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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.

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!

Ninjak (2015) #1 [Review]

ninjak(2015)001Book 1; The Lost Files

Writer: Matt Kindt
Art: Clay Mann, Seth Mann, Butch Guice
Colors: Ulises Arreola
Letters: Dave Sharpe
Cover Art: Lewis Larosa, Clay Mann, Brian Reber, Dave Johnson, Marguerite Sauvage, Trevor Hairsine, Tom Muller
Associate Editor: Tom Brennan
Editor: Warren Simons
Published by: Valiant Entertainment
Cover Price: $3.99
Cover Date: March 2015

I can honestly say that while looking forward to the debut of this series, I hadn’t really noticed its release was quite so imminent until the morning it was due out. Once I did, I found myself REALLY looking forward to getting it and sitting down to read the thing.

The cover is a bit of a mixed bag. The image is rather cool, showing off the title character and his toughness–both swords drawn, angry face, and arrows sticking out from all over…obviously he’s not some ordinary man that can be stopped with even a hail of arrows and shuriken. I dig the solid coloring to the cover text, company logo, and title…it looks good with the image, complementing it while standing out clearly and avoiding any trouble being made out against its background. However, outside of the UPC box it looks to me more like an ad than actual ads for the issue have! The advertised image that most stood out to me had the standard Valiant trade dress and the title logo at the top. At the size presented on this cover there’s no real reason I see to not have it at the top. If it were significantly larger it’d make sense to move it down to avoid covering most of Ninjak’s head/face. So while I applaud the image and the cover text coloring/use individually, it looks like a draft rather than a final piece.

For the $3.99 cover price we’re given a 22-page main story as well as an 8-page backup. This was a real treat to get the extra content withOUT losing pages from the main story…and certainly adds content value to the issue. There’s also a several-page “preview” of Bloodshot Reborn that–with the backup–makes this a fairly thick issue that physically feels a lot more worthwhile than most $3.99 comics.

The main story flips back and forth between Ninjak present-day and his past, allowing for some nice compare/contrast and insight into who he is now and where he comes from. It’s rather cinematic, which I both appreciate and enjoy here. I’m not particularly invested in the character as yet, only knowing him from a couple issues I’ve read of the ’90s incarnation and his appearances in other contemporary Valiant titles the last couple years. As such, I’m interested in learning more about Ninjak and the man behind the costume…which is something we get plenty of here. We see him on his own, in his element as he takes on a particular mission…and we see glimpses of his past which lets us see more depth of character than we could reasonably get seeing only the present. The split nature of showing present and past allows us this new story with the character, an “in” to his past, while avoiding our being forced as readers to endure simply a solo adventure or simply some prequel-esque/Year One type story.

Buried within the story itself is a little gem that made me grin and think to myself “of COURSE! That is GREAT!” In the back of my head, I’ve always wondered at the name Ninjak. Where’d it come from, why would this secret agent/spy/ninja call himself that? (Other than the fact that it’s definitely a product of the early 1990s). Being paid from a “black slush fund,” several previous ninjas were labeled A through J…Colin is the 11th: Ninja-K.

The backup IS fully set in the past, providing an uninterrupted narrative of one of Colin’s first missions. While I’d likely balk if the main story were shorter to allow for the backup, as (functionally) bonus content it’s a welcome addition, allowing even further insight into where Ninjak’s come from.

I definitely prefer Mann‘s art in the main story to Guice‘s art on the backup. Guice‘s art is gritty, moody, and works very well in what it does, and definitely fits its story. Mann‘s work is a bit cleaner and has the benefit of consistency with recent-past appearances of Ninjak. The coloring of both stories also has an impact with the main story being a lot brighter and thus fitting more into the superhero mold while the backup is darker and more fitting as a spy story.

Whether you’ve followed this incarnation of Ninjak from X-O Manowar #4 back in 2012 or simply remember the character from the ’90s (or just want a ninja-“superhero” adventure) this is a great first issue. You’re introduced to the character–where he is now as well as where he’s come from.  We see some extension to the cast around him with hints on where this’ll go. We’re set up for the story that’s unfolding while getting a decent chunk of it here…by no means a full story, but enough to work with and get a feel for things. If you’re starting here, it works as-is…and if you’re familiar with the current Valiant universe and continuity there’s added depth to be found..

