Interview: Writer Robert Venditti Rebuilds 'X-O Manowar' At Valiant

After the newly-resurrected Valiant announced that they would be launching the line with a new X-O Manowar series in May, we thought we'd speak to writer Robert Venditti about bringing back Aric, the barbarian in the high-tech alien armor. Venditti is the writer and creator of The Surrogates as well as The Homeland Directive, and is joined on the series by Cary Nord on art.

Here's the synopsis:

Born into battle and raised under the oppressive thumb of the Roman Empire, Aric of Dacia is a beloved figure among his men and a leader of the Visigoth people. But when he's taken prisoner after a brutal encounter with an alien strike force, he must capture the X-O Manowar armor - the most powerful weapon in the universe - if he's to save his family and return to his people. But when he arrives he finds 1,600 years have passed and the most primitive man on Earth - a man out of time - now wields a weapon capable of incalculable destruction

MTV Geek: How did you come onboard for the return of X-O Manowar?

Robert Venditti: Warren Simons, Executive Editor at Valiant, reached out to me last summer. When he called me, we talked on the phone for a while about Valiant and their plans to relaunch the line. I told Warren I was very interested in the idea. How often do you get the chance to not only relaunch a character, but also help shape a universe? So he sent me a ton of information: reprints of stories from Valiant’s marquee characters, summaries about the universe, stuff like that. Reading through them, there was a lot to like, but X-O Manowar really resonated with me. A 5th-century Visigoth is captured by aliens, comes into possession of the universe’s most powerful weapon, and returns to Earth in the modern day. It’s such a compelling core conflict. In terms of narrative, there’s so much you can do with that.

I went to work on my pitch, detailing the ways I wanted to expand the story, but still remaining true to the aspects of X-O that made him such a beloved character. It was the longest pitch process I’ve ever been through—I really had to prove that I understood the characters and had a clear vision moving forward. Which is a good thing. You want a publisher to take the time to do things right. By the time X-O Manowar #1 is on the shelves May 2nd, I will have been working on the series for almost a year.

Geek: You touched on the appeal of the series above, but why do you think X-O was the right book to relaunch the Valiant line?

Venditti: I wasn’t a part of that decision-making process, but from my perspective, he’s one of the linchpins of the entire Valiant line. One of the things I really paid attention to in my pitch was the aliens, who are named The Vine -- a name derived from their plant-centric culture. We’ll be spending a lot of time with The Vine, learning about their society and seeing what drives them, and as we’ll see, there’s a good chance they might be a major force, not just in X-O Manowar, but throughout the Valiant Universe.

Geek: On the same note, to your mind, why is now the right time for Valiant to come back?

Venditti: Valiant has always been known as a publisher that features strong characters and solid, thought-provoking stories. There’s always an audience for that kind of material. Like Warren says, it isn’t a question of “Why now?” so much as “Why hasn’t it already been brought back yet?”

Geek: How much experience did you have with the original Valiant? Any favorite titles?

Venditti: I wasn’t overly familiar with the original Valiant run, but that speaks more to my inexperience with comics in general. I didn’t start reading comics until around 2000, so I wasn’t really aware of any of the publishers’ histories or continuities. One of the first things I did after speaking with Warren, though, was read up on X-O and Valiant, so I would have a firm understanding of the character and the larger universe. I’m a highly organized writer, and I don’t start scripting until I have all my ducks in a row.

Geek: There was definitely a hard sci-fi, “mature” take on superhero fiction in the original books. What kind of tone or feel are you going for in the incarnation of X-O Manowar?

Venditti: I’d say we’re definitely telling “mature” stories but they’re also widely accessible. Anyone who has read The Surrogates or The Homeland Directive will know that I already tend to write in that sphere, so that’s my comfort zone.

Geek: Tell us a little about your take on Aric.

Venditti: I'm building on the foundation that was already laid with the original run, but expanding upon it and throwing in some interesting twists along the way. What did it mean to be a Visigoth in 400 A.D. trying to survive under Roman rule? How would that life shape Aric as a character? And whereas in the original run Aric was more of a barbarian, we’ve made him more of a thinking warrior. He’s the nephew of Alaric I, heir to the Visigoth throne. It stands to reason that he’d be a sophisticated man, skilled in tactics and the type of leader who inspires action in others. At his heart he’s still a warrior, though, so if you get him mad, he’ll draw his sword and wreak havoc. That’s a nice dichotomy for a character, and it presents all kinds of questions. What happens when you make him mad, and he no longer wields just a sword, but the most dangerous weapon in existence?

Geek: And could you tell us a little about the suit? What kind of conversations did you have about its design and function?

Venditti: Jelena Kevic-Djurdjevic worked with Warren on redesigning the X-O Manowar armor. She’s a brilliant conceptual designer, and her take on modernizing the suit while staying true to its roots is spot-on. As for the armor’s functions and capabilities . . . there are so many cool uses. Some of them readers will recognize, but others are new—including one that will be the key to the entire first year of the series.

Geek: What did you discuss in terms of the alien technology and bringing that across?

Venditti: The Vine's society is plant-based, but it’s also technologically advanced, which creates a nice mix in terms of visuals. Cary is rendering this in some very interesting ways, some overt and others more subtle. The interior of The Vine ship where Aric is held captive is really going to be something to see.

Geek: To go back to “classic” Valiant, there was a little bit of a shared aesthetic for costumes and characters—a lot of natural materials, organic mechanics, that kind of thing. Have you and Valiant editorial talked about how the look of this series might integrate within the rest of the universe?

Venditti: Oh, sure. The unified vision of the original Valiant line was one of the things that made it so successful. Editorial was talking about that long before they brought me in.

Like I said, they’ve been planning the relaunch carefully for quite some time.

Geek: Who are some characters you’re looking forward to readers meeting for the very first time?

Venditti: Other than The Vine, I like what we’ve done with Gafti, Aric’s Visigoth peer who gets a few mentions in the original X-O run. We’ve really fleshed out Gafti’s character and expanded his role in the series. And there are a more than a few Valiant heroes and villains I have plans for, but all of that has to remain secret for now.

Geek: What else are you working on now?

Venditti: Brett Weldele and I will have The Surrogates: Case Files out sometime this year, probably closer to the summer. They’ll be self-contained, single-issue stories set in the world of The Surrogates, each of them dealing with a different surrogate-related crime. I’m also continuing to work with Attila Futaki (Severed) on the graphic novel adaptations of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. I have some new creator-owned projects in the works, too, but nothing I can give any details about yet.

X-O Manowar #1 makes its debut on May 2nd.

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