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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

Armor Hunters #1 [Review]

armorhunters001regArmor Hunters / Part I: Quarry

Writer: Robert Venditti
Artist: Doug Braithwaite
Colorist: Laura Martin
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Cover Artists: Jorge Molina, Clayton Crain, Trevor Hairsine, Doug Braithwaite
Assistant Editor: Josh Johns
Editor: Warren Simons
Published by: Valiant
Cover Price: $3.99 ($5.99 Chromium Cover)

It’s definitely safe to say that this is an issue I’ve been looking forward to specifically for quite a few weeks now. Valiant‘s done a great job with “pushing” their titles, and as someone who’s already “all-in” for present, an event like this is well-suited for me. Though I believe the “main” story will be contained to this 4-issue mini-series, there are some tie-ins with X-O Manowar and Unity, as well as several tie-in mini-series. As the opening/first chapter in the event itself, this issue stands alone fairly well while sitting in the midst of established continuity.

This issue opens with an attack on a Russian facility where suits of armor are being developed in as-close-as-possible approximation to Aric’s X-O armor. The aliens attack the base, killing those within, having located the place due to the armors. While no sentience is detected, the armors are destroyed, and the aliens left baffled as to why humans would seek to duplicate such dangerous things. After this attack, Aric finds his people’s new homeland invaded by US forces–though said forces claim to be there to protect them, not to invade. Aric is brought up to speed from the US forces’ side, and seeks further counsel from Malgam (the alien he fought in the Armor Hunters Prelude in X-O Manowar #s 23-24). The alien “hunters” then unleash an attack that leaves little doubt as to their power, and the devastation possible on Earth if the X-O armor is not turned over to them.

As said, this issue sits in the midst of estabished continuity–particularly in references to goings-on in the X-O Manowar title. While readers of that title will have a fuller appreciation of Aric’s attitude and and what led to the present status quo, reading this issue by itself one is simply presented WITh the present status quo. Said status quo can be accepted at face value, but those interested in more can seek out the earlier stories to get the details.

By and large, this issue reads like an issue of X-O Manowar (which makes sense, given Venditti is the writer on both). The aliens are presented as the antagonists, yet don’t come off entirely as ‘villains’–moreso they come off as a “Federation” with no “Prime Directive” and no qualms about razing planets to make sure the apparently sentient armors are eradicated. The characterization seems consistent with the X-O Manowar title, and I have no issues with the story so far as “merely” the opening chapter.

Visually, I don’t have much to say except that I really enjoyed the issue, and nothing to the art really put me off or distracted me from the story. I know Braithwaite‘s art from Unity at the least, which adds to the consistent familiarity of the issue’s look/feel. I like the aliens’ design–they look suitably alien, while also being distinct individuals.

While this issue in and of itself doesn’t seem to justify the huge crossover, its ending does show how the crossover works quite organically as the impact of the issue is not limited to a single facility or base and truly will affect the entire planet.

Though one could presumably “jump in blind” with this issue and reasonably follow stuff, the full enjoyment (at least for me) of the issue comes from its growth out of continuity.

As there are a couple covers/editions, I recommend sticking with the standard cover…I was not suitably impressed at the “enhanced” “chromium” cover, finding it did not have the same boldness of the classic ’90s Valiant Chromium covers.

If you’re reading X-O Manowar, this definitely works as an extension of the title. It’s also worth picking up if you’re planning to follow any of the tie-in minis to get what I imagine will be the larger/broader context. And if you’re just looking for a mini-series to “dabble” in Valiant, this is also worthwhile on the whole.

Rai #1 [Review]

Rai #1 Plus EditionWelcome to New Japan

Writer: Matt Kindt
Art: Clayton Crain
Letters: Dave Lanphear
Associate Editor: Alejandro Arbona
Editor: Warren Simons
Published by: Valiant
Cover Price: $3.99 ($4.99 “Plus Edition”)

This is–even more than Unity–probably my most-anticipated new release title from Valiant. And while I normally avoid variant editions like a plague, I wound up picking up the “Plus Edition” when I found it a couple days after having bought/read the regular edition.

On the whole, I mostly prefer the regular edition…the only really worthwhile (to me) part of the “Plus” material was the map of Japan 4001 A.D. that gives a lot of detail to the various levels of the future country that can’t possibly fit in-story (at least not in a single issue). I really don’t care whatsoever for the “bonus” Spylocke stuff, and would have been quite content leaving that to what it was in the regular edition. The “selling point” of the “Plus Edition” is that these 16 pages of material won’t be reprinted in the collected edition…though somehow, I can’t see the map going for long without inclusion, as it could prove a very useful bit of information to have (at least in the eventual deluxe edition hardcover). I groused last year about DC‘s “poster” fold-out from Superman Unchained #1 and how that seemed pointless…seeing this map, this (again, to me) is exactly the sort of thing worthy of being a poster fold-out!

The bulk of the issue itself is focused on the fact that for the first time in a thousand years, a murder has been committed. This leads to the involvement of Rai–a guardian of Japan. Our viewpoint character is someone curious to see Rai “live,” to see this legendary figure, and we get a fair bit of context from her narration before we shift to getting the same from Rai himself.

This issue felt rather immersive, as I just sort of got lost in the reading and the exploration of this futuristic Japan. I was certainly influenced by knowledge of the classic version of Rai from the ’90s Valiant universe and what I’ve come to know of that version of the character. It’s that knowledge that made me all the more curious about what I’d find here, and to see what would be done with the character. As with many first issues, I found myself taking this in much as I would a tv show I was checking out–I recognize where we may have been introduced to supporting characters, though with only a single “episode” there’s little telling what will last and what’s just setup outside of the title character himself.

The story certainly interests me–I’m very much looking forward to the next issue–but I can’t just rattle off names of characters or anything on the initial read-through and re-perusal.

Visually, this is a beautiful issue–I really like the character designs, and nothing stood out to me as distraction. The art just fits the story and has something about it that just fits the title, the character, and the overall concept. It’s got a realism to it that I like but it still manages to be recognizably a comic and not something trying to be a photonovel or anything of that sort.

I don’t touch on covers (other than grousing about variants) as much as I ought, but this cover is–to me–possibly the most “iconic” of the Valiant issues this year, and probably for the entire current run of the publisher. The title logo is properly familiar yet simple and new; the cover image is really only about half the cover, but is nicely offset by the white bar with the logo (regular edition) and offset by black on the plus edition (which I like slightly better). The cover design itself is eye-catching and shows all the issue’s information clearly (publisher, issue #, title, creators) with a striking image of the main character.

Rai #1 Regular EditionTo me, this is the best of the Valiant launches–the title catches the eye from the cover, the interior is great visually, the story is engaging with a solid balance between divulging necessary information to hook me as a reader while leaving plenty of details to the imagination or future exploration, and simply leaves me quite interested in the next issue. Further strength lies in this being officially set in the Valiant universe, in the same time-period (4001 AD) as the most recent Eternal Warrior arc, and yet you don’t have to have read ANYTHING else from the publisher to “get” this story and its characters. This can be read entirely by itself, as nothing more than a sci-fi story set in a futuristic Japan.

While my ultimate preference would like in a singular edition with no variance in covers and content (even at a $4.99 instead of $3.99 price point), this is about as good as it gets when it comes to first issues these days. Whether you’ve read anything else from Valiant classic or present, if you enjoy sci fi or futuristic stories, or just something with a legendary guardian figure wielding a sword, I highly recommend checking this out, whichever edition you’d find.

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