By Toren Chenault — When I started reading Valiant Comics, my first title was XO Manowar by Robert Venditti and Cary Nord, launched in 2013. It follows a Visigoth prince named Aric of Dacia, who is as headstrong and stubborn as a hero can get. But he’s also got a lot of heart. When his people are captured by an alien race, Aric steals a sentient alien suit on their ship, becoming a superhero. Yes, this comic is exactly as cool and crazy as it sounds. Since that issue back in 2013, Aric has been the face of the Valiant Universe.
Just recently, the most recent run of XO concluded. Written by Matt Kindt, it hosted a plethora of talented artists. I’m a believer in appreciating things while we have them, and with comics I like to show appreciation by writing about them. Kindt’s XO run lasted about two years. In that time, it became my favorite Valiant run ever. And not just Valiant. This run was so innovative and thought-provoking, it’s now among my favorites of any publisher. See, Aric is a character that has gone through a lot since Valiant relaunched in 2011. But, this most recent run managed to slow down and take time with Aric’s development, while still delivering some of the best superhero comicbook action in recent memory. It also added greatly to Valiant’s cosmic scene. And it all started on Planet Gorin.
Let’s take a look...
Matt Kindt’s XO Manowar - The Arcs
Part of the brilliance of this XO Manowar run comes from its planning. This isn’t the first comic to plan heavily and won’t be the last. But man, I’d be lying if I said it isn’t one of my favorite things in comics. Basically, there was clear vision with this story, represented by the titles of the arcs, titles like Soldier, General, and Emperor. First, Aric was a “Soldier” on Gorin. Here, Aric was just trying to live a peaceful life as a farmer but was thrown into a planetary civil war. Next, he was a “General” for the Azure army. He continued to deal with politics on Gorin, proving himself as an amazing warrior. Lastly, Aric ascended to “Emperor” or Gorin. After many battles, the people of Gorin appointed Aric as the ruler of their planet. An enormous step up for him, and for Valiant as a whole.
See, the beauty in this run was that nothing was ever easy for Aric. Issue 1 shows us a broken, beaten Aric who’s done using the XO armor. He’s forced into a war, but as he often does, he rises to the occasion. He doesn’t understand the Gorin people, doesn’t truly know them. Yet, he finds their wars are just as corrupt and unstable as the ones on Earth. This leads to a quick uprising from the Gorin citizens. Aric as a ruler loses their trust. By the time we get to the “Visigoth” arc, he has lost his throne. Next came the “Barbarians” arc, which was essentially filler for Harbinger Wars 2, but it still showed Aric at his lowest. He had just returned to Earth, yet was contemplating suicide by flying into the sun. Why? Because he’d come home to more war. It was a touching story of imperialism that helped Aric gain perspective. It also explained his actions in Harbinger Wars 2, and it’s always nice when stories connect that way.
Aric then became an “Agent,” which was probably the most entertaining arc, with Kindt showcasing characters from other stories he’s written. Finally, Aric became a “Hero,” confronting demons from his past and settling into a new mindset as a superhero. A rise, fall, then rise again. The entire process was beautiful. At times it was hard to read, too. You want the best for characters, and Aric never caught a break during this run. But, in a way, he kind of did. He made the time to be reflective and think, and that’s what I enjoyed most. Aric truly grew as a person and as a superhero throughout this run.
XO Manowar - The Art, Characters, and Themes
Art is, obviously, a vital part of any comic, and this XO Manowar run happened to boast some of the most talented artists in comics. The first artist to start and finish the run was Tomas Giorello. If you’ve never seen Tomas’ art before, it’s breathtaking, with fine, detailed pencils and scenic panels. His art made Gorin feel alive and gave a certain atmosphere to the story. Other artists who contributed were the legendary Doug Braithwaite, Renato Guedes, Ryan Bodenheim, Trevor Hairsine, and Juan Jose Ryp. Meanwhile, talented colorists like Diego Rodriguez and Andrew Dalhouse helped bring the imagery to life. They each fit their respective arcs perfectly too. Bodenheim and Dalhouse crafted my favorite page of the series in issue 13. Giorello and Rodriguez made me feel like I was in battle with Aric in issue 1. And Renato Guedes made me feel the pressure of that intergalactic prison in issue 10. A page was never wasted. Pair that with Kindt’s script, and you have a spectacular set of comics.
