When Valiant Entertainment relaunched in 2012, they did so with "X-O Manowar" as the reborn company's flagship title. Featuring an initial creative team of writer Robert Venditti and artist Cary Nord, the series has remained at the forefront of the ever-growing Valiant Universe, with Venditti on board as writer for every single issue. It's one of the longest uninterrupted runs by a single writer in recent years, as the series barrels toward a landmark 50th issue.
For Valiant fans, however, that milestone will be bittersweet. CBR News has the exclusive reveal ahead of WonderCon that not only will September's #50 mark Robert Venditti's final issue, it also marks the end of the series -- though this isn't the last readers will see of Aric of Dacia. The book's final storyline, "Long Live the King," finds Aric Dacia facing The Torment, powerful, legendary creatures who have existed beyond the span of recorded history, joined by artists Joe Bennett and Roberto de la Torre.
"Long Live the King" will also feature something extra for fans, dubbed the "X-O Manowar #50 Countdown Giveaway" -- each installment of the four-issue arc will be bagged with, at no extra cost, one of 50 4-by-6 inch "micro prints" X-O Manowar by a slate of as-yet unnamed comics artists. As an even bigger bonus, original artwork will be randomly inserted into particularly lucky copies.
As he prepares to exit the series after 56 total issues, CBR News conducted the first exit interview with Venditti, looking back on Aric's overarching journey and what to expect from his final epic adventure.
CBR News: Issue #50 of "X-O Manowar" will be the culmination of everything you've been building this series, as well as the last issue. When did you realize that things were heading towards the finale?
Robert Venditti: When I first took on the book, I didn't know what to expect. It was my first monthly comic book; I had no idea how long I'd be on it. I wanted to make it to 12 issues, and then really hoped I'd make it to 24. But beyond that, I didn't know. The run of the book was very much a dialogue between Valiant and myself. As we'd progress on the current arcs, we'd start planning the next ones after that. We just kept the book moving. Issue #50 seemed like a nice place to do a finale.
I think you can tell, very organically just from reading that last year to 18 months of issues, that a lot of the subplots and plot threads that were established throughout the series -- going all the way back to issue #1 -- have started to come back together, and weave back in after going in their own directions. It felt like we were naturally building toward an ending. It just seemed like #50 would be a good number to end on.
When you add in the zero issues and one-shots and other things, I'll have about 56 issues of "X-O Manowar" all told. That's so far beyond what I thought I'd be able to do on it. I feel very fortunate to be on a book and be with a single character for that type of run, especially with the first monthly series that I'd ever done.
Your final arc starts with Issue #47, which brings the Torment -- who were thought to be just a myth -- into a very real existence. We've heard about them for a few years now, so who are they and where do they come from?
The only time we've seen the Torment in the series was in the opening sequence of "X-O Manowar" #11, which was a sequence drawn by Cary Nord. It was an excerpt from the Vine's ancient scriptures, which foretold this prophecy of the X-O Manowar armor. The Vine were told this story in their scriptures of how someday someone would be chosen to wield the armor. I think we tricked the reader into dismissing this scripture as myth. But in a way it came true, because Aric was chosen as the worthy one much in the way that the Vine prophecies said.
What I don't think any reader has ever connected, but we're doing it for them in this final arc, was that the Vine prophecy of a worthy being choosing the armor came true -- but, no one ever really thought about the other side of the prophecy, which stated that this race of cosmic beings called the Torment, who are subjugators and conquerors, might come into play. There's a lot of mystery around them -- why they come to Earth and why they're interested in Aric.
But ultimately it brings back a main theme of the series, which is faith. Not just Aric's faith, but the Vine's faith as well.
What do the Torment evoke for you?
The Torment are -- and this is certainly true in Cary's design of them -- an omniscient, detached, cosmic race of beings that are almost beyond humanity's ability to conceive of them. They're on another plane of thought and consciousness that we can't even relate to. There's a specific reason why they visited the Vine eons ago and they've been to other worlds. Just like any other race of beings, no matter how powerful they are, they do have their motives and their things they're trying to accomplish.
That's the big mystery of this final arc. And how Aric plays into that, in a way that nobody expects and perhaps not even the Torment expect, no matter how omniscient and omnipotent they are. He's truly unique, as we've seen throughout the series. Aric and the armor have a truly unique symbiotic relationship that doesn't exist anywhere else.
Their emergence puts them on a collision course with Earth. What are they looking for, and how does their path lead them towards Aric?
According to Vine scriptures, the Torment are subjugators and world devourers. They go from world to world, taking all that the planet has to give and then move on to the next location. But we're going to find out that they're actually searching for something. It's not like they're targeting Earth because it's Earth, or that they don't like humans or anything.
They're searching for something specific and they're traveling the universe, as omnipotent as they are, to try and find this thing they lack. That's what is going to bring them to this head-on confrontation, not just with Aric and X-O Manowar armor, but with Unity, with the Armorines, with the combined might of the Vine fleet, with all these characters from throughout the series. They're going to come to Earth and discover the thing they've been searching for isn't exactly what they were hoping it would be.
What has it been like working with Joe Bennett on the present-day clash between X-O Manowar and The Torment?
Joe and I have just gotten started on our collaboration. He's got the first script, and I'm looking very much forward to the images as they come in. I'm a fan of his work. He's really able to capture the spectacle and action that we're going for in this arc. It's the culmination of over 50 issues of story. It's also the final battle scene of the summer blockbuster movie. We're striving for an action-packed, grand scale -- not just in terms of story concepts, but the cast that's going to be on hand.
