I had no previous experience with X-O Manowar nor any of the Valiant titles from the 1990s when they became available again in the Summer of 2012. The pleasant surprise was that the flagship title, this funky little concept for X-O Manowar, was good. Quite good. Even as much as I liked the foundation being lain I actually stepped away from the book, as I began my necessary monthly-to trade waiting cycle after the first arc. This is a necessary evil as a fan and a reviewer, as the amount of titles every month can at times be a bit overwhelming (and this is not a bad problem to have!). I was very curious then, a little under a year later, to see if it was time for me to jump back on board for the monthly installments, as “X-O Manowar #15” was beginning a new arc, and as some people like to bemoan such announcements, I for one appreciate the opportunity of a new entry, or re-entry, point. The challenge becomes if this issue is able to introduce this world, establish characters, present the conflict, and provide artwork that compliments the story being told.
Writer Robert Venditti hits the right notes narratively, but the minor themes are of more interest to me. With the initial launch, a story was presented of a leader showing his heroics, a savior of his people (and a species) being farmed out in an intergalactic slave trade. While the hero narrative can become stale quickly, Venditti has with issue #15 began to explore themes subtly that cover manifest destiny and cultural obsolescence. It is the frustration of a warrior king out of time, place, and relevance that feeds those complicated themes, and while it would be simple to just dismiss the motives of Aric as antiquated and subsequently cartoonish, I found myself feeling conflicted about the simple creed of Does one not have the right to defend his/her people and land?. In the 21st century, a probable enlightened age, one should ask what does such a question mean, and I am interested to see how Venditti works out such a problem in this particular arc.
The art team of Lee Garbett, Stefano Guadiano, and Moose Baumann worked best for me in this issue when reminding me of something else—Prince Valiant. For those who do not know, Prince Valiant was, for me, one of the great big color comic stories in the Sunday funnies section of the newspaper growing up. The artwork was very bright and distinct, inked heavily but showing very human characterization (and lots of great looking wild animals!). The scenes of Aric and his people that the Manowar team provides gives my brain an uncanny jog down that particular avenue of memory lane, giving me a great feeling of seeing an homage to “classic” sword and sorcery or adventure comics that use to be printed on those limited color palettes and low-grade newspaper. Hmmmmm, suddenly I have become a bit wistful for DC Comics to resurrect one of my favorite experiments they attempted pre-new 52, Wednesday Comics…but I will save that thought for another day.
I am actually relieved X-O Manowar is showing strength now having transitioned to a second year, as the initial arc did present a story with possibility of being something with some substance. While Valiant is trying very hard to solidify its universe by connecting all of its titles (Harbinger Wars was a mini-event for the summer attempting this, which many critics/fans felt was very successful) this issue does a satisfactory job of giving a new or even a lapsed reader a door into a story that has some interesting layers to be discussed down the road.