Pullbox Reviews: X-O Manowar #1 – A basketball, a Volkswagon, & a manbun… discuss.

Always love the covers on X-O…

Yet another chapter in the history of Visigoth warrior Aric of Dacia, X-O Manowar, begins.

In his time on Earth, Aric has faced challenges that would have crushed a lesser being. Alien empires, multidimensional threats, intergalactic bounty hunters. With the help of the sentient Shanhara armor, he has defeated any and all who would stand in his way, laying waste & stacking bodies. But a new test has arisen, the likes of which X-O Manowar has never met. This challenge will do anything to bend Aric to its will. To break him down & mold him into something unrecognizable. Something… other than what he has always been.

This day, Aric faces… a single mom.

X-O Manowar has been around a while now, originating in the brainpans of Jim Shooter & Barry Windsor Smith back in the late 1980’s. He’s seen things. Done things. Through the years, the stories have taken some minor turns, retcons here and there in order to keep the growing Valiant Universe fresh, but through it all Aric has remained true to the heart of his origins. Still, there might have been something missing in all those years, across the many story arcs. I really didn’t know what it could be, having been a fan of this title almost since the beginning, but as this new chapter for Valiant’s flagship title kicks off, I might have figured out what it is.

Humor.

In recent time, we’ve seen Aric begin to take offense at his armor’s constant unsolicited advice, to the point that Aric has demanded… ordered… that Shanhara remain silent. To speak when spoken to & to stay out of Aric’s head unless invited. That was a level of new conflict that was interesting, but Dennis Hallum has gone one awesome step farther. He’s taken the well-established relationship between Aric & the Shanhara armor, and set them to bickering like an old married couple. I know this because I’m one half of an old married couple myself, & some of the running dialogue between these two reminded me of some of the pseudo-arguments I’ve had with my wife (love ya, honey!). It might not seem like a huge thing, but it adds a much needed layer to one already pretty deep character, & it explores another who’s often been left in relative two dimensions: Shanhara itself. Finally, Aric’s sentient armor has a little more of a voice to call its own, and I gotta tell ya it’s kind of a smart ass.

Another interesting turn taken by Hallum is found in Aric’s new challenge. Ms. Morris, mother of a youngster named Desmond whom Aric has taken to hanging out with in his down time, is a force of nature and not to be denied. Where Aric has spent his comic book career facing alien legions, now we’re actually seeing him struggling to fit into a world that doesn’t always need something to be hit really hard. Hailing all the way back to the days of the Roman Empire, Aric’s never really settled in anywhere that his background didn’t work. Placed squarely in the middle of New York City, Aric’s smash first/question never approach is letting him down.

Listen to the armor, Aric. It knows things.

Now as I’m sitting here, typing this out and flipping back through the issue again, the first thing that really stands out to me is that Aric’s wearing a man-bun. The second that stands out is that the artistic team of Emilio Laiso & Ruth Redmond is good enough that my only real complaint comes down to the main character’s choice of hairstyle. It shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who’s been paying attention. Valiant has always been marked as a publisher who always seems able to pick up seriously talented artists (um… hello? Barry Windsor Smith was one of the founders). Laiso’s line work pumps in as much detail as should be possible without resorting to the sale of one’s soul, while Redmond breathes life into the work with her use of colors. When their powers combine, they’re like a dynamic Wonder Twin™ duo of awesome! Everything in these pages needs to be looked at, studied, & inevitably admired. From the bright lights of the big city and flaming spaceship wreckage, to the lurky looming shadows of a villain’s lair, the book is just damned pretty.

As a letterer, Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou gets to stretch his legs a bit with X-O Manowar. Aric is holding a near constant inner dialogue with his armor, so there’s pretty much always dialogue running across the page, & much of it is happening right around Aric’s head. Otsmane-Elhaou still manages to differentiate Aric from Shanhara, and lays down all of the talk-bubbles without blocking out any of the previously mentioned artwork. Also, Otsmane-Elhaou is able to weave his sound effects into the artwork itself, further slipping his lettering into the background rather than interrupting the action on the page.

Despite the tactic of marking each new story arc with new numbering (another #1 to dangle in front of OCD collectors), I really like how Valiant sets up each new chapter in Aric’s career as a great jumping on point for new readers. At no time does X-O Manowar seem like such a cumbersome stack of books that someone less familiar with the story wouldn’t be able to come along and catch up pretty easily. This new run may be taking a lighter approach than readers are used to, but I think it’s a great step up in the continued building of Aric as a person.

All intergalactic war & no basketball makes the Visigoth a dull boy.

Final Score: 10+

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