Friday, August 07, 2020

Forgotten Books: X-O Manowar: Retribution - Bob Layton, Steve Englehart, Jim Shooter

A while back, having decided to dip my toe in the Valiant Comics universe from the Nineties, I picked up a couple of collections from some of their most popular titles. A few weeks ago I posted about BLOODSHOT: BLOOD OF THE MACHINE, which I liked overall but only at a lukewarm level. The other book I picked up was X-O MANOWAR: RETRIBUTION, which reprints the first four issues of the title character’s series from 1993. I found it considerably more entertaining and appealing.

The concept is that alien invaders have been lurking on Earth for several thousand years, and at a distant point in the past they kidnapped a Visigoth warrior named Aric to study him. Aric has been kept alive all this time on the aliens’ orbiting ship, but he finally escapes and winds up in possession of one of the aliens’ most dangerous weapons, a set of Manowar-class armor that gives its wearer great power.

So the aliens take off after Aric to try to recover the armor, which he’s trying to learn how to use it on the fly, so to speak. He also lands on 1993 Earth but he’s still a Visigoth warrior, so at the same time he has to learn how to navigate the strangeness of modern life, all while foiling various alien plots and interacting with other characters from the Valiant Comics universe. As it turns out, Aric is a fun character and his exploits are entertaining.

This series was created by Bob Layton, best known as an artist and inker, who contributes some to the scripts and also pitches in on the inking chores. For the most part, though, it’s written by Steve Englehart and Jim Shooter, two very well-known names in comics history. Englehart was a top writer for both Marvel and DC in the Seventies and Eighties, remembered these days for long, complex runs on THE AVENGERS and DETECTIVE COMICS. Shooter broke in writing Legion of Super-Hero stories for DC as a young teenager and went on to a controversial stretch as editor-in-chief at Marvel that left him either admired or loathed, depending on your perspective. I loved Englehart’s work and fall kind of in the middle on Shooter: I usually enjoyed his actual scripts but hate that his run at Marvel introduced the Big Event Crossovers that eventually ruined both Marvel and DC, as far as I’m concerned.

But I was talking about X-O MANOWAR. The first issue and the first several covers were penciled by Barry Windsor-Smith, who became an overnight sensation with his work on CONAN THE BARBARIAN and who also drew some great issues of THE AVENGERS. His pencils here are solid and I like them a lot. Sal Velluto replaces him after the first issue and also does a very good job. (Bear in mind that I’m not an artist, so when I talk about the art in comic books, it boils down to either “I liked it” or “I didn’t like it”.) Overall I think these issues have good art and storytelling, paired with fast-moving scripts. I liked RETRIBUTION enough that I think it’s very likely I’ll read more of this series, whether I explore any more of the Valiant Universe or not.

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