Robert Venditti and X-O Manowar have been an integral part of Valiant Entertainment since its relaunch in 2012. For more than three years, Venditti has written X-O Manowar and two of the company’s big crossover events. As the company's longest-running writer, Venditti begins X-O's next major story in X-O Manowar #39 with “Exodus”. It is both an excellent jumping on point, and the beginning of what will lead to the titanic X-O Manowar #50. We had a chance to sit down with Venditti and discuss how far X-O Manowar has come in 39 issues, his importance to the Valiant universe, and what the future may hold.
Be sure to check out an exclusive preview of X-O Manowar #40, and a wide selection of upcoming covers, after the interview.
Chase Magnett for ComicBook.Com: In the current market for superhero comics, it’s uncommon to see a writer work on a single character as long as you have on X-O Manowar. Issue 39 is out, and there are already plans to go to #50. This gives you the rare opportunity to do an in-depth character study and bring the hero, Aric, through multiple arcs. What about Aric keeps you engaged?
Robert Venditti: I think the key to a long run with a character is to maintain the core things about them. For Aric, it’s that he’s a man-out-of-time who comes from a different era. He was abducted by aliens and then found himself in the modern day with a highly advanced suit of sentient armor. He had no opportunity to evolve with society, to see how ethics or warfare are different, or even how the concept of being a leader or hero is now different.
You can show him grow in the modern world, but still preserve those man-out-of-time aspects of him as well. Those pop up in smaller moments like observing running water inside of your house. You don’t want the character to feel stagnant over the course of 40 issues. I do feel super fortunate to put a long run like that together, especially with this being the first ongoing series I ever did. I want to see Aric continue to grow and change, but make it believable in a way that is still true to him.
Even though Aric is a man-out-of-time, we’ve never shown him as being buffoonish. He’s not Encino Man; he’s Maximus from Gladiator set in the modern day. Whether Maximus is alive in ancient Rome or alive today, he’s still going to be noble, good, and heroic, but it’s going to change based on the way the world is now.
Magnett: I like that Maximus comparison because in Gladiator he reflects a point of view that relates to many of those around him, but is entirely unique. In X-O Manowar #39, the start of “Exodus”, Aric finds himself trapped between three different sides: the United States, the Visigoths, and the Vine. Yet, his perspective merges aspects from all three.
Venditti: He finds himself as a leader of two people. How do you choose? Aric understands where both sides [the United States military and Vine immigrants] are coming from and why they’re doing what they’re doing. He is a character whose response used to be to take out his sword and try to lop someone’s head off. Now he’s caught between two armies who are trying to lop each other’s heads off, and he’s trying to keep the peace.
That shows how he has evolved as a character over these 40 issues. He has changed, grown, and learned some lessons, but there are still some things he doesn’t know how to grapple with and he’s finding himself in one of those situations.
Magnett: I’ve heard a lot of readers compare the character to Superman, and I think this story shows why that comparison is unfair. Aric is steeped in a military background and manner of thinking that makes his character arc and conflicts unique. This also allows X-O Manowar to explore some interesting topics, like an active soldier struggling with PTSD.
Venditti: I don’t know if there’s a character I would compare him to less than Superman. They’re wildly different in their backgrounds, perspectives, and what drives them. Superman is one of my favorite characters, but they’re very different.
I don’t think that Superman would think that Aric had any morality. He might look at him and think he’s a maniac. He might not even be able to understand why Aric is doing what he’s doing, which is how the Unity team responded to him at the beginning of Unity when he came down and tried to conquer Romania. The trick is that we as readers can understand and relate to what he is doing. He’s sympathetic to us.
It’s like the pilot you mentioned before, where he’s seen by those around him as a hero. But there are these unseen scars that have been left on him and those come out at the worst possible time. We sympathize with him and understand that he’s not a villain trying to start World War III, not even a bad guy. Everyone in this issue - whether it’s the humans trying to defend their land or the aliens trying to find a new world or Aric who’s caught between the two or the pilot who thinks he’s fighting another alien invasion - everyone has a noble motive, but they find themselves at odds with one another.
That’s where the driving force of this arc comes from and it’s something I wanted to do as a challenge for myself. Can I tell a story with all of these different sides where everybody is right, but they’re all opposed to one another?
Magnett: That’s one thing I think you did very well in X-O Manowar #39. The issue opens on the pilot and presents him as a good father and husband, but also someone struggling with PTSD. So when he initiates this conflict, you’re not so much angry at him as you are at the situation and circumstances that led to it.
