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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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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!

X-O Manowar #31 [Review]

xomanowar031aSmall Packages

Writer: Robert Venditti
Penciler: Diego Bernard
Inker: Alisson Rodrigues
Colorist: Wil Quintana
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Cover Artists: Raul Allen, Emanuela Lupacchino
Assistant Editor: Josh Johns
Associate Editor: Tom Brennan
Editor: Warren Simons
Published by: Valiant
Cover Price: $3.99

Hard to believe this title is already on #31. Particularly in an "age" where it seems hardly anything makes it much past #12 or even 25. All the more significant because with the #0 issue, this marks 32 for the title, and having been following it since #1, that’s 32 issues I’ve been following X-O Manowar month-to-month in the single issues…in this "age" of the collected volume, graphic novel, or bookshelf-format books.

This is the second part of this Enter Armorines arc…though in a lot of ways this feels like a first. The arc continues the trend of new takes on "old concepts" for Valiant; and we get a fuller introduction to the Armorines in this issue. Aric is pulled into things in the wake of the Armor Hunters incident to meet the Armorines–soldiers outfitted as a defense against a repeat of that incident. Unlike Aric’s armor that has all sorts of abilities, the Armorines’ armors each have a specialty. Their creator points out that rather than having an "all in one" unit he can make more money keeping things divided, as well as even being able to make money when the only difference is a paintjob (a commentary I liken to the notion of variant covers with comics). Of course, the Armorines aren’t quite the allies that Aric expects, paving the way for the conflict of the next couple issues.

Story-wise, this isn’t a bad issue, though I didn’t pick up on a subtlety at the beginning until I went back and looked at it again after reading the issue in full. I definitely appreciate that Armor Hunters has not been swept under the rug for the next shiny thing–we’re getting actual fallout and development based on the events of Armor Hunters, and there’s some time for this to breathe before we get into another event later in 2015.

I’m not terribly particular on the art–the visuals are not bad, nor do they blow me away. The issue’s opening works visually, especially once I know the context, and the rest of the issue simply "is" for me.

However, I am not AT ALL happy about the cover image being only one panel of a multi-panel image FOR THE SAME ISSUE. As much as variant covers are probably my biggest pet peeve in comics…multi-part connected images ON THE SAME ISSUE are my biggest pet peeve WITHIN the notion of variants. If I were to base picking this issue up on the cover, I’d be more than done with this book on that principle. Since I follow the book for the story and don’t tend to pay MUCH attention to the covers long-term…I’m annoyed on principle right now, but hopefully the story will crowd that out for my long-term memory. (The splitting of the image across versions of the same issue is in stark contrast to the wraparound cover on #26!)

All in all, this is a fairly standard-ish issue…nothing overly stand-out (despite the "introduction" of the Armorines) but nothing bad. I do look forward to the next issue and seeing Aric get some payback for what’s done to him in this issue. It’s also interesting to consider that these Armorines–while antagonists in this issue–have the "potential" to be protagonists in their own story.

If you’re following the series, this is a good "next issue" of the ongoing. Being mid-arc, if you’re not already following, you’ll probably be better served tracking down the previous issue or two or waiting for a collected edition. Or if you love variants and whatnot, you could pick up a couple copies of this issue for a larger image (that ought to have been a wraparound cover).

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.

X-O Manowar #10 [Review]

xomanowar010Prelude to Planet Death Part Two of Two

Writer: Robert Venditti
Art: Trevor Hairsine
Colorist: Brian Reber
Letterer: Dave Lanphear
Cover Artistis: Trevor Hairsine and Cary Nord
Assistant Editor: Josh Johns
Executive Editor: Warren Simons
Published by: Valiant Entertainment
Cover Price: $3.99

We open this issue on a flashback, to young Aric and Gafti training in a field, ending with a show of brotherhood and declaration that someday they’ll be known the fiercest Visigoths to ever swing a sword. We then shift back to the present, where Aric faces Vine commander Trill holding forth the tortured, barely-alive body of his old friend. After some strong words back and forth, Aric engages Trill in battle, while the Vine invasion begins. One battle ended, Aric gives up the X-O armor that it might heal Gafti as it did him–only the pain leaves Gafti in another state of mind entirely…one that could cost an entire planet its life.

Even before anything visual sets in, I noticed the paper quality of this issue is significantly better than some of the earlier issues of the series–while at least a couple of the issues seemed positively (forgive the term) floppy…this feels like a very sturdy paper stock…which is a lot more befitting of a $3.99 single-issue!

Visually, this is quite a solid issue–even with all the action, I was able to follow along without really having to disengage from the story to exert any concerted effort on interpreting the art. The “changing of the guard” where the armor bonds with Gafti–and the resultant look of the armor is striking yet subtle. No real problem for me with the issue’s art.

The story itself is fairly simplistic on the surface–an Earthman fighting a commander of the Vine, then Earthman vs. Earthman with alien armor, then Earthman vs. more aliens.

But–if you’ve been reading the series, Aric and Gafti have a deeper history than the two-page flashback in this issue, and that history is felt as the characters interact here; ditto the history between Trill and Aric. This issue truly grows from what we’ve read throughout this entire series so far–it’s all led here, and this into the next major arc.

While I would like to see X-O a bit more “grounded” and relatable; with a “standard” supporting cast and all that…it’s an instinctual desire, I think; and AS I think on it, I also recognize that this is a very personal sort of story–of Aric and just a handful of people around him. We’re seeing and aware of more than just Aric’s point of view, yet for the most part, this series on the whole has stuck rather firmly to Aric and those immediate “contacts” in his life as well as the “ghosts” of his memories.

I’ve toyed with dropping the Valiant books from my monthly pulls solely due to pricing and a kneejerk backlash against the $3.99 price point from all publishers…but then I remind myself that even with the Valiant “cluster” of multiple books in one week with other weeks devoid of all Valiant…I’m actually reading the early part of a shared universe contained in only 5 books per month, with any doubling up being a one-shot special issue, rather than 3-6 titles that then ship a second issue the same month.

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