Thursday, 26 September 2013

X-O Manowar, Volume 1: By the Sword by Robert Venditti and Cary Nord Review

Aric is a 5th century Visigoth warrior fighting the Roman Empire who have driven his people from Dacia, their homeland (modern day Romania). During a fateful battle, he loses his father and wife thanks to his brash, immature tactics and later, while leading a rescue party, he encounters what he believes to be a Roman slave vessel only to discover it's an alien craft. The alien race - known as the Vine - abduct Aric and a number of his people, taking them to their ships to toil as slaves, cultivating their holy plants. And it's here that Aric discovers Shanhara, the legendary sentient X-O Manowar armour, one of the most powerful weapons in the universe, that has rejected everyone who has tried to wear it. Everyone - until it chooses Aric to bond with. Now after years of torture at the hands of alien overlords, suddenly the boot is on the other foot and Aric is one angry dude with one hell of a weapon to exact his revenge! But then Aric returns to Earth to make a shocking discovery...

This was the first series in Valiant's 2012 re-launch and is definitely my favourite of the titles I've read so far. I didn't read Valiant back in the 1990s so can't compare this one to the original series, but as it's a total reboot of the series, new readers needn't worry about jumping on with Book 1 - they start Aric's story all over again. This is also my first Robert Venditti book and I'm really impressed with his writing - the story could go a completely different direction under the stewardship of a less talented writer but Venditti's ideas and writing style have made X-O Manowar a hugely enjoyable read and a master-class in comics writing.

Conceptually, X-O Manowar is what you get when you give Conan the Barbarian Iron Man armour, though it appears semi-organic in assembly so Manga fans will spot a resemblance between Shanhara and the Guyver armour minus the hilarious breast cannons (but seriously Guyver is a super awesome series when you're a teenager). It's amazing that this book is just four issues because Venditti manages to put so much into them that it feels like you're getting more than you realise. The ambitious story of a Bronze Age character making it into a sci-fi story and becoming a superhero is a complicated one but Venditti breaks it down to the characters and it feels more personal and affecting as a result.

I also enjoyed the way he depicted the Vine - rather than lazily writing them as evil alien overlords with one facet to their personality, he gives them depth with multiple layers to their culture and society. For example, the fact that they have a strong religious foundation juxtaposed with their obviously militant approach to their endeavours could be a parody of the 21st century USA, but even if it's not, it makes a change for a writer to tackle the villain as being more than single-minded cartoons. Worshipping Shanhara, plants and fruit, and abducting other aliens and replacing them with their own, all speak to a more complex type of character than simply the arbitrary bad guy.

You also get some fantastic space superhero action once Aric bonds with the Manowar armour and takes on the Vine forces. Artist Cary Nord draws some outstanding fight sequences throughout, from the initial basic fighting between the Visigoths and the Romans, to the scenes between Aric and the Vine. Nord has won awards for his artwork on Conan the Barbarian so he's a perfect fit for Conan in space and it really shows in his work on this book.

X-O Manowar, Book 1: By the Sword is an excellent first book featuring first class storytelling, writing and art. Aric's story is a compelling one - what will the unsophisticated barbarian do with one of the most powerful weapons in the universe only he can use? I'm definitely on board to find out what he does next. This is an absolutely quality title that's well worth your time.

X-O Manowar Volume 1: By The Sword

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