Previews 12/19/2012: X-O MANOWAR SECOND ARC -- IT SUITS US ALL

X-O MANOWAR #5 – 8 (Valiant, September through December 2012) Writer: Robert Venditti. Penciler: Lee Garbett. Inker: Stefano Gaudiano. Colorist: Moose Baumann. Letterer: Dave Lamphear. Writer Robert Venditti has now completed the foundation and framework for a bigger X-O Manowar structure and seems ready to take the title forward in a big way. I sense something complex is in the works for this book, and I’m not just referring to the upcoming Planet Death storyline that Valiant has already been publicizing.
If you’ve been following this book since Issue #1 then you know that Venditti slides little revealing asides into the story in various places. These interesting bits of background and character information have a way of adding special meaning to later events in the book. For example, the baby abductions and replacement alien replicas in Issue #1 help us understand how the Vine (an appropriate name) has spread their tendrils throughout all facets of modern civilization, including British MI-6 intelligence service. Likewise, these background moments also raise questions that have yet to be answered, such as: 1) . . . How does the plant life, vines and fruit that the captive humans must harvest on spaceship gardens relate to “offspring”? Are these large six-eyed humanoids walking vegetables or something else? 2) . . . How does the X-O armor that Aric wears know exactly what to do and what weapon to use in moments of crisis? Is it responding to his thought patterns? How would an ancient Visigoth understand modern armaments and how to use them? Is the suit making the call, or is Aric? I’m keeping a close eye on his body language for clues. 3) . . . Have we seen the full capabilities of the armor yet? So far, rockets, destructive beams, flight, language translation, teleportation and time travel. Nothing is ever explained or spelled out in this fast-moving storyline --- it just happens and we observe. 4) . . . What are the full implications and capabilities of the mental conference calls that the disguised Vine members on Earth can seemingly bring together at will? During the reading of the second story arc we get more information that will eventually help to completely answer these questions. The second story arc featured here in Issues #5-8 introduces another former Valiant character - - Ninjak - - - a mercenary for hire with specialized skills in all forms of weaponry, espionage and surveillance. (Did I forget to mention murder?) That might seem to be a bit of a distraction as readers are still just getting further acquainted with Aric, a interesting and complex character in his own right - - - a man out of time, thoroughly disoriented by a gap of 16 centuries between then and now, and adjusting to a highly advanced form-fitting alien metal suit with unique powers and abilities. However, Venditti keeps his focus on the main story and gives us just enough detail on the new character (Ninjak) to hold our interest while he keeps the always engrossing central plot front and center of our attention. The great Cary Nord is replaced on art by Lee Barbett, who does an excellent job. I’m really enjoying his work here. There are some great illustrated moments to appreciate throughout these issues. WHAT HAPPENS IN ISSUES #5-8? = Ninjak is hired by The Vine to obtain the X-O armor and return it to them. He meets X-O and they fight. They later stop fighting and join forces (along with a new unexpected ally) to help Aric get his revenge against the agents of the Vine on Earth. This leads up to the next story arc - - Planet Death - - with a two issue prologue followed by four issues of the main story. That will bring us into the second year of the revived X-O Manowar title. At this point, you should stop reading this review and start reading the books. There are spoilers among the highlights if you continue.
HIGHLIGHTS ISSUE #5: In modern day Rome, Aric visits the battlefield where Roman legions slaughtered his Visigoth people so many centuries ago. His suit allows him x-ray vision and he spies an old broken sword under the surface. He later uses the remaining edge of that sword to shave his beard in the waters of the Amazon River. And that moment leads to a flashback memory of being knife-shaved by his wife Deidre during a tender moment. And the battlefield sword becomes a tool of interrogation for Aric later. (See, Venditti never wastes a prop!) The leader of the mercenary band dispatched by the Hive to capture Aric in the Amazon is led by a Vine member secretly living among the humans. His name is Alexander Dorian (a very appropriate last name for someone who true nature is hidden). The X-O suit is powerful enough to propel a fist and arm straight through the human body. The green ray will decapitate. Aric’s methods of obtaining information from captives remind me of Keifer Sutherland as Jack on the 24 television series. HIGHLIGHTS ISSUE #6: The art team’s use of blue shading and highlights during the Vine telepathic conference scenes enhances the effect of an out-of-body meeting. Alexander Dorian has an attachment to humanity and Earth, and is not onboard with the alien’s alternative plans if they don’t get the armor back. If Aric is unconscious the suit detaches from his body and remains on standby as a floating sphere. Aric can use the suit’s power to form a sword of pure energy that cuts very sharply and precisely (like a light saber).
HIGHLIGHTS ISSUE #7: An opening flashback to the year 410 A.D. reveals the beginnings of the Vine’s “secret invasion” plans, methods they have utilized on several worlds. The X-O armor has fully bonded with Aric, and also has a sixth sense that alerts to enemy encroachment. The training of the Vine invasion fleet shows just how cruel they can be. Commander Trill has a streak of determination and an unquenchable desire for revenge that matches the same streak and desire in Aric. The ending image of the massive MI-6 Headquarters is backlit perfectly and serves as a giant teaser for the next issue.
HIGHLIGHTS ISSUE #8: This begins with another opening flashback to 412 A.D. after the fateful battle between Romans and Visigoths. Aric gets a lesson from King Alaric, who blames the outcome of the battle on Aric’s stubbornness, lack of battle wisdom, and recklessness. Aric repeats his mantra (true to his character) in a defining speech that begins here (in the past) and transitions to the next page (in current time) just before the MI-6 assault: “If there comes a day when I no longer have an army at my back, so be it. I will fight regardless. I will slaughter as many of the enemy as the Lord will allow . . . and I will die well.” The battle scenes this issue are magnificent, further heightened through use of multiple short length wide-screen panels. It ends with an uneasy truce between Aric and Ninjak. Alexander Dorian is kicked out of the Gathering and their inside source for Vine information is gone. The invasion fleet readies for action. Next two issues will be illustrated by Trevor Hairsine, followed by the return of Cary Nord. Get them all.

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