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Books & Comics

My Kind(t) of Science Fiction – VALIANT X-O Manowar #1 Review

February 22
x-o manowar 1

Wow, the joy and surprise of super-sized digital.

Typically, especially at my age, I tend to tune out action in comics unless I’m reading manga and it’s partly because I feel like writers today, especially in superhero comics, view them as elements they have to include in the actual character story they want to get to. The number of actual action scenes that I’d consider memorable over the last several years in western comics would not cause me to use all of the digits my two hands afford me to recount. Thor hammer heaves during Infinity are few and far between.

This issue of X-O Manowar does not add to them but it does something rather different. Almost the whole issue feels like a  battle and it somehow works. It feels like so much is happening you feel like the issue has to end two or three times before it actually does because you just can’t have this many pages. Indeed, I asked myself if this was a super-sized issue or is this just the most compact and efficient comic I’ve read in awhile, and indeed it is a 40-pager which makes me now just want to say ALL comics should be 40 pages. I’ve been left pretty cold on first issues for awhile now and X-O Manowar #1 hit the spot.

The Aric we meet is one we see in numerous war stories where a man is drawn back into conflict he’d rather not be in – think Mel in the Patriot – echoing those stories of some master of destruction that has retired and found peace that’s ask to do what he may indeed do best – a man of skills,  a very particular set of skills be it from Taken or literally an episode on The CW of Supernatural I just watched with a former badass Prince of Hell who just wants to fish in a shit-hole town and be left alone.  That Aric becomes a farmer is a common story trope of character in fiction who turned from lives of violence and while I can’t say what he’s hacking on the first page is an alien form of hay, or if those stacks in the foreground are also indeed stacks of hay, I took the initial image we are given in the issue of a powerful man, weapon held high, trapped in the duality of  being hidden on this planet – hiding in a galactic haystack.

I don’t really think Aric truly wants to be left alone. I think he knows he should want to be left alone but as a hidden nuke, never truly inert. This assumption leads me to a confession. I am a big VALIANT fan but I’m not caught up on X-O Manowar. Beyond what’s going on in the current Stalinverse storyline (which I’m really enjoying and did not expect to) I don’t know how the previous X-O series ended.

This has an unexpected positive, or at least opportune, outcome in that I can ask myself if this issue serves as a capable  jump off and offers a story that keeps me looking forward. I think it does so very well, the art by Tomas Giorello is always engaging, constantly leading you eye to what’s next, everything is clear and alien. It’s infinitely better art than I’ve seen in some VALIANT “event” titles and if they have a choice, Tomas is a keeper.

I mentioned I haven’t been following X-O. The last year or so I’ve felt myself most engaged with Matt Kindt bloc of VALIANT titles, and while I certainly venture away from when other issues look interesting, Kindt is the writer that I feel delivers the most of what I enjoy and it shows in this issue. I rather extensively reviewed his first Divinity series and saw new wave science fiction being played out even as we got panels of a kid reading pulp-forebearers. He uses Science fiction elements but wraps them in pulp clothes that fit the medium more and it just always give me confidence in Kindt series’, even when there are odd happenstances (I  have issues with recent Ninjak events – loved the early stuff). Take this issue, which feels like a high octane story you’d imagine happens in something like Warhammer, even when you don’t know what Warhammer is, but just noticed the cool art. Yet Kindt also drops what Aric found on this planet. Schon. Literally beauty. Urth, what he ran from, the past, or if you are a science fiction head, Earth in one of headiest science fiction book series ever written by Gene Wolfe.

So while many can look at the obvious analogies of Conan, and indeed the barbarian, could be come the warlord, could become King (or for VALIANT: Soldier, General, Emperor), I combine that with my own thought of a man in possession of his own special kind of Terminus Est.

There is a scene where he digs up his armor and while it is presented to us as a man asserting his control of it, his mastery over it, a panel we see is one we often see in images of fantasy publications or films with treasure hunters, a character face forward looking at treasure and its glow cascading off his face, a face of a person enamoured with what he’s looking at. In love with it. Addicted to it. Look at the interaction between Aric and Schon, and then his interaction with his armor and tell me which one he values more, even if acknowledging, especially acknowledging, he values the former quite a a bit.

I like that while we have what I feel is a conflicted man, we are shown that without the armor Aric is formidable on his own. He’s kicking a lot of ass and we are left with the thought that he has assessed the next step of this war and had deduced he needs the armor for it, a tool he uses and controls at will, instead of simply being in denial that the armor is his natural partner, fit for him, even though the union is connected by a ring.

The X-O Manowar relaunch is a winner in the first issue and breaks a trend that I’ve been feeling of first issues not really being true complete first issues until halfway through the second issue, and this 40-pager introduction was the perfect solution for that. This brings up questions regarding the ability of comics to deliver in their more traditional length but simply judging what’s in front of me, I really enjoyed this issue, and because it’s Matt Kindt writing it I’m confident that at least the 1st arc will continue in quality, and the second issue will probably be a nice change-up. I do wish we’d be seeing more of Tomas Giorello though because it’s working.

I do want to clarify something regarding the use of the space in this issue. There’s not a whole lot of extra content here regarding characters and nuance from a regular sized issue but what you are getting feels more like a  good normal sized issue that doesn’t feel short because the extra pages allow for the heavy action act. So while technically you are getting extra, I’d describe it more as you are getting something that simply feels right and complete.

I expect Matt Kindt comics to be good and it was.