Sunday, November 18, 2012

VALIANT RE-BOOT: The Suit Still Fits

 

X-O MANOWAR #1 – 4 (May-August 2012) Writer: Robert Venditti. Penciler: Cary Nord. Inker: Stefano Gaudiano. Colorist: Moose Baumann. Letterer: David Lanphear.

The late, lamented Valiant Universe has returned in 2012 and appears to be making an impact in the comics world. I was a reader then and I plan to be again. I miss many of their titles. It appears that the new editorial board intends to remain true to the heart of these characters while still putting a modern spin on things. They’ve chosen to re-introduce us beginning with X-O MANOWAR, which I think is a great choice as a flagship title for the new Valiant.

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Inspired by IRON MAN at Marvel Comics, X-O MANOWAR was originally created by artist Bob Layton (who penciled many Iron Man issues) with writer Jim Shooter, and was much more than just a carbon copy of that character. Recently, the SOLDIER ZERO series from Boom! Studios apparently drew its’ inspiration from the original X-O MANOWAR with a similar origin (alien suit adapting to human body).

That’s enough about the past. It’s the present that matters. With writer Robert Vendetti at the helm and brought to visual life by artist Cary Nord - - X-O MANOWAR is a true delight. The first printing of 26,000 issues of Issue #1 sold out quickly, followed by a second, third, and fourth printing. The first four-issue story arc has just been released as a trade paperback. The second story arc re-introduces another iconic Valiant character = Ninjak.

ISSUE #1 HIGHLIGHTS: The story opens in Northern Italy, 402 A.D as the massive conquering Roman army surprises the nomadic Visigoths with a vicious attack during the Easter holiday. In great detail, Nord and the art team show us how hopeless the odds are in a beautifully rendered two-page spread that reveals the entire battlefield. Here we are introduced to Aric of Dacia, nephew to King Alaric of the Visigoths, and quickly learn of his head-strong, emotional tendencies. He defies the retreat order and after a heartfelt patriotic and inspirational speech leads a small band of warriors into battle. The battle is brutal and bloody (as befits the Teen + rating on the cover) and Aric loses his father. He later learns that both his mother and wife have been abducted by Romans.

Believing that the disrespectful Roman forces are massing for a night time raid on their encampment, Aric and a small band try to intercept what they believe to be a massive transport vehicle. Hoping to find their family members trapped inside, the aggressive Aric leads the charge yet again. Instead of Romans, the battle involves the alien Hive whose vastly superior weaponry makes short work of the Visigoths and Aric is captured.

There is an aside during this battle which shows some aliens infiltrating the camp and transforming a baby alien into a human baby duplicate using some highly advanced (and quick!) D.N.A. replication. Keep your eye on for more revealing asides like this. It’s a trademark of Vendetti’s style and much appreciated. He sneaks in little glimpses and tidbits of information throughout these issues that provide background information as well as help to flesh out the characters.

Now captive on a deep space colony ship, Aric and best friend Gafti escape temporarily and witness a ceremony involving a sacred relic - - the armor of Shanhara. Commander Pith of the six-eyed alien forces is rewarded for his battle prowess and permitted to wear the armor. The “moving metal” form-fits itself to Pith’s body and kills him in the process. This has been happening for centuries, as the high priest affirms that the sacred armor “will only bestow its gifts on the worthy one.”

Meanwhile back in confinement Aric plots to defeat the aliens by taking their weapons, escaping, and then finding a way back to Italy to punish the Romans. Resourceful. Optimistic. Confident. So much occurs in this issue. It’s a great opening to the series.

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ISSUE #2 HIGHLIGHTS: After a tender moment between Aric and Deidre provides further background, we learn more about the alien Hive and how their captives have been set to work in their indoor spaceship “garden” (strange and colorful, and beautifully visualized here). They must help in harvesting plant life, vines and fruit that their captors refer to as “offspring” that must not be disrespected. Aric learns that the hard way and loses his  left hand to the swinging blade of an aggressive Vine warrior. His blond locks from the first issue now show deeper shades, as if the absence of sunlight is making them darker. Captivity is long, and years later his face sports a full black beard and hair to match with only traces of lighter color. During a planned escape the captives make their way to the armory room, where Aric and the Armor of Shanhara find compatibility.

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ISSUE #3 HIGHLIGHTS: The armor makes it possible for Aric to comprehend the Hive language. It also rebuilds his left hand. (Is this Vendetti’s tribute to the original X-O title where Aric’s modern business associate, also one of the first openly gay characters in comics, loses his hand and re-gains an artificial one?) As Aric puts the armor through its paces during the escape we learn more of its capabilities (repulsor-like beams, mini-rocket bombs, flight, etc.). Aric is catapulted into space through a gaping hole in the ship. Just as the Hive trains all their rockets on him in an attempt to destroy the Shanhara armor, Aric blinks out of sight. Just moments before he was thinking of his wife and returning to Rome. The suit seems to comply with his wishes. But he crashes/returns to present-day Italy, right in the middle of the Roman Coliseum ruins (again, beautifully visualized for our enjoyment in big panel wonder).

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ISSUE #4 HIGHLIGHTS: The alien Hive commanders back on the ship bicker over what to do about the stolen suit of armor - - reclaim it and try to understand its mysteries, or destroy it? Back on earth, Aric thinks he’s still fighting  Roman legionnaires and learns more about what his suit can do, including taking down some military jets. Once he learns that sixteen centuries have elapsed he rockets away in despair, frustration, and confusion. It appears the Hive have now become well-infiltrated among the human populace (who remain unaware of them) in human form (with apparently enhanced sexual appetites). They are able to hold telepathic conferences with each other, where it is decided that one of them will attempt to track down and reclaim the suit. An invasion fleet waits in the wings in case of failure.  This is one of the better debuts I’ve read this year  (in a year of the re-boot) and I look forward to where this title goes next.

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