With solid story and art -- as well as slick packaging -- Valiant's X-O Manowar is poised to be that midway comic between the Big Two and the independents that might grab fans from both. The first issue features a smartly-designed infographic (!) in the inside front cover to set the historical tone, and the battle between the Visigoths and the Romans that opens the story is both convincing and swiftly paced. How do we get to a highly-developed suit of armor in the middle of 402 AD? Spoilers!
I could position this review for readers familiar with the long history of Valiant Comics, that unique publisher that launched in 1989, went on to produce such memorable comics as Magnus Robot Fighter, Shadowman, Archer & Armstrong, and the aforementioned X-O, and had several sea-changes as the company fell into different hands. But as loyal as that fanbase is, I don't think they alone are going to be enough to put this current run of "rebooted" titles to the top of the charts.*
And I don't think the new Valiant thinks that way either. Instead of resting on the laurels of an older brand, advanced quality is evidenced in everything about X-O Manowar #1: such as the writing, art, coloring, even the trade-dress and logo (thanks to noted designer Rian Hughes). But that's the sort of high bar set for talent that was the calling-card of most of the previous Valiant incarnations, and what provided them with the
conceit goal of being the publisher closest to becoming Number Three to the Big Two.
Writer Robert Venditti has crafted a period piece that is obviously really well-researched, the result being naturalistic dialogue and a believability that stands up to the eventual sci-fi elements that literally sneak in. Cary Nord is an artist's artist, using actual skills of illustration and dramatic composition. Combined with inker Stefano Gaudiano and colorist Moose Baumann, we have something much more along the lines of cinema (or, in the case of "Game of Thrones," premium cable) storytelling than some of the jumbled mish-mosh of crowded panels and limbs and guns and laser effects everywhere that some comics present as "cool."
Why can't quality be cool? That's a question original Valiant co-founder Jim Shooter asked back in '89. I firmly believe quality can be cool. I believe that if you take the time to thoughtfully put together a new line of comics, the readers will respond. And if you are craving something on the adventure level of DC/Marvel but in the market for something new, a book like X-O Manowar might open you up to a whole new universe to follow.
*As for those aforementioned fans of the original Valiant: this is far more VH1 (not to be confused with the awesome music network) than VH2. You know what I mean (secret handshake).**
** Yeah, I totally worked for the VH2 comics back in the day, full disclosure. Bring back Trinity Angels.
X-O Manowar #1 is out now.