Valiant takes a character that’s been around most of its history and for the past several years in its current run, and truly rewards us with an excellent first issue…from Kindt‘s writing, Mann and Guice‘s art, and the entire creative team. It’s just that cover that bugs me, from the design standpoint. Highly recommended!


xomanowar005

  ninjak001advertisedcover

X-O Manowar (2012) #5 – the first appearance of Ninjak in contemporary Valiant comics.

Ninjak #1 cover ad and what I’d expected of the standard cover.

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!

The Valiant #3 [Review]

thevaliant003Writers: Jeff Lemire and Matt Kindt
Artist: Paolo Rivera with Joe Rivera
Letterer: Dave Lanphear
Assistant Editor: Kyle Andrukiewicz
Editor: Warren Simons
Published by: Valiant Comics
Cover Date: February 2014
Cover Price: $3.99

While it could just be that it’s the most immediate, this is probably my favorite issue of this mini so far.

The main thrust of the issue is that Gilad (the Eternal Warrior) has allied himself with a number of allies (basically, the rest of the major characters in the Valiant universe) to fight The Immortal Enemy, an entity as old as Time itself that is trying to kill the newest Geomancer. Gilad’s failed a number of times in the past to prevent this, but he’s highly determined that it will never happen again. Meanwhile, authorities behind Gilad’s group are working to get a mysterious box opened. As all this is going on and the heroes seem to be defeated, Bloodshot has been getting Kay (the new Geomancer) to safety and prepares to defend her if needed–he’s her last line of defense. The two learn more of each other, and Kay tests her powers…but the Immortal Enemy continues its path to the Geomancer.

I breezed through this issue hardly noticing the art, overall. In this case that’s definitely a good thing–it just fit the story, conveyed plenty, and didn’t really left me wondering what was going on. I don’t care much for lengthy “silent” scenes where I have to “focus” on the art to pick up on what’s going on. I far prefer to read a story and be able to “notice” the action going on behind the words…and this issue struck me as very well balanced in that regard. It certainly worked for me.

The story itself has shifted from what I’d thought was going to be an Eternal Warrior or Unity story to a Bloodshot story, and I think I truly like that. I’m further behind on a lot of my Valiant reading than I’d like to be, so I’m enjoying the Bloodshot emphasis all the more. I’m also definitely enjoying the development of something between Bloodshot and the Geomancer–the two are such different characters, and yet there’s definitely something quite interesting about them being “teamed up” and interacting directly with one another. I skipped the recap at the beginning of the issue, but had no problem “picking back up” with things, and am eager to get to the story’s conclusion despite knowing it leads into Bloodshot Reborn (as opposed to simply concluding as a 4-issue story that sits for a bit before being picked back up).

As a third issue of four, this is by no means a jumping-on point. But it certainly draws from what’s been set up in the first couple issues and leaves me looking forward quite a bit to the final issue, and with some suspicion that Bloodshot’s status quo has been significantly altered…and I’m hoping that Kay makes it through this story and would quite enjoy seeing her as part of the cast of the new Bloodshot series this spring.

I remember expecting skinny squarebound issues when Valiant announced the “prestige format” of the series, having gotten used to that for Marvel and DC “prestige format” comics in the 1990s. What I’ve got instead is a cardstock cover, endpapers, and a pleasant lack of ads. Best of all–the cover price remains “only” $3.99…and I count a full 22 story pages–making the physical quality of the individual issue(s) well worth the cover price, particularly compared against a standard issue. We also get “commentary” in the back with several pages of blended art, showing a few of the story pages divided in quarters showing the layouts, pencils, inks, and colors which is a neat effect…these pages overlaid with commentary in “narration boxes” from writer Jeff Lemire contextualizing some stuff about the issue (no need to have a smartphone with an app to pull up some video short that’ll eat into a data plan for a few words from a creator).

All in all, quite a good issue…plenty enjoyable, high quality, and certainly worth its cover price.

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.

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