The Valiant Tangent — X-O Manowar #1-4 (Retribution, Part 2)

Welcome back to The Valiant Tangent, the series whose goal it is to chronicle some of the stories and characters of Valiant Comics and the things that made them not only cool, but some of the greatest of all time. Today’s column continues our look back on Valiant Comics’ armored aveng—um, I mean barbarian, X-O Manowar. Last time, we recounted how Aric, a human born over 2,000 years ago and held captive in a spaceship run by deadly spider-like aliens, stole a suit of highly advanced and powerful armor and escaped to present-day Earth. With the help of the armor, which he calls “good skin,” and his human ally Ken, Aric managed to exact revenge on his captors and vowed to rid the earth of the Spider-Aliens once and for all. (For a more detailed account of these events, click on the link to the previous column. You can find it on the left side of this paragraph.)

This article will be all about the second issue of X-O Manowar, part of the inaugural storyline known as “Retribution.” In this issue, we’ll get to see more of how Aric deals with being in the modern world as well as how he relates to those around him. The X-O armor itself plays a huge role in this story, and we’ll learn about some of its more mysterious abilities. There will be plenty of foreshadowing and lots of great character exploration.

Oh yeah, lots of shit blows up too.

And on that note, let’s get to it!

X-O Manowar #2

Written by Jim Shooter and Steve Englehart, Penciled by Sal Velluto, Inked by Tom Ryder, Bob Layton & Kathryn Bolinger, Colored by Jorge González and the Toasters

There’s something that I don’t believe I’ve mentioned about Valiant Comics in previous columns that is very important: the coloring. It’s something that is easily taken for granted, but without it these comics just wouldn’t have the same impact. And I’m not just talking about the comics having color or not. I’m talking about the style of coloring used. In an age where many comics are colored using a computer, it’s refreshing to see comics that have obviously been colored by hand. Valiant books, for the most part, were all hand colored, with many of the early ones painted in beautiful watercolors. The colors were deep and intense and perfect for the scene, but most importantly they looked organic. It’s difficult to describe properly, but the colors just seem to perfectly flow from one panel to the next, almost as if we weren’t looking at drawings, but actual photographs of events. That’s why I include the colorist in the list of issue credits. They play as important a role as the writer and artists. And if you don’t think that the coloring process is an important part of making comics, tell that to the Ultraverse guys. Their coloring was so important that Marvel Comics bought the company just for the coloring technology. In the case of X-O Manowar, the colors really help move the story along. X-O’s armor is a beautiful gold and blue, with tiny areas of red. It’s a color combination that works extremely well, and it makes your eye naturally gravitate towards wherever X-O is on the page. The color of the armor is important for another reason, one that we’ll touch on in this article, and further explore in the next column. For now let’s just say that while Aric’s armor is blue and gold, who is to say that there are not any other suits of armor out there with differing colors?

Anyway, back to the comic at hand.

Issue #2 opens with a great splash page of Aric, in full armor, fighting an eight-legged armored Spider-Alien in someone’s back yard. The alien’s armor is steel blue, but it looks nothing like Aric’s. Imagine a giant spider covered in blue metal. There you have it. Aric is smashing a lawnmower against the alien’s side, and his thoughts perfectly set up the situation. “I cannot kill this one! No matter what I hit it with, I cannot spill its juices!” Aric realizes that his foe’s armor is much stronger than the weapons that Aric is using against it. But Aric is a true barbarian and decides to use his own armored body as a weapon, lunging at the Spider-Alien and driving a fist right into its chest. Finally, the alien’s blood begins to flow! Aric, obviously in a more powerful suit of armor, begins to make quick work of his enemy, first by yanking off it’s armored limbs, then by smashing it with its own arms to finally kill it. Aric truly is the strongest one there is.

The scene shifts to New York, where in the Chrysler building two (more or less) human-looking Spider-Aliens discuss Aric and how to deal with him. The female, Lydia, and the male, Prather, are the same aliens that were running the show last issue. Lydia admonishes Prather about what just happened. “Wolf-Class X-O armor, even with our best bio-engineered hunter inside is no match for Manowar-Class armor…even with an ignorant savage inside!” So apparently the armored alien that Aric just fought is wearing what is called “Wolf-Class” armor. And it is also apparent that Aric’s “Manowar-Class” armor is much more powerful than the Wolf. Are there other classes? Perhaps…

By the way, now it is very clear what “X-O Manowar” means when it appears as the title of the comic.

Anyway, Lydia and Prather argue back and forth about the best way to apprehend Aric in order to reclaim the armor that he stole. For some reason, they need the Manowar armor, but Aric has not been an easy target. Lydia begins to formulate another plan to capture Aric.