I mentioned earlier this comic added to Valiant as a whole. And it did with a slew of new characters to aide Aric on Gorin. There’s his group of misfits that help with the rebellion. Wynn, Catt, Ironside, and more. There’s also Bruto, the treacherous snake, as well as the bounty hunters, called by the citizens of Gorin to take Aric out. Their origin was told issue 10, and they were featured all the way up until issue 25. They challenged Aric in new ways, and it’s just nice to see new faces in general. Whether it’s the people of Gorin or the bounty hunters, Valiant has loads of potential to build out upon now in its cosmic realm.
I’ve rambled about the structure of this series, the amazing art, and the new characters, but what really made this run special was its overall theme. Aric of Dacia is an interesting character because of his Visigoth background. And at first glance, he seems like most superheroes. A straight white male, tough as nails, sometimes doesn’t listen, but is good at heart. And Aric is those things. But Aric grew up oppressed. He grew up under the foot of the Roman Empire. He was treated like he wasn’t human and as if his life didn’t matter. Aric grew up as a minority. Not only that, he carried that attitude with him to the present day.
Aric understands the importance of fighting for the little man. He brings a ferocity to his stories that some characters who look like him don’t. Yes, it’s partly because he’s a Visigoth, but it’s also because there’s a message in the way his character has been constructed. Intentional or not, as a minority I see a kindred spirit in Aric. I see the anger in him when oppressed people are being used by the government. Aric represents how we aren’t all that different. That when people can find common ground and work together, nothing is impossible. And that’s exactly what Kindt did with Aric on Gorin. Against all odds, with different races, cultures, and species, Aric liberated Gorin. And yeah, he took some bumps along the way, but I see his journey as a metaphor for growth. The importance of it. Something that Kindt made sure to talk about in the last issue.
Matt Kindt, to me, is a comicbook legend at this point, having contributed enough to comics to be considered iconic. Whether it’s Mind Mgmt, Dept H, Unity, Rai, Divinity...he’s created some of my personal favorite stories of all time. And with XO Manowar, he stepped up his game. Now I don’t know Kindt personally (I’d love to meet him at a con one day), but from his work over the years, I see a lot of Aric in him. Here, you have another white male (tons of those in comics), and one who works with superheroes. Nothing out of the ordinary. Kindt had a stint in mainstream titles like Suicide Squad, but he found success with his indie books. Why is that? In my mind, authenticity. A voice that couldn’t be denied. A voice that was just as ruthless and stubborn as it was creative. Just like Aric. And, the big thing for me personally about Kindt’s work that makes him stand out? His handling of diverse characters as a white male. Always well researched, always written with respect, and always always, character comes first. Not only that, diverse voices and characters seem to matter to him. Different perspectives that vary from his own. Aric of Dacia is the same way.
The entire last issue of his XO Manowar run, Kindt has Aric reflect. Aric ponders his place in the universe, how it will be here when he’s gone. Aric says that he’s tried to make the universe a little better than when he found it. His story is a collaboration, he says. Throughout the issue Aric is flying around handling typical situations. All while talking about living in the moment, understanding that all we have is the moment. To appreciate things while we have them because nothing truly lasts. It’s what I’m trying to do now with this article, and I think this is what Kindt is trying to do with his career.
It’s why I think Kindt was the perfect writer for this series. He and Aric seemed to be at similar paths in their lives. Seasoned, experienced, and in some ways tired. And even though life continued to present new challenges, Kindt continues to put out some of the industry’s best comics (Black Badge, Grass Kings, Ether), and Aric continues to be one of the best superheroes in comics. As a writer—I’m currently working on my first comic and I’ve self-published a novel—Kindt’s career inspires me. He proved you don’t always have to fit some mold to be heard. All you have to be is yourself and people will listen. He brought those themes to this XO comic, placed Aric in unfamiliar situations, and yet, Aric came out okay. Truly what I love most about this comic are the connectedness and similarities between creator and character.
Thank you for reading this piece. I love comics, and I love this character. Thank you to Valiant for continued commitment to strong storytelling. Thank you to Matt Kindt, Tomas Giorello, Diego Rodriguez, and all the other creators that created a comic I’ll remember and cherish for the rest of my life.
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Toren Chenault, a native of the Cincinnati area, currently lives in Michigan with his girlfriend. A graduate of Michigan State University, he is a long-time superhero fan who counts Captain Atom, Carol Danvers’ Captain Marvel, Daredevil, Divinity, Nightwing, and XO Manowar among his favorite heroes. Mystic Man is his first book. Buy it now here, and check out more of Toren’s Why I Love series here.