Exclusive: Robert Venditti Talks X-O Manowar's "Dead Hand," And a Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Art

XO 034 COVER-B MOLINALaunching in March, Valiant brings the next stage in X-O Manowar's evolution to readers with "Dead Hand," a cosmic showdown written by series writer Robert Venditti and featuring art by Diego Bernard.

A follow-up to Armor Hunters, the story revolves around deadly drones set in motion by the defeat of the Armor Hunters, with clear parallels drawn to the Cold War-era Russian missile systems of the same name.

Venditti joined ComicBook.com for his first interview on the sweeping, cosmic storyline, along with an exclusive first look at some of Bernard's concept art for the Dead Hand robots and variant covers from Butch Guice and Das Pastoras.

XO 034 VARIANT GUICEDoes being the company's flagship character mean you have to worry about things like the events of The Valiant and some of the other big Valiant titles?

Warren and everybody at Valiant always say, whatever the best story is, that's the story you write.

The focus is on just making each book a good book, and if the threads that can tie things together become apparent and they'll make for a good story across other titles, then that’s great. But the priority is always on making the best issue of X-O Manowar that we can each month.

Obviously, you've got your pick of the artists at Valiant. Is there anybody here who you've really particularly enjoyed working with?

They've all been great and I'm happy to work with any of them.

Most important is to know who the artist is going to be before I start writing, so I can try to do things that will play to their strengths or try to do something different with an artist that I haven't done before so I'm not asking them to draw the same thing again. Everybody I've had the chance to work with is just a great talent, and it really is kind of an embarrassment of riches.

So why Dead Hand? That name obviously has real-world connotations.

It was a group decision. There was some back and forth on that, what we were going to title it and did we want to use the name from the real world. Ultimately, we wanted to have that association, but also it was just the coolest title there was.

XO 034 VARIANT PASTORASIs there something different fighting these kind of powerful drones, who can't be reasoned with like when you're battling “real” enemies?

It's almost like a force of nature and it does change. It's a challenge that Aric hasn't faced before. It's a challenge that's inconceivable to him -- this is something that's so far beyond anything that he would have ever experienced in his background as a Visigoth.

And even though he's seen some extraordinary things, there are still so many things he hasn't seen and can't even comprehend in the way we imagine them. It's about putting the characters in new circumstances and challenging them in ways that they're ill equipped to deal with, and seeing whether they can persevere.

Obviously you always hear “the book will never be the same.” How do you keep that promise?

Succeed or fail, the goal is to always push the characters in new directions and put them up against conflicts that they haven't seen before. We're coming up on three years with the series and we've done that arc after arc.

Even though “Dead Hand” is a familiar term that comes with its own associations, we would not allow you to draw those associations if we weren't going to do things unexpected.

How do you feel about the idea of embracing those '90s concepts like the chromium covers and the overlay covers you have on this series?

DEAD-HAND design 001For me personally, I wasn’t even reading comics back then, so somebody had to explain to me what chromium was. I had no idea. Somebody had to go find an issue and show it to me because I'd never heard of it.

I think the thing about Valiant that’s nice is that there's a joy and there's a fun to it. I had family over for Thanksgiving, and my grandparents were here. I have the X-O Manowar #1 QR voice variant, so my son took his great-grandparents over to the poster to scan the QR code and show them how it worked. They watched it three times because they couldn't even understand how what they were looking at was happening. It’s fun.

Having said that, the story comes first, so I'm mostly focused on what happens between the covers.

Is being a space-bound story something that helps isolate X-O from most of the earthbound Valiant characters?

DEAD-HAND design 002“Dead Hand” will be very different for Aric on a personal level, and I guess I would say the ramifications of Armor Hunters were very much Earthbound, and with Dead Hand we're going more cosmic, which is something that the rest of the Valiant Universe really can't do.

It's going to be a very personal journey for Aric in that he has to do a lot of it on his own, but it’s a larger, more inclusive story in that it involves and has ramifications for things beyond just Earth and what the rest of the heroes experience.

Will we see any more of the Armorines coming up?

In addition to telling a good story about the Armorines, we're leaving that series with the Armorines as a concept fully introduced into the new Valiant Universe in a way people hopefully didn’t see coming. But the Armorines are very much on the table, and that's one of the things that I feel very fortunate to have been a part of, working at Valiant from the beginning.

Launching X-O Manowar, and being able to introduce characters like Ninjak and the Armorines for the first time, or something like Armor Hunters, where we introduced a whole raft of new characters and concepts. All of that is a part of the universe now. As a writer, you hope you're leaving some kind of legacy behind.