A massively talented pool of creators pays a joyful tribute to Prince Aric and the X-O suit in this special anniversary issue – a celebratory act that is as respectful of the mythos as it is inventive.
In May 2012 Valiant Entertainment relaunched several titles in its trademark universe. Many of the titles and characters had fallen into relative obscurity since the days of Valiant’s ownership by Acclaim Comics, but when the decision was made to reignite interest in the company’s incredible original characters, X-O Manowar became the flagship title.
Two years later, X-O Manowar #25 is a celebration of the character’s triumphant return to his roots. The special anniversary issue brings together an incredible cast of writers and artists, all collaborating on a range of exciting, insightful and entertaining tributes to Prince Aric of Dacia and his sentient suit of armour.
It’s entirely appropriate that this anniversary issue begins at the beginning, with a brief but thorough retelling of the origin of X-O Manowar. From there, the issue transitions into a story entitled ‘The Fate of Kings’, in which Aric reflects on the lessons of war and mercy that he learned from his uncle Alaric, who perished at the sacking of Rome in the fifth century.
These first two stories flow very nicely together: the first gives a very factual account of Aric’s abduction by and escape from the Vine, whereas the second provides a window into how he has tried to adapt to a world that is no longer his own.
The major story of the issue, however, is a prelude to this summer’s ‘Armor Hunters’ crossover event, in which a deadly strike team is out to find and destroy the X-O suit once and for all. In ‘Burial’, we see the team dealing with the death of one of their own. The armour that killed their compatriot has been destroyed, and at the story’s conclusion the team sets off for a familiar third planet out from a yellow sun. ‘Armor Hunters’ is going to be a big event, and even though the prelude we see in this issue is extremely brief, the motivations and resolve of the titular hunters are already very clear.
‘Burial’ aside, most of the content of this issue is not action-driven. It’s part character study – where Aric comes from, why he chooses to be a hero – and part exploration of a fond relationship between the readers, the creators and the character.
The art is solid on all accounts; from the majesty of alien worlds to the almost unbearably cute ‘Armor’s Day Off’, each story finds its own little corner of X-O Manowar’s mythos. The historical, the fantastical, the comedic and the sentimental are all given equal weight simply by virtue of sharing space within the same book, without particular justification.
Why is the X-O armour playing with an owl and a worm on a swing? Because it’s a fun way of reminding readers that in the case of this character, the suit can exist without the man. Or, to put it more concisely: why not?
If the point of this issue was to celebrate X-O Manowar, it’s a rousing success. There’s not enough of anything to be especially revelatory, story-wise, but in this case that is a good thing. It keeps the issue inclusive, inviting new and lapsed readers to dip their toes in the proverbial water – providing a taste of the character’s rich history in the hope of fostering a deeper relationship.
The all-star creative team, the cover art history, the pin-up pages and the varied tones and styles of the storytelling are all full of love and reverence (and irreverence, for that matter) for a character whose long history has been a bumpy one, but whose future looks bright.
Robert Venditti, Tom Fowler, Justin Jordan (W), Diego Bernard, Sean Chen, Tom Fowler, Brian Hitch, J.G. Jones, Barry Kitson, Cary Nord, Rafer Roberts, Andy Runton (A) • Valiant Entertainment, $4.99. May 21, 2014.