Back in 2012, writer Robert Venditti and artist Cary Nord collaborated on a comic book that would reignite one of the most popular publishers of the 1990s: Valiant. From that issue, the publisher has gone on to launch and build up what is arguably the best shared superhero universe in modern comics. And while some series have come and gone, X-O Manowar has remained a constant presence. Each month, readers have been treated to the action-packed adventures of Aric of Dacia, wielder of the Manowar armor. We’ve seen him captured and tossed into slavery. We’ve seen him escape and build a new home for his time-displaced people. We’ve seen him make new friends, and we’ve seen him fall in love. And now, with the release of X-O Manowar #50, it’s time we say goodbye.
The finale to “Long Live the King” is a massive undertaking, taking up 30 of the issue’s 48 story pages (Valiant solicited this issue at 64-pages, including ads). Since the series’ first page back in 2012, Robert Venditti has carefully weaved Aric in and out of various plot threads, each with their own respective consequences. The fact that consequences exist alone separates this title from other cape-comics, but they also give each moment added weight. Venditti (and Valiant as a whole) has had no problem killing off characters – and once someone is dead they stay dead (Eternal Warrior being the exception).
More than anything else, X-O Manowar #50 is the capstone of a 4-year story which has seen the titular character evolve from a simplistic, violent aggressor to a wise and honorable man. Yes, he is the king of his people, but he also has become a shining example to the world. As long as he is standing, the people around him have hope for a better tomorrow.
As has been the case throughout this arc, Venditti has been accompanied by multiple artists, usually deployed in flashback sequences (or in the case of this issue, Torment sequences) as a visual cue that a given scene differs from the main narrative. And as has been the case throughout this arc, this strategy is used to great effect. While Joe Bennett has his hands full as Valiant’s heroes attempt to fight back the Torment, Roberto De La Torre guides readers, alongside Aric, through all of existence. But it’s not just De La Torre, as artists from past X-O Manowar arcs contribute. And because of the narrative layout, the changing art styles is seamless. De La Torre’s art can only be described as masterful. His linework is more polished and refined than in past works. There is a blending of imagery, which combined with the fantastic colors of Ulises Arreola, gives these sequences a painterly quality that evokes a dreamscape rather than a bombastic superhero title.
These sequences provide Aric an opportunity for self reflection and experience. He relives his life over again, from his past life in Dacia to the life he has built for his people. He revisits his time as a slave to the Vine, and how he would eventually become their savior and protector. But he also sees beyond his own life. He sees various worlds and creatures that are unknown to even the most adventurous of interstellar explorers. He also sees the true motivations of the monstrous beings known as the Torment.
The Torment do not wish to take, but wish to give. Their purpose has been to collect a wealth of knowledge of the universe to eventually give to one that they deem worthy – and Aric is that one. He may have begun this journey as a savage, evolving into an unwitting savior and a reluctant hero, but the trials he has undertaken as wielder of the Manowar armor has made him the individual the Torment have spent eons searching for. The execution of this by Venditti and his art team is sublime.
As mentioned previously, the “Long Live the King” finale takes up 30 of the issue’s 48 story pages, which means there’s still 18 pages left. Those pages are filled with short stories written by Valiant veterans Fred Van Lente, Jody Houser, and Matt Kindt. Though Kindt’s “story” is more of a teaser for things to come (the art by Tomas Giorello and Diego Rodriguez is gorgeous), Houser and Van Lente use other players from the Valiant Universe to demonstrate the influence Aric has on the world, and how his sense of morality and honor differs from others.
Houser’s tale features Ninjak, the British spy/assassin who at one point was hired to kill Aric. In a story called “His Greatest Failure,” Houser explores the relationship between Ninjak and Aric, how it has evolved from contentious to one of mutual respect. More than that, it explores Ninjak’s own personal code of honor, and how it has changed since meeting Aric. While Houser does not fully capture the snide wit of Ninjak, it is easy to overlook thanks to the wonderful art by Javier Pulido and Muntsa Vicente.
Reunited with artists Clayton Henry and Brian Reber, Van Lente takes a different route, utilizing a character from one of his previous works as the driving force behind his narrative. We see Aric offered a chance to get justice for his people, only he now sees it as revenge. In the space of a few pages, Van Lente boils down the evolution of X-O Manowar to a simple truth: bloodshed may be a quick solution, but it is not the right one.
X-O Manowar #50 is not a perfect comic book, but is a perfect send-off to Valiant’s longest running title.
Note: Due to the large amount of creators in this issue, we have listed them out below.
X-O Manowar #50 (Valiant Entertainment)
Written by: Robert Venditti, with Fred Van Lente, Jody Houser, and Matt Kindt
Art by: Joe Bennett and Roberto De La Torre, with Cary Nord, Doug Braithwaite, Diego Bernard, Rafa Sandoval, Robert Gill, David Baron, Dean White, Marcio Loerzer & Bellardino Brabo, Clayton Henry, Javier Pulido, and Tomas Giorello
Colors by: Ulises Arreola, with Brian Reber, Muntsa Vicente, and Diego Rodriguez
Lettering by: Dave Sharpe