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X-O Manowar #37 [Review]

xomanowar037Dead Hand Part 4: Red Earth

Writer: Robert Venditti
Pencils: Diego Bernard
Inks: Ryan Winn w/Mark Pennington & Bit
Colors: Brian Reber
Letters: Dave Sharpe
Cover: Stephen Segovia & Brian Reber
Editor: Tom Brennan
Editor in Chief: Warren Simons
Published by: Valiant
Cover Date: June 2015
Cover Price: $3.99

While my feelings toward Valiant have taken a definite beating in the last few months, this issue reminded me why I’ll certainly be sticking with this SERIES even if I don’t stick with the entirety of Valiant‘s output.

We come to the conclusion of this Dead Hand arc, and we find things at a bit of a standoff. Authorities on Earth are quite alarmed at what might be coming, and seek to find out what they can of it. Meanwhile, as readers we see that Dead Hand has paused to consider how to proceed, taken aback by the sudden presence of a number of armors (that Aric has called to his side from throughout the galaxy) and then by their defense of life (Dead Hand having been programmed to eradicate the armors, all of whom were to be selfish things causing harm and destruction to life, not defending it). Of course, we get the predictable battle, with somewhat predictable results, then a bit of wrap up and an “out” to allow for future situations.

This issue truly felt like the end of an event series…yet it’s actually “only” the end of a single 4-issue story within the main X-O Manowar title, and there were no tie-ins, cross-overs, one-shots, etc. This was an organic follow-up to last year’s Armor Hunters, taking stuff set forth by that and exploring it further, adding to the X-O/Aric mythos, and serving as another off-earth “cosmic adventure” for our hero that makes SENSE. It also as an arc gave us some more characterization of and motivation to the Vine that will have long-lasting consequences in-continuity (say, like Marvel‘s Avengers‘ initial Kree-Skrull War).

A lot of my feelings come from the arc in general, and this issue lacks some of the core characterization and “moments.” We do have what I would consider a satisfactory conclusion to the arc, while leaving things open for later stuff to develop.

As the end of an arc, this is definitely for the continuing readers, and certainly not geared to be a jump-on point or a special singular issue (see the X-O Manowar 25th Anniversary Special for that or next month’s issue). If you’ve been following the title, it’s well worth getting this issue; any negative feelings I have come from external/”meta” stuff.

Venditti‘s writing continues to be strong, and with no less than 38 (37 plus the #0) issues CONSISTENTLY thus far to his name, has become the iconic writer of the character and book: with his name attached, it’s simple that the story works within its continuity and internal feel. The art is good as well, and I have no particular complaints with it.

In short, I enjoyed this issue far more than I expected to–both in and of itself as a single issue as well as the conclusion to a huge (but short) storyline.

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Imperium #4 [Review]

imperium004Writer: Joshua Dysart
Artist: Doug Braithwaite
Colorist: Brian Reber with Ulises Arreola
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Cover: Rafael Albuquerque, Kano, Rafa Sandoval, Cary Nord, Doug Braithwaite
Editor: Alejandro Arbona
Editor in Chief: Warren Simons
Published by: Valiant Comics
Cover Date: May 2015
Cover Price: $3.99

This series is an interesting exercise for me so far. It feels like a definite “evolution” of sorts–having begun with Harbinger as an ongoing, bridged with Harbinger: Omegas and then functionally replacing Harbinger entirely. Its story began with what was laid out by the Harbinger run, but as those characters were scattered and moved about we still have Harada actively doing his thing…which presently is more important to the Valiant Universe than the Renegades’ story.

We find some of Harada’s people visiting another dimension, where one of them–Angela–is possessed by something. On their return, they find her eyes and entire visual system no longer exists and there is a self-aware intelligence inhabiting her body, but is not her. She offers knowledge in exchange for continued freedom/access to do her thing (the intelligence claims to be a scientist itself). She builds a machine, shows off her detachment, and by the end of the issue Harada declares a new war has begun.

If that seems a bit disjointed, it’s what I felt, reading this. I enjoyed the reading overall as a “latest segment of story,” but very much feel like it’s “just” part of a bigger story and not so much a cohesive whole by itself.

