Marvel and DC are doomed.
Not only are Image producing new quality comics week after week, but BOOM have raced up recently, IDW are putting out more original content — and amazingly, Valiant has somehow reformed this year, and have grabbed top-drawer writers and artists for their relaunch titles. X-O Manowar is basically a book wherein a group of ancient Celtic Warriors face off against a horde of Romans, in a last-gasp attempt to save the country from invasion. Except they then get abducted by aliens.
It's so silly, but played so smartly. Writer Robert Venditti gives the book an edge, with the typical Conan-esque swordplay being quickly supplanted by alien wizardry by the time we head into issue #2. He somehow manages to make every scene both hilarious and dramatic at the same time, which is an incredibly difficult job to do. This issue, for example, starts off with the surviving Celts thrown into what appears to be a cosmic garden, and told that their job is to keep the plants there alive for as long as possible. If you die in the garden, then you'll be made into fertilizer and returned to the garden. Venditti is clearly having a ball with this sequence, as the aliens push things into far crueller territory than you could ever expect. While they're obviously going to be gruff and act like prison wardens, there are scenes here where they tell people off for looking at the rain, and at one point somebody is told "get in that bog!" with no explanation whatsoever.
It's hilarious — but it's INTENTIONALLY hilarious. Artist Cary Nord manages to catch hold of the tone almost immediately, as well, so when we see somebody get pushed in the bog he isolated the scene within a stocky panel, emphasising the random cruelty of the captors and bizarre goings-on of the issue. While the story then plays out in the sort of manner you would expect — although with a twist you won't have seen coming beforehand, playing with the timeframe — the dialogue is fast and well-written, while the characters both pay homage to the classic "honorable savage warrior" idea and make fun of it at the same time. This is the kind of comic where aliens with laser guns surround a group of Celtic warriors holding spears… and then immediately get destroyed by the barely-equipped group of humans.
Being British, I had no idea who Valiant were until the start of this year — but with the pure fun of X-O Manowar these past two months, the company have rapidly bleeped onto my radar. Venditti writes a blisteringly entertaining story, which may be slight but is surprising, unpredictable and filled with great humor and well-choreographed fight scenes. Nord shapes the fight scenes well, but also throws character into the random fighters, and looks to be very much enjoying the chance to draw both Celtic battlegrounds and intergalactic arboretums. It's a really fun, sharp, swift comic. And it came from nowhere. What better sign for the future of comics could there be?
Steve Morris is the head and indeed only writer for Comics Vanguard, the internet's 139th most-favorite comic-book website. You can find him on Twitter at @stevewmorris, which is mostly nonsensical gibberish you may enjoy or despise. His favorite Marvel character is Darkstar, while his favorite DC character is, also, Darkstar. He's on Team X-Men, you guys.