Thursday, March 23, 2017

X-O Manowar "Soldier Part One": Like Reading John Carter funneled through Warhammer 40k

Written by Matt Kindt Art by Tomas Giorello Colros by Diego Rodriguez Letters by Dave Sharpe Editor Warren Simons


Since the Valiant relaunch the editorial and creative teams have struck for a variety of tone and genre aesthetic, if not always matching that variety in the from a representation. They’ve largely eschewed traditional superheroic beats for more postmodern takes on the “superhero” as a figure. Which has also led them to not running many long running ongoing series focusing instead on ongoing’s peppered with miniseries and more traditional events. The tip of that operational spear was Airc of Dacia, the X-O Manowar, in Robert Venditti’s initial fifty issue run on the series. Venditti oscillated between space opera and more terrestrial State sponsored stories, but never letting aesthetic override character.

New series writer Matt Kindt with an art team of Tomas Giorello and Diego Rodriguez on color continue that ethos as they tell the story of an older somehow more grizzled Aric, not of Dacia, but Urth. This is the beginning of a new series and is probably the best jumping on point one could expect in these kinds of serialized stories. Yes, there was a very long series prior to this one but knowledge of it or the larger Valiant universe doesn’t seem that necessary.  While Giorello provides fantastic wide panel action and design, his ability to get emotional depth out of the scarred and bearded face of Aric tells you all you need to know. Aric’s wistful stare off panel and the overall page layout point towards that history, but not in specifics just the weight of it all.

That gesture towards a history gives the narrative of the first issue a large amount of its weight. Kindt smartly drops the reader into the thick of it using the first issue to not setup a series but throw Aric out of whatever peace he had found and into the painful life of war he has always known.  Aric has left Earth, disenchanted with the continual fighting and pain, and taken up residence on the planet Gorin. Removed, he has remade himself into the agrarian ideal he fought to protect against Rome but whatever tranquility that gives him is thrown aside after being pressed into the service of the rebellious Azure nation.

In the style of other Old Man X stories, such as recently released of Logan or John Wick: Chapter 2, Airc’s brutal and brilliant military actions echo the kind of measures he took in the earlier series but Giorello never revels in this bloodletting. Giorello never passes up a chance to frame the images in such a way to place Aric’s eyes front and center, and they are deadened. There is a kind of banality to the killing and gore for all the novelty of design it’s all the same to Aric. While the new Valiant is still young, 5 years old, it’s interesting to see them already playing with this kind of story in continuity. Previous Old Man X stories in Ninjak “The Fist and the Steel” and Bloodshot: Reborn “The Analog Man” exist in the fever dreams of their leads.

Don’t let the brutal and revisionist posturing to put you off to much. The level of violence is perhaps a bit more stylish but on par with other Valiant titles. This is one of the best looking books I’ve read in a good while. Tomas Giorello’s designs evoke classic science fiction and give Aric a John Carter of Mars vibe, while Rodriguez color pallet gives everything the texture of pulp covers. Imagine an older John Carter funneled through the aesthetic sensibilities of Warhammer 40k.

“Soldier Part One” is a strong start and statement for the series going forward. The marketing speak around this new series promises the first 12 issues of the book to be divided into four 3 issue arcs (Soldier, General, Emperor, Visogoth) and I’m very curious to see how that turns out. Valiant has generally operated on 4 issue arcs and with the quick turnaround of trade paperbacks I wonder how things will read overall.

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