The art is definitely pretty to look at overall, if a bit disturbing at points…but that does mean it’s doing its job. For the stuff going on in the “other dimension” I didn’t find myself entirely following along, which I definitely do NOT care for…but if it was supposed to be surreal, I managed to pick up on that much.

We “feel” Harada in this issue more than we actually see him, which I definitely do not mind…the series is Imperium, not Harada. I do like the cover–or at least, the one I got–the “main” “A” cover. It’s got the stylized look of the series so far, and thus fits in visually as well as in simply BEING the newest issue. However, this seems to be the arbitrary conclusion to a short 4-issue arc (presumably for a $9.99 vol. 1 paperback) but does not really feel to me like it resolves anything…it simply continues stuff and kicks the door open on a new matter (presumably to be the focus of the next “arc”).

If you’re already following the title, this is worth getting for the continuation of the story. In and of itself as a single issue it’s nothing to jump over or seek out, though if you like Dysart and/or Braithwaite, and can find the first three issues it’d be worth getting those and this for a larger/longer reading experience (or just wait for the paperback). I do look forward to the next issue…not as some second arc, but just as the next chapter of an ongoing series.

X-O Manowar #35 [Review]

xomanowar035Dead Hand Part 2: Extinction Event

Writer: Robert Venditti
Penciler: Diego Bernard
Inkers: Ryan Winn w/Faucher & Pennington
Colorists: Brian Reber w/Ulises Arreola
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Cover Artists: Lewis Larosa, Jorge Molina, Rafa Sandoval, Juan Jose Ryp
Associate Editor: Tom Brennan
Editor: Warren Simons
Published by: Valiant
Cover Date: April 2015
Cover Price: $3.99

Including the #0 issue a few months back, this marks 36 issues of this title so far. Three years that Valiant’s been "back" in the monthly comics game. 36 monthly issues of a single ongoing title, period. 36 monthly issues with a single writer. And I’ve been reading since the beginning; and even looking back to the 1990s, the original X-O Manowar title was in its early to mid #20s when I became aware of it, and probably wasn’t much past its own 3-year mark when it dipped back off my radar for the most part. Which is all to say: this has to be one of the best "runs" I’ve experienced in a long time.

That said…this is the second issue of presumably a 4-part story. Unlike last year’s Armor Hunters crossover event, this story seems contained to this title. That it continues to draw from that event organically, furthering and developing stuff introduced is a great reward as a longtime reader. While this is not a multi title crossover event…the fact that it deals with stuff FROM one (for me) gives an interesting suggestion: if the initial introduction of the Armor Hunters warranted a huge event, and this Dead Hand thing is those guys’ failsafe and possibly a WORSE threat…SCALE has already been established such that stuff is still quite epic, even contained within this one title.

We open the issue on Earth, several years from now as a couple scientists contemplate an apparent supernova and decide they’d be toast by now if it was actually Alpha Centauri. We then shift TO the Alpha Centauri system where Aric races to contact the high priest on Loam, to get as many Vine evacuated as possible before their planet is destroyed. The Dead Hand protocol has triggered an extinction-level event to wipe out all life on the planet. Though Aric gets through and a handful of Vine escape…the planetary loss is horrific and leaves Aric angry as can be, even as we see how he HAS changed in his ways and dealings with others.

Story-wise, I found myself slightly distracted reading this as I marveled at the fact that I felt bad for the Vine people as well as contemplating Aric’s compassion for them…that they’re not merely some generic race of "spider-aliens" to be loathed AS a race.

The story itself is engaging and–other than the above thoughts–kept me racing through, wondering what would happen, how many would be saved, and seeing a lot of potential for "follow-up" to this issue’s events…particularly if this series lasts a lot longer yet.

The art did what I often prefer: looked good and did not distract. I liked it–I had a good sense of what was going on, and where my mind skipped ahead, forging a very clear expectation, the art quite lived up to it where it could have just as easy been a huge letdown.

