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The beginning of an epic, but starts very slowly
on May 2, 2013
WARNING: There might be more SPOILERS than normal in this review, so read at your own risk, or after you've read the story of course.
X-O Manowar. One of the most beloved characters from the original Valiant also one of the few characters to be around during the Acclaim years and was the launch title for VEI's new universe. Let me preface things here.
I've always like X-O (liked, not loved) the character was always Conan with an alien battlesuit (as originally conceived) in how he was written, and for 70 issues (including the zero and 1/2 issues) in the span of those four and a half years he evolved as a character (until the Birthquake event) and had a steady creative team with newcomers such as Mike Leeke, Tom Ryder, Jim Calafiore and Paris Karounos (who took over after Calafiore left to take over Armorines)to name a few. And while the popularity of the character went from high to low, X-O was and still is one of the most recognizable characters in the Valiant arsenal.
During the shakeup known as Birthquake when Acclaim brought in All-Star creators Ron Marz was brought in as writer while Bart Sears and Andy Smith (studio mates, who shared a spot on identical art style) were brought on for art chores. (Bart was a hot artist back then and had done two very well received issues of X-O starring Turok the Dinosaur Hunter from the old Gold Key comics) However that match did not serve the book well as it started to look like any number of Image comics on the shelves at that time and was full of splash pages and crummy poses. To say the least even though X-O managed to outlast all of it's peers in the line, it went out with a whimper rather than a bang, with co-creator Bob Layton, coming up with a totally whacky story that nothing that had come before actually happened and that the book was starting over from the origin forward with only Aric of Dacia knowing what his future held and with this knowledge he could change the future, truly a horrible ending (and a cheat to the fans) to such a stalwart book.
And that brings us to the release of VEI's new X-O Manowar by the team of Robert Venditti and Cary Nord. Venditti (whose work I'm unfamiliar with) gives us the entire picture from the get go, it is a time when the Visigoths are in battle with Rome over dominance of the region, and the proud Visigoths do not want to give the Romans an inch much less a mile when it comes to battle, and here is where we see Aric's first resolve as a strong leader (but also being hotheaded when it comes to tactics, with a kill'em all approach). Venditti seems to have Aric not be as boorish (more aptly buffoonish) as he was in the original series, however still shows Aric as not anticipating the consequences of his actions. Eventually he is captured by aliens and taken aboard their ship as a slave, they stage a revolt and Aric becomes the new master of the Manowar armor. (I was sad to see he did not have a control ring like the original character) But somehow mentally commands the armor to do his bidding (either I've overlooked it or this has not been explained yet).
Before I move onto explaining my rating (I wanted 3 1/2 stars, but cannot see a way to do that) I want to talk about the other half of the creative duo Cary Nord. I'm really familiar with his work from his early Marvel days to his run on Dark Horses Conan title, Cary has come a long way. (Another not so subtle wink to the original series was Barry Windsor Smith working on Conan and doing some occasional X-O work) To be honest while it is good work, I'm not enthralled by it (as I was with his work on Conan), but I think that is more due to the subdued storyline Venditti is creating than anything.
Out of all four original launch titles from VEI, this is probably the one I'm most disappointed by just because Venditti is taking his time (which isn't a bad thing) to establish things to come for a massive story for the first year, however this works against the book as well since after the first issue Aric's character just stops being what he already has been established as, and honestly I think he's less interesting after he gets the armor, in the original series Aric was learning what the X-O armor was, how to use if effectively and to become its master. Here Aric is already displaying way too much control over something so advanced, things that took him quite a while to do in the original book (the lightning sword...already a sword? This was something the armor created for him in the original series due to his longing for a blade, here he just creates it and that's it) And while the Vine are the next phase of the original spider aliens, these new aliens have been colonizing Earth for centuries. And one to cross his path is one hybrid who thinks his kind are doing the wrong thing, (I got shades of Ken from the original series) and will help Aric do what he must to prevent the Vine from prevailing.
Now as I said some of this is revealed later, it shows how many threads Venditti is laying down, however as a reader, I like the faster paces of Archer and Armstrong and Harbinger, (even Bloodshot, makes the exposition go by so much quicker) which make this book seem so slow to me since he is laying all of this ground work, I believe it will provide a very strong story for issues to come, but after issue 4 we're left with Earth in peril and Aric gearing up for the upcoming battle.
But why after reading it and the next four am I just not excited for X-O's continuing adventures. I'd say probably because there's been more talk than action (while issues #5-8 in Vol. 2, provide more action and introduce a familiar face) it is still more exposition leading up to what's coming instead of exploring what he already have to look at. In the original X-O he had taken on multiple villains, acquired Orb industries was to the lost land and back and went back in time all in the first year. Aric has had his fair share of adventures so far, but not nearly as diverse. Anyway it seems like I'm nitpicking this poor book and I'm not, I'm just disappointed it didn't meet my high expectations for it (and was set by its predecessor). I will comment on Vol. 2 at a later point, I will say that these first four issues show great promise and lay that groundwork for what I hope (based on how long it's taking to get things going) is for a massive payoff and a strong and compelling story, that unfortunately for me, is taking a bit too long to get going.
Bottom line: It's showing great promise and I'm looking forward to the pay off happening down the line (I hope), but right now I can't give it more than a half-hearted recommendation based on these initial four issues with the warning that you better be in it for the long haul since it's going to take away before this thing reaches its initial destination along its (hopefully) long journey.