"X-O Manowar" #21 opens with a cinematic flashback to Thrace in 382 A.D. as the Visigoths and the Romans soak fields with the blood of their battle as depicted by artist Trevor Hairsine with colors from Ulises Arreola. Robert Venditti's script uses that event to prop open Aric of Dacia's mind and invites readers to learn more about Aric without the armor.
Readers who have been tuning in to the Valiant Entertainment crossover know that following "Unity" #3, the armor is, as the saying goes, between users. That leaves Aric perceivably vulnerable, but the king of Dacia is resourceful if nothing else. Venditti's story weaves between times lost and present day as Aric makes a desperation play to reclaim his armor. The writer doesn't struggle to make Aric a sympathetic character, but rather than wallowing in woe and gnashing his teeth, Aric is proactive in ending his imprisonment and liberating his people once more. Aric doesn't need the armor to be interesting or powerful and Venditti proves his point quite thoroughly in "X-O Manowar" #21. It wasn't until I concluded my reading of this comic book that I realized this just might be the most X-O-less issue of this title ever.
The art is decent, but not spectacular. Hairsine is quite capable in the opening sequence, with strong storytelling carrying the imagery under Venditti's narration. Nord and Fuentes' collaboration, however, leaves a little too much detail to Arreola's interpretation, which may or may not result in imagery as intended. Some scenes, like Aric's conversation with Colonel Capshaw would have benefit from stronger storytelling and more detail placed in the surroundings of the conversation. This isn't a bad looking comic book, but "X-O Manowar" #21 isn't going to be winning any awards for best art in a single comic book in 2014.
Despite the lack of armor, there is still plenty of drama in "X-O Manowar" #21, just not much X-O Manowar. I'm certain Venditti has a long-term plan, but in the interim, he brings readers a character who is out of his depth, but not out of hope. Aric has faced adversity all his life, and Venditti convinces readers that the former host of the X-O armor will eventually overcome this new scenario as well. It's the how of the expected victory that readers are now hooked in to after reading "X-O Manowar" #21.