Writer: Dennis Hopeless
Artist: Emilio Laiso
Colourist: Ruth Redmond
Letterer: Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou
Of all the Valiant heroes X-O Manowar has never been a particular favourite of mine. Nothing against Aric generally it’s just others have taken my attention more. I enjoyed both Vendetti’s run and Kindt’s run. I’ve even enjoyed some of the classic X-O (though his 90’s origin story is peak 90’s comics tropes). Yet I never found an X-O Manowar book that I really loved. Until now.
When last we saw Aric it was at the end of Harbinger Wars 2 and he was busy fixing satellites with Livewire and pondering his future. There’s been quite a gap between those events and this book, which means that this feels fresh and new. It still builds on what has gone before but in a different way.
One of the real draws for me has been what has been done with Aric’s sentient X-O armour AI – Shanhara. Put a snarky AI in a book and I am there. I have not envisioned Shanhara as such a thing in the past. Shanhara hasn’t really had a voice quite like this before. Sure, she’s had a voice but one without much personality. That changes here. I really liked having that aspect. It feels like finally X-O has a partner in his endeavours. That’s not a new theme but it’s never really been better realised. Here we have partners with banter and I really love partners with banter.
Not only that but this book did something I never thought would happen. It made me sympathetic to Aric. Now in the past Aric has not been the most likeable character. I would say in many regards he’s been my least favourite Valiant character because he’s very hard to feel any sympathy for because he makes bad choices because ego sometimes. Here though we see an Aric who still makes bad choices, he’s not doing it maliciously, he’s just trying so very hard when his values and those of the modern world don’t quite gel.
I really liked that because we often forget that Aric is not from our time. He’s a 5th Century Visigoth from Dacia who was quite happily fighting Romans before The Vine intervened. That disconnect he has with the modern world is really obvious in this book and again I really liked that. He’s a man out of time, albeit a man out of time bonded to an AI powered alien suit from the future (sort of). That craziness is on full show here and just works so neatly.
It also works that there’s a lot of humour. It seems odd saying I like humour in an X-O book but I absolutely do. I will gravitate to the lighter side of Valiant generally, so to have humour with a hero who is generally straight-laced was very much appreciated. It adds a fun dimension to the book which I have not had whilst reading an X-O book before. I never expected to laugh whilst reading the adventures of Aric and his alien armour but I am was so pleased to do so here.
Not to say there isn’t drama. Especially in the later issues there’s a real sense of tension and danger. I am also pleased to see Valiant again tackling almost modern politics. There are no direct analogies to any current events but there’s definitely things that feel recent and are familiar in that way though given a bit of a comic book style gloss which helps because this is a book about a man and his super powered alien AI partner suit.
The new characters introduced here aren’t all the most memorable that Valiant have perhaps ever had, but they are still interesting and they work in the world here. I liked all of them and hope we do get to see more of them in the future. Of particular interest was Troy who reminded me of the Valiant characters in the past but with a new and different dimension to him. For me Troy is one character to keep an eye on.
The art feels in keeping with Valiant’s house style so this does feel like it fits with past runs of the character. There are some really nice choices with the art such as the way the X-O suit is portrayed. It feels like the suit we’ve seen before but I like the way the blue harder armour parts contrast slightly with the yellow more organic looking arts, especially when the suit starts to envelop Aric. The way the suit is portrayed is alien but also reflects the AI partnership that’s the core of Aric and Shanhara’s relationship.
There’s plenty of action of course as this is an X-O book and the action never feels flat. Explosions practically leap off the page. The way the action is portrayed feels like Aric is operating in a very three dimensional world. The effects are impressive. The quieter moments also work. I like the little details such as Aric wearing a hoodie but which shows the fact he’s missing the lower half of one arm in the way it drapes. It’s a subtle detail about an important physical character trait.
I will also give a shout out to the lettering. The way Shanhara’s speech is portrayed is excellent. It reads like AI speech but AI speech with personality. It’s not just basic squared off lettering but lettering with a slight organic roundness. It’s very subtle but a great choice for the character. The contrast between her speech and Aric’s means it’s very easy to differentiate their voices. And some of the choices for the noises for the explosions and other action is excellent.
So yes I just really enjoyed reading his book. I started this trade and couldn’t put it down The ending was a bit of a cliff-hanger and I had been hooked all the way through. I laughed, I gasped and felt sorry for Aric. Though I was glad to see that his stubborn idiocy was still front and centre and I did get irritated by him at points which is a good thing because I was irritated precisely because I cared about what happened to him and Shanhara.
If you have never read any X-O Manowar before this is a great jumping on point for the the character, though if you go back and read an earlier run you might be surprised by the difference. If you are a fan of super serious Aric you may not enjoy, but for me this was a great X-O book and the most fun I’ve had reading the character in many years.