All this month in Back Issue Bin to the Future, we’re going to focus on Valiant Comics. With Valiant relaunching X-O Manowar in May, along with Harbinger, Bloodshot, and Archer and Armstrong in the following months, it’s only natural that SMC jump on that chance to build up some of the hype. If you haven’t already, you should read the reviews SMC has done on Turok (who won’t be in the new Valiant Universe), Bloodshot, and Shadowman (can anyone say, coming soon?!).
Regardless of if you’re a Valiant fan or not, it needs to be noted that a lot of buzz has been going around the net, via facebook, twitter, and other sites and pages. In addition to other comic news, we hear this little buzz about Valiant. The buzz is getting bigger though. With the announcement that the relaunch of X-O Manowar is going to be a whopping 40 pages, we need to see how it all began. Are they going to get it right? If they don’t it’ll be a fiery crash to a quick start. But if they do… If they do, then we’ve got something amazing in the works. Something that hardcore fans really want to see. Something that’s been screaming to come back into the world of comics. Follow me as we go back to the beginning. Let’s take a look at one of Valiant’s earliest titles in X-O Manowar #1.
The story of X-O is thus: In the battle of his life, Aric is trapped in an alien ship high above Earth. The creatures looks like something out of a nightmare. Hard-skins, he calls them. The Hard-skins fight with all of their power, creating fire-light and other things that Aric can only marvel at what they could be. He kills them though, as he must. With a map in hand, he’s moving his way through the ship to get to something that he knows will help him escape, but once he finds the X-O armor, to him it looks like nothing. How could this cover and protect him? How could it do anything against the Hard-skins? How could he possibly survive? Before most of these questions can be answered, he is discovered. As quickly as this new battle starts, he puts on the X-O armor and proceeds to make his way, rather destructively, out of the ship. After falling to Earth, he discards the armor, leaving it in the snow of the mountains. What he soon discovers is that he’s no longer in a world that he recognizes. He is now on an Earth that has moved on without him. He’s arrived in 1992.
With a tale like this, it took two men to tell it. Jim Shooter, with already a few titles from his newly formed Valiant Universe under his belt, along with Steve Englehart bring you right to the end of one part of this story, only to start us right off on the next chapter. What I mean by that is this: We don’t know how Aric became abducted by these Hard-skins, or even why. That’s not important at the moment. We’re left to wonder at that, but as we try to figure out why all these things are taking place, Aric is two steps ahead of us. He’s trying to get out while we’re trying to make him wait and explain. It’s fight or flight here, and Aric is in no mood to fight. Jim and Steve weave this story so that even with the confusion at first, we’re lead along as Aric begins a new chapter in a future that he knows nothing about. It’s not without it’s faults though. The human versions of the Hard-skins are not very fleshed. Maybe there’s more to it in later issues, but here, it’s very two-dimensional. Nothing really separates them from anything else. To me, they’re just B-list villains. I think they could have done a bit more character development here in this first issue. This one issue itself could have been pushed to include another issue, thereby fleshing out the story significantly, and making it so much more rich.
As for the art, with Barry Windsor Smith’s layouts and Bob Layton’s finished art, this is one of the better looking Valiant titles. The characters don’t feel stiff, but seem more fluid than I’m used to with Valiant. The emotion on Aric’s face, though grim and hard-set for most of the issue, is noticeable. The armor itself is very unique, and attention to detail was definitely put into it’s creation. The orange exoskin with blue armor plating seems to fit rather perfectly when a put to the page, and it doesn’t differ as the panels move forward. Just by looking at it, you could tell that this was going to be something special. With the artists at hand, I think it’s safe to say that that is true.
In all honesty, I never had the time when I was younger to get into X-O like some of my friends. I was more interested in Bloodshot than anything else at that time. My brother was all over Shadowman, but X-O was right there. I’d see him from time to time, but never gave him the attention that he required. I can say now, as I’m getting closer to my 33rd year (gasp!) that I’m ready to dive in to this rich story. I’ve been picking up X-O issues as often as I can, reading the Wikipedia article about him, and anything else to feed my brain. It’s been worth it.
I bought this issue two months ago, and had to force myself to wait until just before writing this to read it. Was I disappointed? A little. I was expecting more of a rich story that I got out of this issue, but now that I look at it, it’s not so much about his past as it is about him coming to terms with his future, or what we see as his present. The past will always be there, and with Valiant’s very successful #0 issues, we get to learn exactly what happened before the start of issue 1. That’s half the fun, and the appeal of these characters. We get to learn right along with them as they discover a new world, new powers, a lost identity… It’s a shame it ended when it did. On May 4th though, we’ll see X-O Manowar again, and I can’t wait.
Parental Concern: Some nudity and violence.