Source (purchased/given/borrowed/the wife’s): purchased
Date Purchased: sometime 1993
Original Review: N/A
Thoughts/Memories/ Remembrances:Ah, the Valiant universe. From 1991 through to 1993 (perhaps even into 1994), thanks to the speculator boom fuelled by Wizard, Valiant books became hot, hot, hot. Valiant’s thing was story above art, which seemed in glaring contradiction to what Marvel (and later Image) were practicing at the time, and without any “hot writers” or “hot artists” on board, the line of titles at Valiant proved good reading. The biggest boost to Valiant’s business, early on, was their obscurity. Their first few titles came out with little fanfare or hoopla to low, low numbers, meaning once people did catch on, the resale value of the first 20 or 30 issues Valiant published went through the roof. Literally, in the time of the speculator boom, some books were over $100 within a year of being printed. Valiant, seeing a market to exploit, pushed the “collector-friendly” angle and began all number of schemes to make their books collectible, including cupon redemptions for “zero-issues” and later specialty covers and 3-D “Valiant Vision”.
X-O was part of their first wave of titles, introduced in the first year. All those early book were guided by the hand of Jim Shooter, who seemed bound and determined to have a superhero universe to call his own (later he was turfed from Valiant and started up the short-lived Defiant universe) and had his sights on taking mighty Marvel down a peg or two. Appropriating old Gold Key heroes like Solar, Magnus and Turok as his baseline, he then introduced original characters like the Eternal Warrior and Rai, as well as Marvel deviations likeHarbinger , which was an interesting spin on the X-Men, and here, X-O Manowar, which was a melding of Conan and Iron Man.
I remember the Valiant universe as being good reading, at least better than most of what Marvel and DC were doing in the early to mid 90’s, but I can’t recall what specifically I liked about it. My collections of Valiant titles are all scattered with only one exception, Archer and Armstrong which I have a complete set of, and next to that, X-O Manowar has only a few gaps. I tried a few issues of nearly every title, but most were ignored after three, with some random character crossover issues filling it out.
I haven’t actually read any of my Valiant books since I stopped reading their title’s altogether after the company’s acquisition by Acclaim in 1995, and the general flavour of the line turned sour (seemingly more keyed on collectible covers and “hot books” more than story). With a Hardcover X-O collection solicited in this month’s Previews, I thought I’d take another look and see how it stands up.
Re-Review: Wow… I had not prepared myself for how poorly this book has held up. The story features a Visigoth, plucked from his own time by spider-aliens (a key adversary in the Solar comics, I assume), the story kicking off with him breaking free of his captors and absconding with their most powerful weapon, an symbiotic exoskeleton, and returning to earth, destroying their ship in the process. The first two issues find Aric confused by his new surroundings in Peru, but adjusting to life there, only when his armor is stolen and his host village killed by spider-aliens, revenge calls him into battle. Reclaiming the armor, he destroys all the spider-aliens and, with the help of his new friend Ken, takes control of the alien’s shadow corporation.
The first problem with the series becomes readily apparent, it progressed far too rapidly. What should have been a longer-term, larger scale battle with the Earth-bound spider-aliens was over without almost any struggle. Aric, on Earth in his new time (1600 years later), seems to be adjusting with surprising (and undramatic) ease. The spider-aliens were primarily eliminated over in Solar, as a guest appearance by the man in the red leotard reveals, it leaves Aric’s victory hollow and less exciting than had it carried on for a longer arc.
Now a corporate head, Aric has a business to run, but also his new reign as king of the boardroom won’t go unnoticed, and he’s perceived a threat by Harbinger nemesis Toyo Harada. Harada sends a mercenary after Aric whom he defeats without much challenge, only for Harada to realize X-O is not his enemy. This leads to the final issue, and a conflict with the Harbinger kids, mistaking Aric for Harada’s latest ally.
As a collection and an introduction to the character 15 years after Valiant’s peak, “Retribution” is not very good. The highly intertwined universe poses a number of problems in presenting X-O as a standout character. For the four issues this trade collects, none of it really allows Aric to take center-stage. He’s continually upset by guest stars and elements that require extraneous knowledge.
I think what made Valiant so intriguing in the ’90’s was its continuity, and good continuity was one of the biggest aspects of comic fandom at the time. Everybody wanted to know what one hero was doing while another hero did something else. Valiant focussed heavily on ensuring that questions like that were answered, no matter how painfully forced they are into the books (Zepplin in issue 4: “I can’t imagine how that shatterproof glass got broken out this high up, but it sure makes eavesdropping a lot easier…”). Thankfully that time has (mostly) passed, but we’re left with a large chunk of product from this company that just can’t be enjoyed on a per title or per character basis.
Later issues, post-Unity (Valiant’s first epic crossover event at the tail end of their first year) did detach the various series from one another, although new characters were constantly being pre-launched in other titles, often disregarding logic. These early issues, written by Bob Layton and Jim Shooter with Steve Engleheart, aren’t well paced, the broken English of Aric is handle poorly, and both character and story establishment and progression is handled awkwardly. The first issue has some fantastic Barry Windsor-Smith art, but subsequent issues turn over to the Valiant “Knob-Row” house style, which, although competent, always bored me.
The “zero-issue” later on handled the back-story of Aric’s old life and his capture by the spider aliens (and the flashy Joe Quesada artwork was definitely a welcome break from the house style) and it will be included in the new Hardcover (along with issue 5 and 6), an element dearly missing from this trade. I do have to wonder in the new collection, however, whether licensing issues will force them to remove/replace Solar references. Even still, I can’t really recommend seeking out this trade, that Hardcover or the back issues unless you’re really geared towards reading the entire first year of the Valiant line. I love the concept but the execution left much to be desired (and later issues started but never fully capitalized on the Conan in armor concept).
Rating (keep/sell/undecided): sell
aside… oh well, could have always been worse, could have been X-O Manolantern…
(I’m too tired to do Photoshop fun.. you get the gist)