We’ve had to wait a while for this issue. I remember it being announced last summer, and being really excited for it, but then hearing literally no news for a good long while. But now, at long last, it’s finally here! Dennis Hallum, Emilio Laiso, Ruth Redmond, and Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou working on Valiant’s X-O Manowar, with Christian Ward on the cover? This book really sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Sadly, it is.
So, the big problem that I really can’t put off talking about is that they’ve Spider-Manned X-O Manowar. They’ve turned this character whose best stories involved him in alien locations and times of war into a local superhero who has a neighborhood he helps out. He’s a clumsy superhero doing his best but making everyone mad with traffic delays and collateral damage, and who really just wants to help people. This is compounded by Hallum’s dialogue – Hallum is a really good writer, and his dialogue is snappy and witty and genuinely funny, but it kind of kills the effect of Aric, who ends up coming across far less like a former Visigoth and more like just an out of touch moron. They even have Shanhara explain to Aric that he needs money, a struggle I genuinely cannot seem to care about in X-O Manowar. This does lead to a very good goof where Aric decides that rather than earn money to pay for food he’ll just hunt and eat a deer in the wilderness, but it’s a status quo that bores me as a whole even with some good bits.
While I’m frustrated with and generally worried about the direction the writing of the book is taking, the art is a pretty significant part of this effect. Emilio Laiso’s art is already expressive and elastic normally, but Ruth Redmond’s coloring adds a quality that turns it cartoonish. Characters look exaggerated in a way that’s technically good, but creates an aesthetic that makes the book feel too much like a Saturday morning cartoon. The facial expressions feel more designed for comedy and over the top emotion rather than the more stoic storytelling that usually accompanies X-O, and while this really isn’t an inherently bad thing, it combines with the writing to alter the tone in a way that becomes harder to enjoy.
Now, I might not be being fair to this relaunch of X-O Manowar. But I’m coming to the book for a very specific type of character, and no matter how much I enjoy the creators on most of their work, and no matter how much I’d enjoy this series if it was named anything else, the fact is I don’t feel like I’m getting what I’m looking for with a new X-O Manowar #1. At the very least, the ending is more in the direction that I feel works for the character, and I trust Hallum to write his story well even if it doesn’t have the sensibilities I’m craving. This isn’t a book I’d recommend against so much as it is something that wasn’t what I wanted it to be, so if you like Hallum’s writing, or Laiso, Redmond, and Otsmane-Elhaou’s artwork, this issue is worth a pick up. If you’re looking for something more in the vein of the last two runs on X-O, you should maybe give it a pass.