Writer: Dennis Hopeless
Artist: Emilio Laiso
Inker: Raffaele Forte
Colourist: Ruth Redmond
Letterer: Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou
Here we are with the penultimate issue of what has been for me a really great run for X-O Manowar. Although in this issue Aric is pretty much absent that doesn’t really matter as it gives time to focus on Shanhara filling in some of the story about what was happening to her I had wondered about in earlier issues. She and Desmond are the key focus and characters this issue and it works really well. Des has been at the heart of things since the first issue and as a character he’s a really nice addition to the universe. I would be happy to see more of him in the future. Just an ordinary kid caught up with some extraordinary events, just wanting to help his friends.
Those events are taking on world ending proportions this issue as the evil Troy Whittaker puts into his motion his plans for world domination. I have to say Troy is a really good villain, one of the best that Valiant have produced in recent years. He reminds me quite a bit of Harada which I think it the highest compliment I could give a character who is on the bad guy side of things. He’s wily and clever and there’s a lot more to him than meets the eye. Seeing him go from supposed ally to ultimate bad guy has been interesting and cleverly done.
Shanhara though is the real hero is this story. She gets her own voice back and it’s great to see her finally tell us about the strange digital world she found herself in (remember that from like issue 3/4?). I wont spoil too much about it but when I tell you Troy was at the bottom of it and it was all a trap then I think you will understand that it was not a pleasant place or experience.
There is a lot of exposition in her speech but it works. It’s a story she’s telling to Desmond and there’s a coupe of really beautiful lines about the power of stories and being the hero of a story. I really loved the way Shanhara told Des he was a hero in this story. It was a lovely touching moment. I never felt that the exposition was too long or awkward or unwarranted. It revealed aspects of the story in a really interesting way.
It was also all juxtaposed with the current situation of a world that was not doing well as Troy has started using the singularity to wreak havoc in the form of what looks like green crystals and robots (there’s a really nice faint glow happening with the colouring which is excellent). Here’s this kid carrying around a blue orb that’s talking to him as he tries to dodge the technological, fantastical things going on around. The art really sells the urgency and there are some really nicely framed panels, like the one that just shows De’s legs as he runs along. You can feel Des weaving in and out of the dangerous elements of the world through the art.
The art also works really well when showing the strange digital trap that was laid for Shanhara. There’s a blocky digital feel to parts of it which makes perfect sense, it feels digital. We also see Troy’s evil version of Shanhara, the same weird green as the crystals and robots causing havoc. It all feels connected with the choices of design and colour.
When it comes to the pacing of the comic the art really helps with that. It helps show the tight time frame in which we’re operating and also goes back to those flashbacks as Shanhara fills Des in. The action is well realised as always with the way the singularity breaks through. Some nice framing of the singularity shards? (I am sure there’s a better name for them but shards seems appropriate) as they appear in front of different people.
All of that is helped by the lettering, especially with Troy’s weird creepy announcements that are everywhere, different phrases and lines repeated over and over again as if he is controlling many different overlapping voices. It’s very effective and you can hear the distortion or the way you’d expect it to sound. It’s very threatening and really helps add to a pretty dangerous atmosphere.
It’s also really nice to see Shanhara’s speech back. It’s not quite human, still with that AI flavour but it feels natural and interestingly reads more like a person’s speech than Troy’s weird announcement speech. It really helps us see Shanhara as more than just an AI suit, or an orb. She’s a person with her own voice which is one of the things I have loved about this book with the writing, art and lettering all giving life to a character I hadn’t thought of in quite this way before.
I sill really love the design of Shanhara in the digital trap world (I cant think of a better name for that setting, I apologise). It’s just a really nice blend of alien other worldlines, the X-O suit and a young woman. I never really had a picture of Shanhara in my head but for me this is no the definitive. It’s a really logical and pretty character design that works. I do hope we get to see more of this depiction of Shanhara.
Of course there’s no guarantee of that as yes we have another cliff-hanger, even more catastrophic than the last. It’s a really strong emotional moment too. I am really hoping for a happy ending to this story, for the heroes to actually survive and manage to beat Troy but, well, it’s not looking good. I don’t think I have ever been quite so invested in a penultimate issue of X-O Manowar before. Especially considering Aric is barely in it. This has been a very short run, relatively speaking, for this character but it’s certainly opened up the characters of Aric and Shanhara. I can’t wait to see where the finale goes.