"Obviously," as part 2 of a multi-part arc, and in this day ‘n age of comics not being the readiest-available form of entertainment for the casual reader…this won’t be an ideal jumping-on point. But if you’re already following the title, read the previous issue, and whatnot…this is well worth getting. Alternatively, if you’ve read Armor Hunters (the core mini and/or tie-ins and/or the full-event deluxe hardcover due out in a few weeks [as of this writing]…this arc is certainly a worthwhile follow-up to that event. And if you like "cosmic," this arc certainly fits that, and is certainly on-par with anything I know of recent Marvel cosmic stuff…but far more self-contained so far.

Matching to the previous issue (#34), and the above qualifiers…highly recommended!

X-O Manowar #34 [Review]

xomanowar0034Dead Hand part 1: To the Last

Writer: Robert Venditti
Penciler: Diego Bernard
Inker: Ryan Winn
Colorist: Brian Reber
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Cover Artists: Lewis Larosa, Jorge Molina, Das Pastoras, Butch Guice
Associate Editor: Tom Brennan
Editor: Warren Simons
Published by: Valiant Comics
Cover Date: March 2015
Cover Price: $3.99

This issue is fairly distinct as the first “overlay” cover I’m aware of from this incarnation of Valiant. In addition to the “regular” cover, we have another piece covering half the front and all of the back of the issue, providing the same house-ad in color on the back (but nothing on the interior) and half the image of the front (in black-and-white with nothing on the interior side). The overlay includes the arc designation Dead Hand and story chapter (1), while the main/actual cover itself underneath is entirely in color with no arc designation or anything to indicate a new or specific arc.

Compared to prior issues where the “A” cover was outright MISSING half the image as a “variant”/”interlocking” sequence of covers for a single issues, I’ll gladly take this. I don’t really “get” the need for the overlay–the arc title doesn’t cover much and fits the title logo and simply looks like a comic cover. I’ll also accept this as an alternative to having a “black and white variant cover” and a “color variant cover” or some “virgin art” variant cover. Seeing this process done infuriates me all the more on the matter of variant covers.

xomanowar0034_showing_overlay

That said, the cover isn’t bad but doesn’t really stand out to me other than the presence of the overlay.

I like the story quite well, and caught myself contemplating that I’m pretty sure Venditti has been on this book for 35-some issues now (including the #0 issue) which in this day and age is a significant run despite barely being 3 years. While I’ve had previous issues that I didn’t totally “follow” consciously, this one felt nicely rooted in a general continuity–I’ve read since #1; I read the Planet Death arc a couple years ago I read last year’s Armor Hunters stuff; and so this flows nicely out of everything that’s developed so far. I enjoyed seeing Aric return to Loam (and that I recognized the planet’s name) and felt like the Vine (aka “spider aliens”) could be sympathetic characters if only generically. I also quite liked Aric’s sense of responsibility toward ’em.

The art for the issue is solid, and while nothing stood out to me as singularly spectacular or such, it’s really good and fits the story quite well. The design of this issue’s Armor Hunters (with their armors) have a cool look to them and made me think of an “X-O Manowar Corps” in a sense.

This is clearly the opening chapter of an arc, as it basically “just” introduces stuff for the main part of the whole: we see Aric with his people as he prepares to leave; we’re introduced to what I believe are previously-unknown Armor Hunters; we’re introduced to Dead Hand; we see Loam and its reception for Aric; and we’re left on the cusp of a significant event for Loam and Aric as the issue ends. Though a reader would certainly enjoy this most as an in-context story, there’s just enough introductory stuff that I’d say this would be a good jumping-in point for someone to give the book a shot. Unfortunately, this IS “just” an opening chapter of a larger arc so that lends its own aspect to the book in general: there’s NOT a “full story” just in this single issue, which does promote the advantage of waiting for a collected volume to get an entire story in one book.

Whatever complaints I’ve had on variant covers, or my general complaint toward the $3.99 price point, this is a solid issue, and fresh off from reading it, it’s a nice validation of my enjoyment of the series as a whole. As the premiere and presently longest-running Valiant title, if you aren’t checking it out issue by issue, it’s at least well worth checking out in collected edition format. Significant as the Armor Hunters saga was, Dead Hand looks to be extremely significant for Aric and his supporting cast of characters minus additional issues outside of X-O Manowar itself to follow. Very much recommended!