Virtually every hero we've seen in the run of "X-O Manowar," which is quite a lot, is going to be present in this final clash. It's a lot to handle, and not many artists could do it. But he is one of those artists who can handle those large casts, and those big splash pages, and the spreads and the nice imagery that you have in big climatic battles.
Aric's journey has seen him head through the galaxy, as both savior and villain for those who witness him. Heading into this arc, what's going through his head? How does he view himself?
I think he views himself not just as the King of the Visigoths and their homeland that has been established in Western Nebraska. I think he sees himself as the defender of Earth. As we've seen him evolve throughout the series, he's gone from being someone who's very quick to draw his sword in the "Enter: Ninjak" arc, to a character in the "Exodus" arc who very much tried to play peacemaker. So his character has certainly evolved, but everything he does -- not to say he's always right or that he makes the correct choice -- but everything he's done and everything he's always done, whether it's draw his sword or try to make peace, has always been to achieve what is best in his mind. Not for himself, but for the people he protects.
As he comes to this final arc facing what is by far the most powerful adversary he has faced, he understands what his role has to be as protector and defender of Earth. I think in terms of how he views himself, he doesn't know if he is up to the challenge. The Torment are beings on an entirely different level. They're horrifying in their own way because they're just so powerful. As much as he's been through and as much as he believes in himself, he's going to have a lot of doubt.
This is one of the longest single runs in recent comics history, and the longest-ever single run at Valiant. What are some of your favorite moments from the run?
The experience of working on the series with Valiant and working with the artists that have been on the book. It's just been a great time seeing different artists put their stamp on the series. I feel very fortunate to have been teamed with the people I've been teamed with. I think in terms of story, I've really preferred the quieter moments. There's a scene from "Homecoming," where we did flashbacks to Aric as a little child and skinning his knee. Through that, we see his relationship with his mother and father at a young age. I have good memories of that scene.
I also really like the wedding issue a lot. Valiant Editor-in-Chief Warren Simons came to me and said, "How about we do a wedding issue?" It seemed like the craziest thing that I'd ever heard, but after I got down to writing it, it turned out to be one of my favorite issues because it was all about character. And as much as everybody loves -- myself included -- seeing the action and spectacle, as a writer, it's the quieter character moments that I prefer and am the most proud of.
How do you feel Aric himself has changed across the course of your run? What do you think have been the pivotal moments for the character?
Beyond the obvious moments like his abduction from Earth or acquiring the armor, I think it's been the journey he's gone through in terms of learning and adapting to the modern world, and understanding that the ethics and the qualities that defined a hero in the fifth century A.D. are vastly different from what define a hero in the modern day.
You've worked with Warren Simons for years on the book -- what has he brought to the series, for you? How important has that editorial collaboration been for you?
I worked with Warren on "X-O Manowar" up through issue #37, so we were on the book together for a very long time. He was the first editor that I've ever worked with on a monthly series, and in a lot of ways, he had to teach me the basic principles of the art form. I did not come in as a fully formed writer of comics. I had done creator-owned graphic novels and things prior to that, and he really had to teach me the unique aspects of the monthly issue and how storytelling in that form is different. It's a process that I'm still learning.
But he moved off the book with issues #38, and I've been working with Tom Brennan ever since. I'm just really thankful to work with editors who care about the story and challenge me, and want what's best for the story. That's what's best for me, Valiant, and the reader.
You've said in the past that you seeded a huge number of plot developments into the first issue for you to then utilize through the rest of the run. Was this always where you felt the story was headed?
Not since issue #1, but I've known for quite a while. Again, when I got the job, I just hoped that I would make it to 12 or 24 issues. I didn't say, "Yeah, I just got hired on my first monthly comic book series... here's what I'll do in issue #50!" That never even crossed my mind.
But as we got deeper into the story and deeper into the run after the success of "Armor Hunters," we found that a lot of the concepts were really catching on. Then I started thinking about what the endgame would be. So, it's not something I've planned since day one, but it has been around for a while.
This is an end for your time with Aric, but his story will continue. What does the future hold for you, at Valiant and elsewhere? You might be leaving "X-O Manowar," but you'll still be writing at Valiant, right?
Yes, absolutely. I'm still writing "Wrath of The Eternal Warrior," which we just launched. We have five issues out, and much like "X-O Manowar," we have a plan in place there.
If you go back and read the first 14 issues of "X-O Manowar," up through the "Planet Death" storyline, you can see it as a one long form arc telling a single storyline -- but divided up into three smaller arcs. That's very much what we're doing with "Wrath of The Eternal Warrior." The first 12-16 issues are gong to tell one single story, and then we'll move onto the next one. I love working for Valiant, and I'm definitely going to be staying here.
Your final story with the character is called "Long Live The King." What impact has the book had on you across the last few years? Do you think working on the series has changed the way you work as a comics writer in general?
I've learned so much writing this series. As I was saying before, I came in as a blank slate. I'm sure readers have watched me evolve as a writer just as they've watched Aric evolve as a character.
My writing has definitely changed, and that's good. Every time I take on a project, it's with the hope that I will grow, learn, improve, and get better. It doesn't always end up being the case, but that's the challenge that I look for every time I take something on.
"X-O Manowar" #47, the first chapter of "Long Live the King," is scheduled for release June 29 from Valiant.