X-O Manowar #1
Written by Matt Kindt
Illustrated by Tomas Giorello
Colors by Diego Rodriguez
Letters by Dave Sharpe
Published by Valiant Comics
I enjoy the Valiant superhero universe (and some of my prior reviews of Valiant books are here) but I think because I read a lot of superhero comics (and spend plenty of time in various superhero universes) I find that the Valiant books that I gravitate to most are the ones that are a little outside their “regular” universe (like Divinity and Brittania). The new X-O Manowar squarely fits that bill. This is a fantastical, classic science fiction story that is big and rousing and compelling. It also requires zero knowledge regarding the Valiant universe. It's also one of the best-looking comics I’ve seen in a while, thanks to the art from Tomas Giorello and colors from Diego Rodriguez.
X-O Manowar (Aric of Dacia) is sort of like a combination of the "Big 3" of Marvel's Avengers. He's a man out of time (like Captain America) in that he was a prince of Dacia (modern-day Romania) living under the rule of the late Roman Empire, transported to the present day. He wears an adaptable, incredibly powerful suit of armor (like Iron Man). And he is at his heart a warrior, and the suit of armor chose him because on some level he was worthy (like Thor and Mjolnir). He's emerged as one of the most powerful heroes of the Valiant universe, both alone and as part of super-teams. Some of his people from ancient Dacia also managed to make their way to the modern world (because time travel and aliens). What's interesting about the new X-O Manowar is that it does away with all of that. Aric is living on an alien world, older, more grizzled, more damaged (he lost a hand at some point) and Earth is now just a distant memory to him. He's made a home as a farmer, and he's found love again. But all of that is put aside when Aric is conscripted into being cannon fodder for a war between factions on this world. Most of this first issue concerns the battle and the brutal assault of which Aric is a part.
Giorello's character design is also first-rate. Aric looks like someone who was once a great warrior; he still carries himself that way, even though he's missing a hand and bears many scars from battle. Considering that every character but Aric in this story is alien, Giorello also does excellent facial acting in this story (such as in the below page), where he shows a multiplicity of emotions between two characters who love each other and also hold to their principles in the midst of a heated discussion. That devotion to strong acting and facial portrayal continues throughout the issue, as we see the faces of fear and horror and fatigue on the soldiers throughout the story, including the face of a craggy old general whose face looks practically carved out of stone.
I can't say enough about the great work that Rodriguez does on colors. Giorello draws an intricate picture but Rodriguez really brings this book to life. He's got a painted style of colors here that reminds me a little of the work of Dean White. Everything in this book is lush and varied and rendered in great detail while still leaving enough room for your mind to do some of the work. With many planets and multiple suns in the sky, this feels alien, and the colors during battle are bloody and bright and visceral. There's a softness to the color palate that gives the book something of a timeless quality.
X-O Manowar is the story of a man who just wants to be a farmer but is swept up into battle. It's a story of an older warrior who's found love, but now he's got to suit up for one last battle. Kindt creates a personality for Aric that I found compelling; Aric remembers the principles he once espoused, but he pushes them away now in order to simply live and try to find some measure of happiness. Kindt's feel for the combat aspects of this story also feel alive and real. I was reminded a little of Gladiator meets Saving Private Ryan as Aric is pressed into battle along with a bunch of other conscripts under the worst of circumstances and not only survives but thrives in battle; he was a warrior, and those warrior instincts never leave, no matter how much Aric wishes they weren't needed anymore.
I haven't always been a huge fan of the character, so I was surprised just how much I really enjoyed this book. I recommend you pick up X-O Manowar, I think you'll enjoy it as well.