Advance Review: X-O Manowar #1 by Robert Venditti & Cary Nord

X-O Manowar #1
Blades and Open Fields

Written by: Robert Venditti
Penciled by: Cary Nord
Inked by: Stefano Gaudiano
Coloring by Moose Baumann
Lettering by: Dave Lanphear

Published by: Valiant
Cover Price: $3.99

Warning! This review contains quite a few spoilers!

While there have pretty much always been comic companies other than Marvel and DC, ever since the early 60’s, the Big Two have pretty much had a stranglehold on the industry. Even now, most of the comic news coverage typically focuses on Marvel and DC. Sure, Dark Horse, Dynamite, Image, Boom, IDW and other companies seem to have carved out a nice niche for themselves, but their books still have a difficult time cracking the top of the sales figures. For March 2012, only one “indy” book landed in the top 50, and that was Image’s Saga #1.

But, that wasn’t the case when I started reading comics in the early 90’s. There were two companies that not only were making big news headlines, but often found themselves at the top of the sales lists. One of those companies, Image, is still around. The other was Valiant.

Admittingly, back then, I was more of an Image man. Image’s flashy art and storytelling really appealed to me as a teenager. Valiant seemed much more about building long term stories and deep characterization, which just wasn’t what I was looking for. Valiant always had a lot of interesting looking series, but none that I ever considered “must buy”. But, when I heard that Valiant was coming back, I was really curious to see what they were all about.

Having never read an issue of X-O Manowar, this book was not at all what I was expecting. I went in expecting to see a futuristic hero wearing alien battle armor, and instead the story starts in 402 AD and features a pretty gory battle betwen Romans and Visigoths. Even the opening page threw me, as it was a quick recap of what life was like in 402 AD, and how the economy worked.

As the issue progresses, it subtly starts throwing some science fiction elements at the reader, showing aliens kidnapping children and replacing them with shapeshifter sleeper babies. By the time, the X-O Manowar armor is introduced to the reader, you have been completely primed for it, though you are still looking to find your balance and understand exactly what’s going on here. It made for a very compelling read; there was just enough mystery to keep the reader curious without ever feeling completely left out.

Plus, even though a lot of the comic was action scenes and it ended on a cliffhanger, you never feel like you got ripped off.  This comic was definitely worth its $3.99 cover price.

Robert Venditti not only puts together an exciting story here, but he also quickly manages to give the readers a lot of little glimpses at all the characters and the setting. The weaponry of the time is shown in amazing detail, and even though there is a lot of fast-moving action, we still get plenty of small character moments, like Aric’s inspiring battle speech, and his father’s comment that “You have my fine looks, boy, but you have your mother’s temper.” Even the aliens get some solid characterization, as we see their willingness to sacrifice lives to try and figure out how the X-O armor works. Right up front, we understand what our heroes and our villains are all about.

Also, the book seems to be trying to do something very different from a normal superhero comic. It takes some familiar elements, and puts them together in a new and creative way. Actually, I was reminded of Cowboys and Aliens, which I think is a very underrated movie.

Cary Nord’s art added brilliantly to my enjoyment of this comic. Like I said earlier, Valiant doesn’t seem to rely on the flashiest art, but his detailed images of ancient Romans and sci-f0 battles worked perfect in this story, especially in the fighting sequences.    Much like Fiona Staples is doing in Saga, Nord manages to make two very different worlds fit together seamlessly.

My one real gripe about this book was that it did feel a little dry at times for my tastes. My favorite writers are Peter David, Stephen King, Jim Butcher, and Mark Waid. Even in their darkest stories, they manage to slip in plenty of funny moments and dialouge. This tends to keep the situation light and more palatable to me. But that is purely a personal preference. Even playing it straight, Robert Venditti told a very entertaining story.

I also need to point out that I loved the QR code on one of the alternate covers that brings up a Youtube video of X-O Manowar introducing himself. The video shows a speaking mouth, so if you bring the video up on a smartphone, it makes it look like the cover was speaking. It was very gimmicky, but I thought it was a pretty awesome touch.

X-O Manowar #1 definitely got my attention, and I am completely on board with this Valiant relaunch. It also succeeded in making me really curious about checking out some of Valiant’s older series. I hope that Valiant not only makes their new books available digitally, but also makes some of their orginal books available at a reasonanle price point. I honestly am not sure they have the rights to do that, but if I saw Valiant books available at 99 cents an issue, I would definitely buy them in bulk.

If this issue is any indication, I think Valiant’s return is going to be a huge success from a creative perspective. I just hope that it will find the readership. They have already grabbed my attention with a terrific debut issues, and I definitely will be doing my part to get it noticed!  Highly reccommended! Watch for it this Wednesday May 2nd!

Final Score: 8.5 – A strong debut issue! I just hope Valiant doesn’t get lost in the big summer comic events. X-O Manowar definitely deserves attention and customer support!

Update: Literally minutes after this was queued up, Valiant announced on Twitter that “Digital announcement coming soon!” Considering X-O comes out in two days, I am thinking that means it MIGHT not be available on Comixology day of release, but I will keep you posted.

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