We cut back to Aric, and it turns out he is in Long Island. The police are at the scene of his battle with the Wolf-Class armor, and hidden out of sight is Ken, Aric’s guide and friend in the new world. Aric carries Ken and flies towards a large Long Island house. The house belongs to Ken’s doctor, and once inside, Ken gets his wound tended to as Aric gets fed. (Don’t forget, last issue Ken’s arm was severed at the elbow by laser fire. We’ll be keeping an eye on that wound…) Ken begins to tell Aric exactly why the Spider-Aliens want him and his armor. When Aric stole the Manowar armor, he also destroyed the aliens’ spaceship. Now they are stuck on Earth and need Aric’s armor in order to build a new spaceship. Ken knows this because he used to work for the aliens, but now he is also a wanted man for helping Aric.

Now in Northampton, Massachusetts, Lydia and Prather prepare to unleash alien troops on the Long Island house where Aric is. Apparently, they are able to track the armor, something that Aric has no knowledge of. The forces are ready, but Lydia knows that they don’t stand a chance against Aric’s power. This attack, it seems, is merely the first part in a more elaborate agenda.

No sooner does Lydia give the order to attack than Spider-Aliens descend upon Aric and his people in Long Island. Spider-Alien soldiers, unarmored yet wielding standard laser weapons, storm the house and press the attack. But Aric has on the Manowar armor, and he is ready to fight.

A couple of things happen at this point that are worth noting. The first is pretty funny. Ken’s doctor and friend, Bev, is sitting on her couch smoking a cigarette and thinking that Ken is completely nuts after hearing him talk about aliens and spiders. Aric, in full armor, stares at her funny, making Bev feel a little uncomfortable. Suddenly Aric grabs the cigarette out of Bev’s mouth and looks at it, disgusted. The next panel is a close-up of Aric’s head as he looks at the burning cigarette in one hand, and points to it with his other. “What are these things,” he thinks. “A way to breathe smoke. Stupid.” And that, ladies and gentlemen, is Valiant Comics’ first (and as far as I know only) Public Service Announcement. When I first read it I couldn’t stop thinking about the “Knowing is Half the Battle” PSA’s at the end of every G.I. Joe episode. I just think it’s hilarious that this violent barbarian thinks that smoking is bad for you.

Okay, maybe you had to be there.

The second thing is funny too, but even more than that, it is an important event that gives us more insight to the armor that Aric wears. Earlier, Aric acknowledges that when he wears the armor he can understand Ken more than when he is out of the armor. Before the Spider-Alien’s attack Bev’s house, Ken defends Aric’s brutish behavior by telling Bev that Aric doesn’t know much about the modern world and that he is not “housebroken.” When Aric hears that, he starts to think about that word a lot. And when the aliens break through the wall and start attacking, Aric utters his first truly English words in what could be considered a battle cry. Gripping an antique letter-opener as a knife, Aric runs straight towards the attacking Spider-Aliens and shouts, “House…broken!” The “good skin” (Aric’s name for the armor he wears) has been teaching him English! It seems that the X-O armor is creating a rapport with Aric, and one of the advantages is that finally Aric will be able to at least understand what is being said around him. This really becomes apparent and important in future issues where we will see just how fast Aric can adapt to the modern world. But for right now it’s fair to say that Aric has made his first steps towards learning English.

Anyway, the Spider-Aliens attack, and immediately grab Ken. One of the aliens escapes with Ken through a window while Aric is busy fighting its comrades. It seems that this whole attack was a diversion in order to capture the real target, Ken. Using the letter-opener as a blade, Aric stabs and beheads one of the Spider-Aliens as the others escape. But he is too late, and the aliens manage to leave with Ken. Bev, naturally, has been freaking out since the attack began, wondering what the creatures were and what they wanted with Ken. She yells at Aric to do something. Aric decides to leave her house before any more damage can be done. He speaks to her using the only words he knows, “house…broken.” He flies off, but not before giving her one final gift as payment for the hospitality she showed him.

When next we see Ken, he is in a Spider-Alien warehouse in Northampton. The place is crawling with Spider-Aliens, weapons, and vehicles. The aliens take Ken deep inside the complex to a holding room. Lydia and Prather are watching a large screen that shows them Aric’s location. He is sleeping high in the sky (in full armor, naturally). The armor is keeping watch, and protecting Aric from danger while he sleeps. Lydia can’t allow her troops to attack him while he is sleeping because the armor would surely awaken Aric in time. Originally, she had hoped that Aric would try to rescue Ken, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

The next panel brings us back to Aric as he wakes up. The armor, it seems, communicates with Aric in a non-verbal manner, almost like it is speaking to him. Aric wants to kill all of the Spider-Aliens, so he lets the armor take him to wherever they are. The armor seems to know their locations. So Aric flies off to do some damage.

An interesting side-note about flying. When Aric flies, it isn’t in the “arms outstretched, horizontal Superman” style. Aric flies more or less as if he was walking, that is basically upright with his arms at his sides. The same can be said about Solar when he flies. Once again, keep in mind that the Valiant Universe is not supposed to be your standard stereotypical comic book universe. The writers and artists have gone to great pains to make sure that conventional comic book clichés are not used. Remember, this is supposed to be, more or less, the “real” world. And in this world, people don’t fly like superheroes.

