Break from the Bat #13: X-O Manowar #1

I’ve tried a few times to get into Valiant’s tent-pole titles over the past several years. But other than an isolated issue of Ninjak or a promising mini like Savage, nothing really took. Perhaps the problem lies in being dropped into the middle of a completely foreign mythology; it was easy to start reading DC and Marvel, because their pop-culture pervasiveness gave me a general context, even if I wasn’t current on the specifics of the day. But with the announcement months ago that Valiant would relaunch X-O Manowar—arguably their most important title—with a new #1 and creative team, I figured it was as good a time as any to give the publisher another shot. Valiant kindly supplied Batman News with an advance copy, and I was eager to dig in.

Art by Lewis Larosa with Brian Reber

It’s gorgeous

Before I get into the story, I must say that you will have trouble finding a better-looking book on the rack this month. Artists Tomás Giorello and Diego Rodriguez work wonderfully together, with an aesthetic reminiscent of the collaboration between Barnaby Bagenda and Rom Fajardo on DC’s Omega Men. Giorello produces excellent lines and imaginative locales, while leaving plenty of room for Rodriguez’s sophisticated color work. The end result at times has a very paint-like quality. If you enjoy immersion in a fantastical world, the visuals alone make X-O #1 a bargain at $3.99.

The artwork offers more than fine finishing, though. Giorello’s layouts provide a rich narrative all their own. Skillful variations in perspective during extended dialogue animate scenes that could easily feel visually stale if developed with less care. The character posture and facial work are impeccable, too. I say it a lot (maybe too much), but this is a book where you could ignore the words and still get a lot out of it.

But don’t ignore the words

I knew a little bit about Aric of Dacia—the hero of this book—from reading the first issue of the prior run. But that was a long time ago, and I remembered little beyond his name and his general time of origin. Writer Matt Kindt starts this new run in continuity with its predecessor, so there’s no origin story. We don’t get to see—at least not at the moment—how Aric came to possess the mysterious, sentient ball from which he derives his extraordinary power. In fact, Kindt wisely leaves the doodad in the margins throughout this debut, instead spending time building Aric up into a compelling lead.

Kindt also does well to avoid the pursuit of premature depth. Newcomers like myself aren’t asked to care more about Aric than we ought to at this point, even though I suspect veterans of the character will find plenty of well-earned significance in his plight. Ultimately, this issue does an excellent job of introducing a visually inviting world and an easy-to-understand conflict, without any unnecessary footnotes to outside material or complex emotions. There will be lots of time for that later, and I shall welcome it; but for my proper introduction to the world of Valiant, I appreciate not having to wade through—or guess at—too much continuity.

I’m on-board

It’s taken a while for something to stick, but I’ve finally found a Valiant title that I’m interested in reading long-term. X-O Manowar #1 hits shelves on March 22, and if you’re new to this like I am, I suggest giving it a shot. This feels like the beginning of something very exciting. And if you’re a long-time fan of the book, read it and let me know how it measures up to what’s come before.

SCORE: 8/10

Thus ends my look at the excellent X-O Manowar #1. Go get it on March 22! But in the meantime, have a look at what else we’ve been reading, and come shout at us in the comments once you’re done.

Deathstroke #12-13

Art by Bill Sienkiewicz
Deathstroke #12 and #13 launch a new arc, and if you haven’t been reading the book, then you’re going to be lost… trust me. Christopher Priest is an incredible writer, but he requires your full attention. In fact, Deathstroke’s narrative is so convoluted (both in good and negative ways), that it’s probably best that you read each issue twice… at a minimum.
These two issues are littered with editor’s notes pertaining to events of previous issues as a number of plots surge together. On top of that, a new character is thrown into the mix, Raptor. His introduction into the title is… rough. His appearance is what drove me to cover these issues, but upon reading issue #12, all I could think was, “Maybe it wasn’t a good idea to throw him into the mix. This doesn’t seem to be working.” Thankfully, issue #13 changed my opinion as the ties between each of the predominate characters is revealed. Yes, it’s a shaky start, but worth sticking through it. Raptor essentially plays third wheel in these stories, so if you’re hoping for him to make a big impact, it doesn’t happen here. He does, however, feel true in his representation, and I’m confident he’ll pop back up again. What makes these issues really work though, are the screwed up family dynamics…And you thought your family was crazy… 7/10
– Josh

Superman #17

Art by Sebastián Fiumara and Dave Stewart

Guest artist Sebastián Fiumara shines in this one-and-done look into Hamilton’s spooky swamp. His rendering of the environment and his foreboding perspectives generate genuine concern for young Jon and his friend Kathy, and a creepy house at the center of the swamp looks like it could have been drawn by the great Kelley Jones. Tomasi and Gleason script it well, so while it doesn’t hook into the recent narrative, it’s a good read. And with May solicits indicating further investigation of this creepy corner of Hamilton, Superman #17 seems like a piece of a larger whole after all.

– Brian

The Wild Storm #1

Art by Jon Davis-Hunt
Ellis continues his legacy (Wildstorm, The Authority) and delivers one of my favorite debuts in a while (yes, even more so than Mother Panic). Now, I will admit that there isn’t anything earthshattering in the debut issue, but the foundation that is created gives me hope – particularly the attention to character and motivations. Wild Storm #1 explores a world that’s on the cusp of a modern day industrial revolution – one steeped in secret organizations and death. Ellis is an incredible, yet subtle, writer, and Jon Davis-Hunt’s art is equally spectacular. The narrative contains a dark undertone that feels as though it could easily (and successfully) transition into a HBO, Showtime, or Netflix original series. Whether you’re a fan of the original Wildstorm or not, this “Rebirth” of the series is well worth your attention! 8.5/10
– Josh