Imperium #1 [Review]

imperium001Imperium I: Overture

Writer: Joshua Dysart
Art: Doug Braithwaite
Colors: Brian Reber & Dave McCaig
Letters: Dave Sharpe
Cover: Raul Allen
Editors: Alejandro Arbona, Warren Simons
Published by: Valiant
Cover Price: $3.99

I’ve been looking forward to this, but on first reading found myself rather let-down. Consciously, analyzing, I can see it’s quite a good story. But this readily suffers from being only one PIECE of a singular, larger story. I read this in a mostly intentional “vacuum,” I’ve pointedly NOT kept up with spoilers, interviews, solicitations (other than seeing THAT an issue would be out), and all that, so where Harbinger ran 25 issues and ended to make way for the Harbinger: Omegas mini-series and now this…as well as Valiant in large part seeming to be moving toward limited-series over long-term ongoing stuff, I haven’t a clue if this is going to be a 4, 5, or 6 issue story; if it’s a mini-series or quasi-ongoing, or what. I see no “of X” with the number so would assume it may be an ongoing or at least a multi-arc/multi-volume series when it’s all collected…but most folks know what “they” say about “assume.”

There’s also a several-page insert in the middle of the issue, an Imperium Prelude, that I’d have to check recent not-yet-read Valiant issues I’ve gotten and keep an eye out in others this month to see if they have it, too. But its placement completely interrupted the flow of the story for me, taking me out of stuff and leaving me distracted more than engaged, and sent my mind toward thinking about other events, whether or not this is “just” an event, and so on. For this issue at least, I think that either should have been left out…or should have actually been placed at the beginning. Moreso, I think it should have been a separate piece altogether, perhaps a promo thing to be given out at comic shops as a 4-paged comic or such to promote this series. (I may even go so far as to rip it out of this issue and file it ahead of this in a box).

We open with Darpan, as an old man, traveling  about a clean, utopian future (well, to those of us reading this in 2015, anyway). He then finds his mine drawn back, and wakes in the present to realize he’d psychically experienced a lifetime in a “dream” projected from Harada. Harada gives Darpan and the others gathered a speech about how they must now adopt different tactics in bringing about the utopian vision he was granted by the Bleeding Monk. However, terrible things will need to be done to get to the end result…and that does not seem to sit well with everyone involved. Harada begins by staking claim to his own territory…putting himself at odds with the planet and the various different people–such as Aric, X-O Manowar–who will certainly come after him.

My initial griping above left aside, and “digging in” while thinking further on this issue, it IS a good issue and a solid start to a series. We’re shown a future, and then the present with people who want to move the world into that future vision. We’re introduced to several characters along with Toyo Harada himself and shown where they stand…undoubtedly some foreshadowing for coming conflict. And for whatever it might say about me personally, there’s both an authenticity to Harada’s end-goal and a part of me that would like to see him achieve it (as long as I don’t have to think too much about what he’ll have to do to get there).

If you’ve read Harbinger and/or Harbinger: Omegas, this is the next “phase” of the overall, ongoing story begun there. Despite that, as much as any such series is, Imperium #1 stands as a decently-accessible jumping-on point. You’ll benefit from the added context of reading Harbinger and Omegas, but you can jump into this pretty well by itself.

I like the art throughout the book…and thanks to the distraction from the placement of the prelude pages, I actually didn’t get distracted by the art itself or find anything really to complain about. It’s a high quality style, realistic without being overly so, plenty of detail over skimping…and quite familiar to me, having read other Valiant stuff with art from Braithwaite.

I’ve enjoyed Dysart‘s Valiant stuff and the “whole” of his stories tend to wind up larger than the parts. Paired with Braithwaite‘s art, this is one of the higher-quality not-exactly-superhero/not-exactly-NOT-superhero books out there…and well worth checking out. Alternatively, I’m confident this will make a very good reading experience in collected-edition format, whether it’s one volume or several.

