible. And for the newly retitled Valiant Entertainment, it was Aric of Dacia.
A Visigoth warrior king heir apparent from the fifth century who escaped Roman oppression through the most unfortunate of means – being abducted by the alien Vine race and dragged hundreds of lightyears away to be a slave – Aric would fight his way back to Earth by stealing and bonding with the sentient X-O Manowar armour, Shanhara, a sacred Vine relic of immense power. Unfortunately, relative space travel is not kind, as Aric’s return was to a homeworld on which more than fifteen centuries had passed and his people were no more.
Though initially stuck in his savage warrior ways as he tried to almost literally carve out a new kingdom in modern Europe, Aric would use Shanhara’s incomparable gifts to become a great hero, saving Earth from numerous calamities. He would even regain his people once abducted by the Vine, establish a new homeland, broker peace between eternal enemies, find matrimonial love with a fierce warrior queen and learn of the history of Shanhara and the many forces out there that seek to either control it or destroy it. All of this would lead to Aric coming face to face with alien gods of staggering power and knowledge – gods who would choose him to be the uniquely qualified repository of all this knowledge before their death.
But you don’t need to know all that. That might be a strange thing to say after having just typed those 300+ words, but that’s the beauty of writer Matt Kindt’s brand newly relaunched X-O Manowar series that kicked off in March of this year. Purportedly inclusive, new reader friendly jumping-on points are dime a dozen in the comic book biz – Marvel seems to do them every other Tuesday – and quite often they’re not as “fresh” as they claim to be. However, this new X-O series is every bit as advertised – a new start for a classic character who’s already had a few new starts that builds on what came before without actually being critically dependent on knowledge of those events. And Kindt cleverly does this by starting off this new series with an intriguing mystery that’s equally as baffling to longtime fans and newcomers.
It’s a year after the events of the previous series and Aric has left Earth behind… left everything behind. When we meet him, it’s on the faraway alien planet Gorin, as he lives a meagre farmer’s life with his indigenous lover Schon. What happened to Aric to make him abandon Earth, his people, and even his wife? That’s the enigma that needs to be teased out of the taciturn Visigoth who just wants to be left alone to find some semblance of peace. And in that regard, Aric wants nothing to do with Shanhara.
However, things are not quite as easy as Aric would like it, as Gorin is a planet engaged in three-way tribal warfare between the wealthy and technologically adept Cadmium, the pastoral Azure they’ve pressed into servitude and the reclusive and territorial Burnt. It’s not long before Aric is pressganged into this generations-long conflict, but while he may not want to be there, there are few things the ex-Visigoth king does better than make war! And thus, over the course of the nine issues released thus far, Kindt spins out an epic tale of bloodshed, betrayal and wartime camaraderie as Aric rises up the ranks from lowly cannon fodder foot soldier straight to the top of the imperial food chain.
But this rise to power comes at a steep price though, as the peace-seeking man we first met on Gorin is slowly hacked away piece by piece, to be replaced by one of the greatest natural warriors who ever lived. Every warrior needs his weapons though, as Kindt also has Aric being forced to rely on Shanhara more and more as the odds keep getting stacked higher and higher against him. While Aric gathers to him a motley crew of colourful characters, it’s this reluctant, tense symbiosis between Aric and Shanhara which lies at the heart of this story. What happened between them, and can Aric set aside his resultant anger to survive what lies ahead of him?
Aiding Kindt in telling this tale is a trio of artists in Tomás Giorello, Doug Braithwaite and Clayton Crain, each assigned to a different arc of the story, respectively titled Soldier, General and Emperor. While Braithwaite and Crain do what they do best – the former using a retro pencilling approach while the latter shows off his mastery of digital painting – its Giorello who stands out here. Kicking things off with the opening three issues, Giorello’s pencils – digitally coloured over directly by Diego Rodriguez – is a sight to behold. His attention to detail, fantastic character and world designs, eye for storytelling and camera placement, and knack for drawing Aric exactly like the stubborn, badass warrior that he is supposed to be, mark him as the next big superstar in comics, in my opinion. No offence to Braithwaite and Crain, but I would have loved to see Giorello around for the book indefinitely. Luckily, he only left to take on another, equally great relaunch of another Valiant badass in Ninja-K.
Even without Giorello’s artwork though, Kindt has still created an immensely enjoyable comic that sees the return of the Valiant universe’s de facto royal leadership. He spins together elements of fantasy, sci-fi and just straight up comic-book superheroics in a manner that can be appreciated by both readers who’ve only just discovered X-O Manowar and those who’ve been there since a young Aric was fighting Romans on horseback. This new chapter of Aric’s life is only just beginning as there are still so many unanswered questions as to how he found himself in this place, but it sure is off to one hell of a start. Long live the King!
Issues 1-3 and 4-6 of X-O Manowar (2017) has been collected in trade paperbacks X-O Manowar: Soldier and X-O Manowar: General respectively, which are on sale now. X-O Manowar: Emperor, collecting issues 7-10, will hit shelves in January 2018.
Last Updated: December 7, 2017