Valiant's new 'XO-Manowar' series: A Superhero goes to space
Since relaunching in 2012, Valiant Comics has done an incredible job of refining their stable of unique superhero creations into a thoroughly entertaining line of genre-bending stories. One of their flagship characters has been X-O Manowar. Originally created in 1992 by original Valiant founders Jim Shooter and Bob Layton, the X-O Manowar character is a 5th-century Visigoth warrior named Aric ripped from his own time, brought to the present and bonded with a high-tech suit of robotic armor. Writer Robert Venditti rebooted the character in 2012 and shepherded him through an epic, 50-issue story that sent Aric against everything from Armor Hunters to an evil alien empire. Next year, X-O Manowar will relaunch again in honor of the character’s 25th anniversary with a new series from visionary writer Matt Kindt, and the Valiant creative team is already calling it their biggest launch ever.
Kindt is the relentlessly creative mind behind works like Mind MGMT and Dept H, and in recent years he’s become one of Valiant’s premiere writers. He has big plans for X-O Manowar that begin with separating Aric from his armor and sending him to a far-flung alien planet and continue into a yearlong science-fiction epic split into different arcs, each drawn by a separate rising artist to reflect the different stages of Aric’s new journey (from “Soldier” to “General” to “Emperor” to “Visigoth”).
EW recently spoke with Kindt, Valiant editor-in-chief Warren Simons, and company co-founder Dinesh Shamdasani about their vision for the new series. Check that out below, along with a preview of some interior art from artist Tomas Giorello. X-O Manowar #1 is set to hit stores March 22, 2017.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: X-O Manowar is one of Valiant’s premier superheroes. How did you go about reinventing him?
MATT KINDT: I’ve been a fan of the character since the ‘90s and read all of Rob’s run. I was waiting for Rob to be done because I wanted a turn. The thing I love about the character is he’s sort of like a caveman in a high-tech suit of armor. That was always what appealed to me about the character, and something we haven’t tapped into a lot. That’s how I approach all my stories: What would it be like if this really happened? If this guy’s in a suit of armor, what would be the psychology of that? You have this guy who’s never seen a cell phone, let alone armor that can fly into space. I wanted to approach it that way and see what that does to a guy, sort of reboot him and bring back his roots in terms of making him a barbarian again, throwing him on an alien planet that’s more low-tech, more like the time he came from. Also, we’re making the relationship with his armor more antagonistic. Rather than being a friend of his, it’s a threat to him in a lot of ways.
WARREN SIMONS: Aric is a Visigoth warrior who possesses the most powerful weapon in our universe. So there’s a great juxtaposition there that goes back to his creation. Matt and I talked a lot about that juxtaposition, and Matt came up with this incredible idea of taking him on this yearlong journey for 10 to 15 issues and examine what it’s like to give a barbarian the most powerful weapon in the universe. What’s his relationship to his armor? What happens if the suit gets a hold of someone and realizes it’s essentially bonded to a primate? It can see the entire universe, and then it looks at this thing it’s bonded to and can’t believe how stupid he is. That doesn’t mean that Aric’s stupid. He’s not, he’s a great leader and warrior, but he’s just a man. It’s interesting to see this piece of A.I. look down on him, as it would on anyone. That’s a theme we haven’t really explored anywhere else.
The armor sounds like more of its own character this time around. How would you describe its personality?
KINDT: It knows so much, it has almost all of human knowledge inside it, and then all these other alien cultures it’s been exposed to. It pretty much knows everything, and it’s bonded to Aric. Another thing we’ll get into that’s interesting about their relationship is how Aric has coped with everything. If you read the old series, you know that he’s been exposed to a lot of things. He’s fought aliens, he’s been all over the place. I’m thinking, how does your mind cope with that? He was living in 500 AD, how do you go from that to fighting aliens in space? I think you would tend to go a little crazy, and I think the reason he didn’t is because the armor helped him cope with a lot of the stuff he was exposed to. So now, when the new series starts out, he doesn’t even have the armor. He wants to cope with it himself and find out what he’s capable of and try to find himself without using his crutch. It would be like turning your cell phone off for a week straight, and see if you could do it. It’s kind of like that. He’s turning it off and trying to get back to who he was. It’s hard.
