SPOILER WARNING: The following story contains spoilers for "X-O Manowar" #1, on sale now.
There is some flexibility in tracking down exactly where Valiant Entertainment's "X-O Manowar" begins. For some readers, the story of Visigoth warrior Aric and his fateful joining with a powerful alien armor began last Wednesday when issue #1 shipped to comic shops. For others, it was Saturday where the issue was previewed in Valiant's Free Comic Book Day offereing. And for writer Robert Venditti, the story really begins over 1600 years ago on a particularly bloody Easter Sunday.
The battlefield shared by the Visigoths and their Roman Empire oppressors, of course, is the start of the story of "X-O Manowar" #1, though anyone who read the debut issue of the new Valiant line can expect the story to go far from there very soon. (See a preview of the comic here) To help unpack the many teases, twists and terrors held within the comic, CBR News spoke with Venditti for a commentary on he and artist Cary Nord's new origin for X-O, and the writer opened up on the historical accuracy of the battles, the secret plans of baby swapping villains The Vine, the Visigoth code of conduct and weaponry and much more.
CBR News: Robert, obviously one of the biggest challenges in reinventing X-O was making this book friendly for a new audience while also finding a way to tip your hat to the original series and its stories. With that in mind, how did you land upon this expansive, wide-screen opening battle scene as THE moment to start the tale of Aric?
Robert Venditti: From the beginning, Valiant Executive Editor Warren Simons and I both felt it was important the audience be given context for Aric as a character, to provide them with an understanding of what it meant to be a Visigoth living in 402 A.D. It’s so much of who he is, and yet it isn’t a time or culture most readers will be overly familiar with. So from there, it was just a matter of finding a real battle from history and making it fit with the book’s content. I spent a good amount of time researching battles and Visigoth culture to get my pitch ready, and delved into the historical record even more when I scripted the issue. I think I spent an entire day trying to find out definitively whether Visigoth saddles had stirrups. This is our one chance to show Aric in the past (at least for now), so I wanted to get it as right as I could.
I'll admit that I'm not 100% up on my actual history between the Roman Empire and the Visigoths, so one of the things I found myself wondering as we got into the thick of the fight was how much of this you drew from whatever historical record we've got from the year 402. Was there a specific conflict or series of conflicts you looked to in creating the society we meet on the page?
Yeah, the Battle of Pollentia is an actual historical battle that took place on Easter Sunday in 402 A.D., and the result was the same as we give it in the story – the Roman’s breached the Visigoth camp’s defenses and captured many prisoners, including King Alaric’s wife. But I won’t claim everything in the book is 100% historically accurate. I don’t know if the Romans deployed ballistae and onagers at Pollentia. But I also don’t know that they didn’t.
Speaking of that intersection between history and story, Aric makes his grand heroic entrance to the melee on pages 6 and 7 in what I think we can describe as "Braveheart" fashion. Though unlike those kinds of battle movies, his sense of "we fight to the finish" doesn't quite carry the improbable victory he's hoping for. What's your take on Aric's sense of combat and honor? Are these things maybe hindrances as much as they are virtues?
I don’t think honor can ever be a hindrance, but Aric is confident and charismatic, too. He’s a natural leader, but he doesn’t have the wisdom that comes with experience. So while he may have the best of intentions, he doesn’t always lead his people in the best direction.
Those ideas loom large in the scene where Aric's father passes – a scene where we also learn of his wife Deidre. While we know that our hero will be moving forward to the future eventually, what can we anticipate about the impact these two characters from his original life will have on the story moving forward?
All of us are a combination of the experiences we’ve had and the people we’ve known, and that’s certainly the case for Aric, particularly with his father, Rolf. Rolf is a sword maker, and the weapon he carries into battle at Pollentia is admired by the entire Visigoth army. But as Rolf and Aric – and the rest of the Visigoths – will learn, a sword isn’t always enough. The concept of the sword, what it has meant throughout history and what it means to Aric, will be an important theme for the story’s first arc.
In the lead up to the launch of the series, we got to talk with Jelena Kevic Djurdjevic and look at her designs for the X-O armor, but this issue is the first time we've really gotten a look at design of the Vine. What for you was the most important idea to get across in these first glimpses of our series villains, and how did Cary Nord achieve that on the page?
The most important scene with the Vine – and maybe the most important scene in the entire issue – is the scene where mysterious Vine figures infiltrate the Visigoth camp and leave a “planting” behind. Cary’s rendering of the offspring’s transformation from alien to human is really something to see. Maybe my favorite panel in the whole issue is the image of the baby’s chin resting on its new mother’s shoulder. The expression on the baby’s face is so adorable and innocuous, a complete contrast to what the reader knows about the infant’s true identity. It’s a great visual moment.
At this point in the game, what can you say about the significance the "plantings" scene holds in terms of the Vine's longterm goals for planet Earth?
It’s a huge moment. Several plotlines are established in that one two-page scene. I can’t go into details, but rest assured it’s a significant event for the entire Valiant universe.
Okay, this is a total minor nerd detail, but once I noticed it, I had to ask about it. After reading the preview scene in the Valiant promo comic handed out at C2E2, I realized while reading the full #1 that there were some small tweaks to the dialogue that seemed to be there to make the preview work better as a standalone story. Particularly, I was really struck by how Aric responds to the breaking of his sword since in the final issue, we get a poignant "No..." reverberating with his father's death that may have read totally differently on its own. What was that challenge like of crafting this scene with two readers in mind?
Good catch! The dialogue as it appears in the full issue is the way it was originally written. I knew Valiant was going to previewing the issue in a couple different places, but I didn’t know exactly which sequence would be used. When Valiant chose those pages, which aren’t the opening pages of the story, we knew we needed to tweak them in a way that wouldn’t alienate anyone who hadn’t yet read the entire issue. But the changes are pretty minor, mostly adding to the content of the balloons so the reader can have more of a background on the story.
The Shanhara armor is a major element of the book of which we get some hints at in this first issue. What about this...I guess you can call it a character in the book was most interesting for you, and how will those ideas continue to grow out of this brutal scene testing the Vine's worthiness?
Technology is a common element of many of the books I’ve written, but I’ve never written a sentient technology, and that appealed to me. I’ve never really dealt with the concept of technology in a weaponized form, either—in The Surrogates, the technology is more of a lifestyle choice. So this book is an opportunity for me to write about technology in a couple of news ways. As for why Shanhara has a history of rejecting the Vine warriors who try to wear it, that will be one of the big reveals of the series’ first year.
We wrap with a classic "And now I shall seek...REVENGE" moment from Aric. How do you and Cary plan to pay that promise off next issue?
You don’t have to be familiar with the series’ original run to know Aric is going to gain control of the X-O Manowar armor. If that weren’t the case, the book would have a different title. The challenge is finding an unexpected way to have the story go in the direction everyone is expecting. I think we do that with the next two issues, where we see how horrible life is for the human slaves aboard the Vine colony ship, and we follow Aric and his band of followers as they attempt an escape. Rest assured, once Aric gets to the armor, his enemies will understand what happens when you place the most powerful weapon in the universe into the hands of a Visigoth warrior.
"X-O Manowar" #1 is on sale now from Valiant Entertainment.