X-O Manowar #26 [Review]

xomanowar026Tall Tales

Writer: Robert Venditti
Penciler: Diego Bernard
Inker: Alisson Rodrigues
Colorist: Brian Reber
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Cover Artists: Clayton Crain and Trevor Hairsine
Assistant Editor: Josh Johns
Executive Editor: Warren Simons
Published by: Valiant
Cover Price: $3.99 ($5.99 Chromium Cover)

I’m not often a fan of the main character not being in a book, and for those solely reading this title, that could be a problem this issue. While this IS an issue of X-O Manowar, there’s no appearance or mention of Aric in this issue. Of course, technically, “X-O Manowar” is the armor’s designation whether Aric’s in it or not, but that puts us pretty close to “splitting hairs” territory for the moment. However, as one reading both this and the Armor Hunters mini (the whole ‘event’ for that matter), I have no problem with it, and at worst would liken it to a Marvel event where an ongoing book suddenly becomes “background detail” for a separate “event book.”

I’d said about Armor Hunters #1 that it felt like an issue of this title, and this issue feels like it could be a standalone Armor Hunters issue–even a #1 for an ongoing or such. This issue shows us the “origin” of Malgam and Reebo’s involvement with the Armor Hunters. We find them in a bar seeking their next job, where they stumble across one no one else will touch. Reasoning that if they take on what no one else would they could quickly make a name for themselves, they take it on. Of course, things don’t go at all as they’d planned, and they find themselves in the fight of their lives–for their lives–against a lone Armor…a fight that leads THEM to being the ones in the position of crazy-story-tellers others would mock.

As said, this issue feels to me like it could easily have been a #1 issue of some ongoing Armor Hunters series: we’re introduced to a couple characters, given some context of what they’re about, presented with a challenge, and given an epilogue after that chellenge that leads into What Comes Next. In that regard this would have been a very good first issue, leaving me interested in reading the next in order TO find out what comes next.

As such, as a 26th issue of an ongoing series, it would be easy to say this is misplaced. But for my own background, that’s about all I’ll give on that.

The art for this issue is consistent, clear, and easy to follow. I actually enjoyed the visuals–credit to the entire art team–and never found myself distracted or taken out of the “reading experience” due to anything funky with the art. While Malgam looks different–younger and not yet in a partial/beat-up armor–Reebo is quite recognizable and while the name isn’t as familiar to me yet his appearance IS. Suffice it, then, to say that I liked the art and found no particular fault in it this issue.

The story is quite good, offering us an origin story of Reebo and Malgam AS Armor Hunters, showing their first encounter with an Armor and their introduction to the Armor Hunters group. Since I’m “all-in” with the Armor Hunters event, I have little particular interest in what title contains what story elements in general as long as it has some sort of relation to the overall AH saga. But then, even if one is attempting solely to read X-O Manowar, given that Armor Hunters comes out of this title and holds significant bearing on this title, I see no great problem with this story falling in this issue. While this contextualizes the Armor Hunters mini, I also do not figure it’s any far cry to suspect this will play into later events within X-O Manowar itself, despite Aric not even appearing in this issue.

Though the cover usually doesn’t hold much bearing on my buying an issue when it’s part of something I’m getting “anyway” or that’s on my pull-list…this has gotta be one of my favorite covers of this series, and quite iconic to me of the Armor Hunters event in general. There’s just something to this imagery–of the planet about to blow, the armor racing away, its wearer obviously not happy–that just totally fits for me. That this is a larger than usual image (being a wrap-around cover and all) adds to the whole, and is a nice ‘bonus’ for holding the standard $3.99 cover price. (The chromium edition cover is $2 more at $5.99).

While I’d had no real intention of buying any of the chromium editions after my disappointment in the chromium edition of Armor Hunters #1, I’d forgotten that I’d requested ’em with my local comic shop, so this is the 3rd of the 6 for me, so while the chromium aspect does not–for me–hold up to the quality and appearance of chromium covers from the 1990s, I’m gaining a grudging appreciation for these, in and of themselves.

I really enjoyed this issue on the whole, and while I’ll admit there’s something to be said for its freshness and simply being “the latest chapter,” I think I can safely say it’s one of my favorite issues of the series so far, and another great part of this Armor Hunters epic.

Readers seeking to avoid Armor Hunters will likely have a reasonable disappointment in this issue, while those picking this up BECAUSE of Armor Hunters should find this to be a great piece of the overall picture. While having read earlier X-O Manowar stuff and certainly Armor Hunters #1 will lend further context and significance to this issue, one really does not have to have read any previous issues of X-O Manowar to jump in with this issue if one has read Armor Hunters #1.

