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X-O Manowar is the story of a 5th century Visigoth who enjoys fighting, gets captured by some aliens, and escapes with the help of a futuristic alien sentient armour, Shanhara – the X-O Manowar of the title – who bonds with him and lots more fighting ensues. The issue opens with one fighting scene, proceeds into another, and ends with the promise of more fighting. The writing then shouldn’t be this smart – but it is. It’s actually really, really good and makes what could be, in less talented hands, a forgettable violence-fest into a fresh and exciting series.
For new readers, the series follows Aric, heir to the Visigoth throne, who becomes enslaved by an alien race called the Vine along with a number of his people from the 5th century. When Aric becomes armed with the sentient X-O Manowar armour, he leads a revolt against their captors and returns everyone to Earth. But 1600 years have passed while they’ve been away and it’s now the 21st century. As Aric and his people adapt to this strange new world, Aric’s founding of their new settlement in modern-day Romania has caused ripples in the international community as the annexing is seen as an act of war.
In this issue, Aric’s former tutor, Gilad the Eternal Warrior (who, as his namesake suggests, is an immortal) confronts Aric to make him understand that his actions will have dire repercussions. Writer Robert Venditti sets the stage for their confrontation by taking us back to 398AD as Gilad is teaching Aric combat tactics. Right away we get their characters – Gilad, the wise but somewhat arrogant teacher, Aric the young hothead unwilling to take any lessons on board, neither really liking the other – and get some great dialogue as Gilad lectures Aric, schooling him with words and action at the same time. It’s an excellent sequence that in just a few pages manages to do a lot to build up both characters effectively and also makes the comic accessible to new readers who get what they need to enjoy the rest of the comic from this first scene.
The next part set in the present day is equally brilliant as we catch up with the two as they continue their 1600-year fight. But things have changed as Aric has gotten more combat experience since as well as the X-O Manowar armour. The two clash but this time Gilad finds Aric to be a more formidable opponent – though still no more receptive to learning. It’s an important scene in the series as it underlines the current predicament in an urgent and clever way: Aric is still undisciplined and immature yet has his hands on a powerful new weapon that could cause all kinds of carnage and also faces the US military as it gathers information on Aric and his people for an impending battle. It’s some great foreshadowing and a masterful build-up of tension and stakes.
I generally dislike comics that contain a lot of action but really liked it here and the main reason is Lee Garbett’s artistic style. Some artists just don’t know how to draw action. They rely too heavily upon splash pages and contain awkwardly posed characters in a row that don’t really read well in a sequence. Garbett draws the action in a wonderfully natural way so that the panels flow easily into one another, involving the reader more closely in the story with his strong choreography. It was so good I actually wanted to see more action in the comic! That said, Garbett does draw a splash page when Aric and Gilad lock lightning blades as Aric joins with the Manowar armour – and it just looks amazing! I also really like how he draws the Manowar armour as it appears and joins with Aric. It’s both like a futuristic jellyfish ghost and melds with Aric is a way that’s kind of like water – sort of like how the Venom symbiote leeched itself onto Spiderman, it’s a really great effect.
X-O Manowar #16 does everything a good comic should do in that it tells an excellent story that’s self-contained but also works within the context of a larger series. At the end of the comic, Venditti has managed to keep several plates spinning while also introducing some new elements into play – it’s impressive and sophisticated writing and storytelling that’s also really entertaining to read. X-O Manowar is a superb sci-fi action story and issue #16 is awesome, showing comics artistry at its finest – jump on board with this series today!
X-O Manowar #16 by Robert Venditti and Lee Garbett is out now
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