X-O Manowar: Heralding the Summer of Valiant, Aric of Dacia is Reborn...


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The new Valiant’s flagship title launches this week, setting the stage for one of the most anticipated events of 2012.

Arguably one of the most popular characters of the Nineties returns, as X-O Manowar kicks off the return of Valiant Entertainment to the field of comic book publishing this week. The brainchild of legendary creators Jim Shooter and Bob Layton, X-O Manowar led the original Valiant Comics to the forefront of the industry, allowing the upstart publisher to challenge DC and Marvel in the sales charts at a time when most thought such an achievement impossible. When all was said and done, X-O Manowar sold 8 million copies, no mean feat for an original, independent series.

To this day, X-O Manowar, not to mention books like Archer and Armstrong, Harbingers, and Bloodshot – Valiant Entertainment’s other vanguard properties this summer, not coincidentally – boast legions of die-hard fans, who still reminisce about the glory days of the 1990’s and the first real alternative to the tried and true (and tired) offerings from DC and Marvel. Featuring a stable of established top-notch talent such as Barry Windsor-Smith supported by an up-and-coming crew of young guns, Valiant Comics quickly garnered a reputation for producing high quality, character-driven superhero comics.

Leading the charge up the sales charts, Shooter and Layton’s X-O Manowar told the tragic story of Aric of Dacia, a young Visigoth prince, orphaned as a child by the brutality of the Roman Empire, who is captured by the mysterious Spider Alien and spirited off-planet, where he comes into possession of the powerful sentient armor designated X-O Manowar. Upon his escape and return to Earth, Aric discovers 1600 years have passed; his struggle to acclimate to his new era driving the plot of the series for much of its initial run.

An ill-fated reboot under the Acclaim Comics banner, erased Aric of Dacia from continuity and repositioned the X-O Manowar armor as an ancient artifact of unknown origin worn by American scientist Donovan Wylie. Let’s just assume this far weaker backstory must have been the trade-off for starring in an Acclaim-produced video game with Marvel’s Iron Man…

Flash forward a decade or so, past an ugly lawsuit or two and a big infusion of capital thanks to the Cuneo Brothers (Peter Cuneo helped turn around Marvel’s financial woes as CEO after it emerged from bankruptcy), and the newly formed Valiant Entertainment stands poised for another run at the Big Two, once again led by Aric of Dacia and his sentient alien armor.

Once again putting a premium on top talent, Valiant has recruited fan-favorite creators Robert Venditti (The Surrogates, The Homeland Directive) and Cary Nord (Daredevil, Conan the Barbarian) to usher in this new chapter of 21st century action and adventure for Aric of Dacia. Harkening back to Shooter and Layton’s original premise, Venditti and Nord’s story begins with the defeat of Aric’s Visigoths by the technologically and logistically superior Roman Empire.

Still steaming from his ill-advised charge on the Romans, when word of a possible sneak attack reaches his ears, Aric doesn’t hesitate to lead a pre-emptive strike against his enemies. What he finds instead is an alien Vine scout ship and its crew, who easily incapacitate and capture Aric, transporting him off-planet without his knowledge.

Venditti streamlines Shooter’s original premise, hitting all of the necessary beats, while revitalizing the sci-fi elements of X-O Manowar with much-needed 21st century sensibilities and relevance. Despite being ahead of its time when it was first published, let’s face it: an extraterrestrial race of conquerors called the Spider Aliens resonates about as much with a modern comics audience as Black Vulcan. The Vine on the other hand, sounds mysterious, foreboding, and insidious.

Built upon a solid foundation of historical fact, Venditti recognizes the depth Aric’s origin in the past adds to the character, even as he strips his protagonist of all connection to his home and people. It is this strange balancing act of history and science fiction that has always been the allure of X-O Manowar, and Venditti capitalizes on this quality with craft and intuition.

Venditti’s collaborator, Canadian Cary Nord, who recently signed as Valiant’s first exclusive artist, matches the writer stride-for-stride. Famous for his work with Kurt Busiek reinvigorating Dark Horse’s Conan franchise, Nord stretches the limits of his prodigious talent, laying down extravagant double-page spreads of epic battles one moment, then transporting the reader to the edges of space the next.

Nord packs every panel full of lush detail, showcasing an understanding of visual storytelling that is sadly lacking in many artists today. Everything is present for a reason and services Venditti’s script above all else. His use of reference, while evident in the minute details of the Visigoth village for instance, takes an appropriate back seat during scenes of high emotion. Like Venditti’s balancing of history and sci-fi, Nord approaches the use of reference for facial expressions with the same restrained grace found in the work of his artistic forebears Frank Frazetta and Hal Foster.

With some of the most stunning artwork to hit the stands this year and an epic story worthy of a skald’s saga, X-O Manowar once again leads the charge on the competition in this Summer of Valiant.

If you don’t believe me, then believe Aric of Dacia – in his own words

X-O Manowar #1, Robert Venditti (W), Cary Nord (A).Valiant Entertainment, ongoing series, $3.99. Released on May2, 2012.

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