REVIEW: X-O Manowar #44

Written by ROBERT VENDITTI
Art by ROBERT GILL

Ever since Robert Venditti rebooted X-O Manowar, and Valiant Entertainment, back in 2012, he has taken us on a wild sci-fi adventure: Dead Planet, Unity, Armor Hunters, Armorines, etc… X-O Manowar #44 is no exception. His creative team, with Robert Gill and Ulises Arreola, pull their resources together to bring not one, but two stories. The first being a dark and violent espionage mission, and the other is the trials and tribulations of segregation and non-human rights. Splashed amongst these two stories are issues betwixt violence and pacifism. This is another great issue with Mr. Venditti’s writing. His script is beautiful and, whether or not it was intentional, came with a story that reaches outside of the pages. Robert Gill, on pencils and inks, helps push this issue even further with his outstanding skill. I have zero criticism for his work on this story, just a barrage of compliments. And with Ulises Arreola on colors it made the entire project that much more incredible.

Their issue starts with a gorgeous view over Barcelona, Spain, at night. A mysterious man is running for his life, followed by foreboding shadow. The man turns a corner to find himself trapped in an ally. Fumbling around with the hand print lock, the man finally gets the secret door open just in time to escape the watchful eye of X-O Manowar. All seems well and fine until the man turns to see the supposed “safe house” decimated by Ninjak, who kills him and lets Aric inside. Aric is unsettled by the gruesome scene that Colin left behind, but Colin insists that the two taunt their enemy, Commander Trill, through the security camera. Trill, who is watching the video stream, is upset by his failure. And he decides that he will take the bait, and show his face to his enemies.

Back at the Visigoths camp in Nebraska, a Vine boy stands face to face with a human girl, separated by a chain link fence. The two have trouble communicating, but they touch hands and show compassion. That is until a rocks hits the Vine child’s head, and the mother of the girl escorts her daughter away from the scene. The little boy, confused, is also escorted away by his father, while more humans taunt them with violence and bigotry. As things escalate, the mob is gassed by the Armorines. The Armorines tell the group to leave the Vine alone, and send them on their way. Concerned, the Staff Sergeant, Sirot, disperses his team on surveillance while he updates their leader, Gunny.

When Sirot arrives at Aric and Saana’s tent, he notices that both Gunny and Saana are still nursing the High Priest’s mortal wounds. Sirot tells Gunny of the growing violence and suggests that more forceful actions be taken. Gunny refuses. As the two argue, the High Priest convenes with his people in their hive mind. He is touched by the growing faith of his people, but as he spreads the gospel of peace and coexistence, Commander Trill’s mind enters. Trill attacks the philosophy of the High Priest, saying that pacifism will lead to their destruction. He claims that their faith in X-O Manowar is misplaced, since he has taken the role of the human’s champion. And he concludes with the promise to be their champion.

All the while, Ninjak and X-O Manowar are briefed by MI6’s Neville Alcott, G.A.T.E’s Jamie Capshaw, and a Vine Planting Alexander Dorian, on their next mission. Alexander says that the duo’s recent activities have scared the militant Plantings into underground bunkers called “Last Resorts”, and that their next target is a Last Resort in Lisbon. While Alexander tries to give Ninjak valuable information on how to infiltrate the bunker, X-O Manowar takes a leap off Ninjak’s stealth jet at 10,000 feet and punches a hole in the ground straight into their target. Our final scene is with Aric surrounded by armed guards.

Throughout this arc we have seen Aric’s struggle while following the callous Ninjak, and it is obvious that he would rather handle the event sans violence. This internal conflict is mirrored perfectly when Commander Trill takes advantage of Aric’s violence, against the Plantings, for his own rhetoric. Robert’s script for this issue definitely deals with segregation issues that coincide with the current immigration affairs in world. And not only do we see the violent responses to these refugees, but also the turbulence in their leadership. It was a poetic way to shine light on a new perspective for this group of aliens without a home. This does seem similar to the story arc when Aric brought the Visigoths to Earth, but these events have entirely different contexts and dilemmas. It is always nice to read a story with more sustenance than just a superhero beat-em-up.

On the technical side of things, Mr. Venditti’s dialogue is beautifully sparse. He used the art to tell a larger portion of the story, which is all you really need sometimes. And the problems with his scripts are only noticeable if you have stuck with his entire X-O run. In every issue he always explains how, and why, Aric has the armor. But it is almost always a single bubble, in a single panel. So at least it doesn’t take away from the main story. My only other complaint with the writing was when Colin explained what the Planting were up to. He could have just said “You could’ve opted for peace, but you went the war route.” and it would have been more fluid. However, this was a poetic script none the less. I was especially choked up when the Vine child asked his father why he was attacked.

Moving on to the art, wow. Robert Gill is an incredible. There were only 15 panels that didn’t have backgrounds, which is outstanding. He had perfect illusions of motion, to the point where you could almost feel your foot trip over a dead body. There were two panels, in particular, that I have to mention. The splash page where we transition to the Vine Collective, and the title page, with Ninjak on the kitchen counter. In the Vine Collective splash page Robert has these beautiful clouds blend the priest from his sickly body to his healthy mind. And in that page, and the pages to follow, he uses the priest’s cape as panel gutters, which I thought was creative. And that Nijak splash page was just gruesome.

Lastly, I want to cover the coloring. Ulises is one of the inspirations for my own coloring work, and this issue illustrates why. He perfectly pops the important aspects of every panel. And his backgrounds, especially the grass, is just fantastic. The only thing that irks me is the amount of glow effects. This was not an issue for any of the panels, save for the splash page of Ninjak. The beam of light just distracts the reader from the rest of the scene. Outside of that, I read this issue as per usual, with a tinge a jealousy.

This is a spectacular issue of X-O Manowar. Between Venditti’s strong scripts, Gill’s stunning art, and Arreola’s splendid colors, I cannot wait until issue #45.This is the kind of collaboration that elevates the medium. Moreover, this issue, and it’s creative team, is a great example of the quality that continues to flow from Valiant. A publisher not afraid to handle delicate subjects on equality and diversity with mature, subtle, themes. X-O Manowar #44 gets 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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