DINESH SHAMDASANI: This is the potential of X-O Manowar. Robert Venditti did an incredible run and gave Aric a great arc, and he also teed up a number of the elements Matt is tapping into and expanding with the new series. I think fans will be excited to see where this goes because it answers a lot of questions that have largely been ignored in the history of X-O Manowar.
What is it like for Aric to take a break, not just from the armor, but from fighting itself?
KINDT: It’s interesting to write a character like that, who doesn’t mind fighting but eventually gets tired of it. He does want to find some kind of peace, but even while he’s finding it, the armor won’t leave him alone, and violence seems to follow him. That’s one of the revelations he’s going to learn on his journey: This is who he is. He’s trying to change, but he’s not going to be able to, whether it’s circumstance or what he wants to do him. It’s just for him to do right, fix wrongs, and meet conflict instead of run away from it. Part of him does enjoy the conflict, and I think he hates that he likes it. I have at least a year plotted out, and it’s gonna show his progression from farmer to conscripted warrior to general. He’s gonna progress, and eventually, he’ll be thrown into the bigger politics of the planet and some stuff that happens off-planet. The stage just gets bigger and bigger. He’s reluctant the whole way through, but it’ll be fun to see him apply his ability to be good at conflict in different stages, whether it’s politics or the battlefield.
SIMONS: One of the things we always try to do with our books at Valiant, and which we’re especially doing here, is make the story as open and accessible as possible. You don’t need to read what’s come before to understand this. There are plenty of entry points for new readers that also tap into what’s come before.
What can you tease about the overall structure of the series, and what readers can expect issue to issue?
KINDT: It’s actually super great, Valiant has given me a lot of latitudes to approach this series and build it in a way that appeals to me. The sky’s the limit. So it doesn’t have to be four or six-issue story arcs, the format can be whatever we want it to be to serve the story. I love approaching comics that way. I plotted out at least a year’s worth. I wanted to have these little stepping stone stages on his progression. We’re doing three-issue arcs and using five different artists, so every arc has its own little flavor because it’s a different stage of his progression, and to parallel that we’ve got a different artist on every arc.
SIMONS: Tomas Giorello is starting the series for us with the first arc of issues 1-3, “Soldier.” Tomas is one of the finest artists working in comics today. When the first pages came in, I just replied to Tomas with laughter because they were so genius. Issues 4-6 is Doug Braithwaite. He’s a fantastic storyteller, the kind of artist you can give a 15-panel page to, and he’ll bring it back perfect. That’s the “General” arc where we see Aric begin to rise through the ranks in the army, and starts dealing with politics a little bit more. After that is issues 7-9, “Emperor,” by Clayton Crain, a digital painter. After that, we have issue 10, an interlude from Ryan Bodenheim, who puts an extraordinary level of detail on every single one of his pages. Mico Suayan is gonna finish up the year with the post-Emperor arc, “Visigoth,” issues 11-13. We’re gonna be creating a bunch of new characters and see Aric take on a group of bounty hunters. We’re pretty excited. I try not to be too hyperbolic, but we’re loading up all the guns.
KINDT: Taking him off-planet, we were able to make it really big and world-build. I don’t know I’ve ever been able to create a world from scratch. So we came up with all these different alien races who have different relationships to each other, and then having Tomas design the characters and the look of all that. Nothing looks like anything that’s in this book, it hasn’t existed before.
Can you tease what X-O Manowar’s absence from Earth will mean for the rest of the Valiant universe?
SIMONS: We’ll begin to see Aric’s absence in books like Bloodshot USA #2 where he’s not available, so it’ll start to affect the universe in that way, but we’ve got a whole year ahead of us and pretty big plans after that. We want to take it one thing at a time, but we’ll see.
KINDT: There is something in issue 1 that’s gonna pay off in a year and a half. That’s what’s great about thinking ahead, you can plant these things early so that it’s not like we’re flying by the seat of our pants every 30 days. It is a bigger, better story.