This graphic novel collects X-O Manowar issues 1-14.
In many ways, X-O Manowar cannot be considered an original comic, either in concept or execution. The main character, Aric of Dacia, a 5th Century Visigoth, is a strange mix of Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man. His enemies, the Vine, are an alien species intent on killing him and all of Earth if it comes to that. None of it rings particularly original, does it?
But you don’t come to X-O Manowar for originality (or a great name for a comic, it appears). Rather, you come for great characters and great action. It’s been a while since I’ve read such a comic that manages to fuse both great action scenes and genuine character development. Across the 14 issues collected in this beautiful hardcover, you will be genuinely thrilled.
The first storyline, By the Sword, is an entertaining origin story of the lead character. Aric of Dacia is taken from his 5th Century world into the present day by the alien species the Vine. He is a slave on one of their many command ships. After a rebellion, he manages to break free, steal sacred armour, and return to Earth. It’s the definition of decompressed storytelling, and probably only has enough story to fill one, maybe two issues. But the action-sequences are so well executed by Cary Nord that it’s hard to complain.
The second storyline, Enter: Ninjak continues this origin story as Aric gets used to the modern world. The leaders of the Vine employ the assassin Ninjak and a Vine seedling called Alexander Dorian to eliminate Aric and steal back the armour. Things don’t go according to plan, and as the three warriors meet head-on sparks will fly. This is a genuinely good volume, filled with lots of characterization in between the major action set pieces. It also serves as the rebooted introduction to Valiant’s fan-favourite Ninjak. I’m not too familiar with the character, but I enjoyed his appearances in this volume and would like to see more of him.
The final storyline, Planet Death, is the volume’s piece de-résistance. The Vine prepares their invasion / extermination of Earth, and all that stands between them and annihilation is Aric. However, the volume takes a surprising twist by Aric defeating the invasion easily (though at a personal cost), and then taking the fight to the Vine home world of Loam. It’s a genuinely brilliant storyline and the best one in the volume. Not to be missed.
A large part of the series’ success is the stellar artwork on display. Cary Nord illustrates the larger half of the collection, with Lee Garbett (aided by inker Stefano Gaudiano) and Trevor Hairsine lending their talents as well. While their styles vary, and it can be a bit jarring switching between the illustrators, all are top talents and you can’t really complain when the artwork is just that strong. Cary Nord does some particularly strong artwork in the third arc, Planet Death, which is full of dark blacks and firm lines. In many ways, it’s a callback to an earlier style of illustrating comics, and it is refreshingly simple. The lack of detail is it’s strongest point, because the characters somehow feel heavier in appearance and thus more real.
The action wouldn’t be as well executed as it is if it wasn’t for some great writing by Robert Venditti, who balances action with some good character development. None of the violence feels unnecessary and every time Aric charges into battle, it feels like he has purpose and isn’t just there to take names. Likewise, the supporting cast is also really interesting, particularly Alexander Dorian, Ninjak, and the High Priest of the Vine. This last character in particular is interesting, as the High Priest brings a lot of nuance to the villains of the book, fleshing out the history, culture, and motivations of the Vine.
My only complaint with the comic would probably be a notable lack of female representation. Whilst an argument could be made that Aric hasn’t stopped fighting since the events of the first issue, and thus he hasn’t had time to meet any female characters, any women present within the pages are in beds or insinuated to be there primarily to have sex with the male characters. This isn’t often, and it only happens in two instances. I hope to see this rectified within the future events of the series, as it does feel a bit off-kilter because the book is just populated with few women. I don’t think the book is outright sexist in its depiction of women, but some work could be done in this respect. For all I know, it already has been and I haven’t just read it yet, so really it is a minor concern. Valiant Comics (the publisher) is known for its diversity so I imagine it will occur sometime later in the series.
All in all, X-O Manowar is an incredibly entertaining, action-packed science-fiction series that will please all readers. It’s also a great starting place for anyone interested in the recent Valiant Comics reboot. It does everything that you could want a mainstream superhero comic to do, but with the refreshing qualities of independent publishing. I cannot wait for the second volume.