Anyway, back in the warehouse, reports are coming in that Aric has been destroying alien bases all over the northeast. Apparently, Aric is taking “kill them all” seriously. Lydia talks to Ken, who is now a prisoner of the Spider-Aliens. She was hoping that using Ken as bait would lure Aric to the warehouse, but he seems to be smarter than he looks. Ken doesn’t know anything about why Aric isn’t showing up, and he certainly does not want to help Lydia anyway. Lydia decides to find out more about Aric. From the aliens’ records, we find out that Aric is a Visigoth, part of an Eastern Germanic tribe in the time of the Roman Empire. He was plucked form Earth around 2,000 years ago. Kept in stasis most of that time, Lydia figures that Aric believes only a few years have passed since his capture. Armed with this knowledge, Lydia sets a new plan in motion…

Meanwhile, Aric cuts a bloody swath through the Spider-Alien bases. It’s definitely not a good time to be a Spider-Alien as Aric kills every one he sees. At a base in Pennsylvania, Aric is surprised when he hears someone calling his name through the speakers in his helmet. Thinking that the only being that knows his name is his god, Lugh, Aric starts to fly towards where the armor tells him the voice is coming from.

Back in the warehouse, a small team of aliens unshackles Ken as they prepare to move him to a more secure location. Ken’s bandaged stump starts to leak blood, and he uses that to tempt his captors. Unable to resist just a taste of human blood, one of the Spider-Aliens makes a move towards Ken. But before he can stick his fangs in Ken’s arm, Ken swipes the guard’s weapon and starts shooting his way out of the cell.

At that moment, Aric lands in front of the Chrysler Building in New York. Guarding the doors is a force of Spider-Aliens, but they are dressed in tunics and helmets that resemble Roman warriors. They wield swords and shields instead of lasers. Aric believes that the Chrysler Building is a castle belonging to the king of his enemies, and that the warriors blocking his way are the king’s elite guardsmen. But bringing a sword to a fight against Manowar-Class armor is like trying to chisel granite with a straw. Needless to say, Aric destroys every guard in his way, and finally makes it into the building.

Inside the building, on one of the upper floors, we see Lydia and Prather dressed in royal attire. Lydia’s plan is to make Aric think that he has taken the fight to the heart of an empire. That is why they are all dressed in costume. They will feign surrender, and once Aric believes that he has taken control of the “empire,” Lydia will strike. But first, Aric must make it to the throne room. And make it he does (after killing Spider-Aliens trying to escape in an elevator).

Once in the throne room, Lydia tells Prather (who is dressed as a king) to run up to Aric with a sword. Prather is worried that Aric will do more than just take his sword and scepter, but Lydia assures him that everything will go as planned. But Aric runs towards Prather and does not appear to slow down at all. Prather desperately hopes that Aric will not kill him.

Aric kills him. Shoots his head off with the armor’s lasers actually.

Grabbing the king’s sword and scepter as the spoils of victory, Aric rightfully claims his seat on the throne next to Lydia. The remaining aliens continue the charade, and bow before Aric. Aric wants them to bring him Ken, and motions them to leave while shouting, “K’nn! K’nn!” Lydia tells the aliens to leave them alone.

Once seated, Aric notices that Lydia wants to bathe him and clean any wounds that he might have. Feeling that this is a necessary duty of a queen, Aric removes his armor. And that is exactly what Lydia was hoping he would do. As she bathes him she speaks to him with a soothing voice, calling him by his name, although he doesn’t understand her words. She moves closer to his neck, and as she opens her mouth we see large fangs appear. She opens wide and is about to make the killing blow when Aric lunges around and stabs her with the antique letter opener right through her heart! Aric has experienced too much with the Spider-Aliens to trust them or any female that associates with them. Lydia, because she is not human, still lives after being stabbed, and tries to run away. Aric finally understands that it was not his god that called him to this place, but Lydia herself. He makes a grab for her but only catches her robe, which easily comes off. Lydia stands naked in front of Aric, and she is covered in fur like a tarantula, although she is still vaguely humanoid. Pretty gross, if you ask me. She jumps out of the window and falls to the street below. Since this whole scene took place on the top floor of the Chrysler Building, it seems pretty certain that Lydia fell to her death. Or did she…?

We finally cut back to Ken in the warehouse, where he is surrounded by the Spider-Aliens that he shot dead. Suddenly he sees Aric on a view screen. Aric, in full armor, is hooked up via many cables and conduits to many large futuristic computer banks. Ken realizes what is happening…Aric patched into the aliens’ communication web. He now has control of their computers and information! And according to Ken, that means that he and Aric have won!

What exactly have they won? The answer to that will be in the next column, but it sure seems like Aric has won an important battle nonetheless. What will it mean for his and Ken’s future? A lot, actually, but we’ll get to that next time.


This brings us to the end of this column, but fear not…we will return shortly to continue this look at everyone’s favorite armored barbarian. The next article will cover the third issue of the X-O series. In it, we’ll be treated to the return of a character that was thought destroyed, as well as one of the first crossovers in the Valiant Universe.

As always, thanks for reading.

See you next time!

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Stephen Pakula lives in the Bronx.

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