I’m very much looking forward to what we get in the next issue, as well as further tie-ins to the overall Armor Hunters event, thanks to this issue!

xomanowar026wraparound

Unity #1 [Review]

unity001Written by: Matt Kindt
Art & Cover by: Doug Braithwaite
Colors: Brian Reber
Published by: Valiant
Cover Price: $3.99

I have yet to read the original Unity stuff from the ’90s as I’m still missing an issue or two and haven’t spent the money on the series of collected volumes. And given that Solar and Magnus are not part of the contemporary Valiant universe and the tagline for THIS series is “Victory is not absolute” (rather than “Time is not absolute”), there’s plenty of difference.

THIS Unity isn’t an event so much as it’s a title, a team…one that is formed in response to Aric (with his X-O Manowar armor) setting down in modern Romania (ancient Dacia) and claiming it as his own, re-claiming it for his people, liberated from the Vine homeworld. Russia launches an attack–this is their backyard–and Aric is victorious, which makes them all the more nervous, and the chain effect is that the entire world is poised on the brink of World War Three. As self-styled savior, Toyo Harada gets involved, first sending in his Unity team, before realizing that he’d have to get involved personally, leading an elite team of his own.

Truthfully, I don’t know if this is a “limited series” a la Harbinger Wars (if so, no clue how many issues), or if it’s actually an ongoing series, and the big “instigating event” for the formation of a status quo is “just” this tie-in to X-O Manowar. But for the moment…I’m not too concerned. I’m “all-in” with Valiant at present–getting basically anything they put out as in single issue format. As such, limited series or ongoing, I’m getting this either way.

This felt like a longer issue than usual, with a lot going on. Really, having kept up with X-O Manowar, this actually felt like an issue of that, just involving a more diverse cast than usual, and less focus on Aric as the protagonist (he’s definitely the antagonist here). That this fits so well with that is definitely a credit to continuity in my mind, and what can be done with characters that are typically involved in separate titles coming together in one. At the same time, while I mention continuity, this can also be a decent entry-point for newer readers. The “core” story is given on the inside front cover, about Aric’s past. The other characters come into play throughout the issue and you get some context for them on a surface level at least. Of course, longer-time Valiant readers will have even more context, a deeper appreciation for some of the various character interactions, based on having come across them before…particularly Ninjak and Harada; as well as Aric himself and Gilad (the Eternal Warrior) from the actual X-O Manowar series.

As a first issue, I liked this. We’re introduced to the instigating event: Aric has claimed Romania and isn’t budging from his ancient homeland. The rest of the world isn’t happy, but have yet to put together an effective (for them) response. We get the introduction of major players–Aric himself, Harada, the Eternal Warrior, Ninjak–as well as the actual Unity team Harada deploys. The opposing sides actually meet and battle in this issue (we aren’t left solely with posturing and “setup” or “building anticipation” for this issue). The effects of the first battle are felt, and set things in motion that the issue’s end promises will be brought into play next issue.

Visually, not a bad issue. After all the months of anticipating this series, wondering what would actually play out, and so on, I was far more eager to dig in on the story side than anything with art. The fact I read right through the issue without having to stop to wonder what exactly was going on action-wise is certainly credit to the art team. Doing the job well, I like when I don’t “notice” the art much one way or the other.

I doubt this issue alone would ‘sell’ you on the Valiant Universe as a whole. But if you’ve been curious, it’s a good point to get in, and be introduced to characters involved in at least three other titles (X-O Manowar, Harbinger, Eternal Warrior), and a huge influence in a fourth (Bloodshot/Bloodshot and H.A.R.D.Corps). And following only a few months after Harbinger Wars, this title brings the Valiant universe together, bridging multiple titles without forcing a multi-title crossover…you can get the story from this issue even without having read any of the other titles.

My only real problem with this issue is the many variant covers; I’ve long had issue with there being so many/regularly variants anyway, but with five or six (at least) variants, this was rather ridiculous to me.

Ultimately, variants or otherwise, if you’ve any interest in Valiant past or present, I do recommend this issue. And if nothing else…you have a $3.99 book that is not being double-shipped, and does not continue (directly) into some other series.

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