Written by: Matt Kindt
Pencils & Inks by: Tomas Giorello
Colors by: Diego Rodriguez
Letters by: David Sharpe
When Mike asked me to conduct the advanced review for the newest volume of X-O Manowar, I confessed I hadn’t kept up with Valiant at all. I’ve never read a bad book by them. I’ve never even read a Valiant comic that was just OK. It’s a fledging company that creates good books day-in and day-out, but symptomatic of any publisher without 20+ years of continuance, it can be hard to worm one’s way to the top of the pull lists of the masses. I read the first volume of X-O following Valiant’s re-launch in 2012. It was good. Very good. But (recurring theme), I didn’t want to compromise the slots on my pull-list occupied by bigger publishers to make room for it going forward. Balls.
What immediately strikes me upon reading the 2017 model of X-O Manowar is the incredible resemblance to Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic’s opening run on Thor from 2012. The aged, bearded, and battle-scarred Aric of Dacia is no longer on Earth, missing an arm, and has grown tired of war. The artwork is stunningly reminiscent of Ribic’s. But that’s where the similarities end. Why? Aaron and Ribic’s work on Thor was tremendous – but this is better.
The relationship between Matt Kindt’s pen and Tomas Giorello’s pencil is something to behold. There’s tremendous conflict brewing in this comic, especially personal conflict within Aric. It’s subtle, it’s brewing, and it’s never truly clarified with exposition. The simmering turmoil and the ache with Aric for war is there, no matter how resigned and mundane his actions are, or contradictory his words may be. War is part of his character (fun fact: it’s also in the title of the book), and it takes little time for it to reach his farmland.
Kindt crafts a world that’s striking, not because we know little about it, but due to it’s familiarity and Aric’s relationship with it. It’s a simple-enough medieval/sci-fi mesh of a planet featuring the brutal machinery and savagery of battle, in short - something we’ve all seen before. Aric too has seen this tale told time and again. War never changes, and the audience and protagonist seem to be the only one who realize it. This is the driving force, not only in the narrative, but in the relationship between the reader and Aric. Whether you’d like to see him go back to his farm when the battle ends or take the helm in the next fight, there’s a goal you’re pulling for Aric to achieve throughout. So much so that when the inevitable cliffhanger came, I was angry. I needed to see the next page. Kindt and Giorello are, frankly, dicks.
Giorello’s work deserves an incredible amount of credit. Every panel in the book matters to the story, and it’s all beautifully rendered. The similarities between his and Ribic’s work are eerie in the best way possible. It’s finely detailed but also not perfectly clean as some of the rougher line-work remains on the page. Diego Rodriguez’s often sun-bleached colors also call back to a mix of Ribic and Dean White. The only possible complaint I could think of would be a lack of facial variation, but again the comic is largely about war, so I don’t expect to see many smiles or thoughtful looks.
The real task for Valiant is not to create great comics, but to create great comics that you want to continue reading. It needs to inspire a reader’s personal investment in the Valiant Universe. By that measure this book emphatically succeeds. I just hope I’m not stupid enough to forget how great it is when the inevitable Deluxe Edition is solicited. There’s that pesky recurring theme again.