Venditti: Very much so, and I think it’s fascinating to put a character like Aric in that situation. He comes from a world where morality was black and white, and it really was back then. The Visigoths were on the inside of the circled wagons and the Romans were on the outside. Things could not possibly be any more different in how these sides saw in and wanted for one another. There were clear good guys and bad guys. That makes things nice and easy.
Aric is in a position now where he doesn’t have that. That’s the challenge, and it shows him as someone who used to be a hothead being able to recognize that change, and it’s a huge growth in character. I hope that as he continues to deal with these situations, we’ll see even more of that growth.
Magnett: I think the scale of the conflicts and issues Aric deals with, like this, shows that X-O Manowar has the greatest scope of any series in the Valiant universe. How do you envision the role of the series within the greater shared world?
Venditti: He is always going to be an essential character to the Valiant universe. Not just because he was always one of the more popular characters from the start, but because he is one of the truly global characters. I mean that in every sense of the word. Since he has come back to Earth, he has realized the people he needs to protect are not just Visigoths circling the wagons in Romania, but the entire planet of Earth. The Earth is inside the wagons and the Roman empire is the rest of the universe.
He sees himself as someone who has to do what he is able to do, not by choice but because of the power he has been granted. The enemies are sometimes only here on the planet causing a problem because of him, so he has to do what he can to defend against them. All of that is part of the core concept as I see it. I don’t know how you make X-O Manowar a peripheral or small character. He’s a key piece to the universe and Valiant certainly plans to keep him that way.
Magnett: I like the metaphor that Aric focuses on what is inside his circle of wagons. As he continues, that circle continues to widen and accept more people who he feels the need to protect. Here we see him bringing Vine refugees in, when they were once his mortal enemy.
Venditti: He has become completely cultured. He started in a place with a very narrow point of view, but has traveled the universe now. He has been to other worlds and had the mothers of alien children die in his arms on battlefields that the Visigoths here on Earth have no concept of. In some ways he’s the only one who really understands all of the pieces that are in play. To be able to grapple with that and recognize there’s a discussion that needs to be had, shows a level of intelligence and integrity that surpasses even those characters we consider to be the super-geniuses of the Valiant universe. For all the intelligence that someone like [Toyo] Harada or Ninjak has, they don’t have the knowledge that Aric possesses from his experience traveling the stars. In his own unique way, he’s the smartest guy the Valiant universe has in certain situations.
Magnett: You pointed to a specific experience, having this mother die in his arms, that is brought up again in this issue as a reason why Aric has grown. It’s something we as readers experience as well in X-O Manowar #39, becoming familiar with a specific pilot’s life before he commits a tragic mistake. How important is it to keep growing the supporting cast and perspectives?
Venditti: We’ve certainly done. There have been consistent Vine characters like the High Priest or Dalgan. Seeing that even though they are aliens, they’re still mothers and fathers, and they have children who get broken arms allows us to relate to them. We are going to continue and see more of that. We are also going to see the return of some alien characters who have been there from the very beginning, but we haven’t seen in a very long time.
Magnett: Is this all part of the master plan leading to the big anniversary issue X-O Manowar #50?
Venditti: Definitely so. If you go back through the entire run and you look through issues #1-14, you’ll see the big story of Aric returning to Earth and defeating the Vine antagonist, that we divided into smaller arcs. Then we went into the long Armor Hunters arc. Through #50 we’re taking on a new arc that will become apparent at the end, divided into smaller stories.
Magnett: Are you working with Rafa Sandoval for all of this arc, or can we expect to see some other pencilers coming in as well?
Venditti: I’m not sure right now. Rafa has done #38, 39, and 40, but I don’t know what his schedule is. There’s always the chance you’ll have someone help with a fill-in issue. My hope is that he stays on the book; he’s phenomenal to work with. When you see X-O Manowar #39, you can see how well suited he is for this widescreen sort of a tale with big action set pieces. He can draw ships, he can draw aliens, he can draw Visigoths, he can draw action, he can draw conversations, he can draw men, he can draw women, he can draw kids. There’s nothing this guy can’t do well, and that’s such a great asset to have when you have a character with so much versatility; he can be so many different things. I’m really pleased to be working with him, Jordi Tarragona the inker, and Brian Reber the colorist. I feel like as a team we are really clicking and I would love to see that happen for as long as possible.
Magnett: One thing I really liked about Sandoval’s art in X-O Manowar #39 is his use of these expansive panels that cover the bleed and fill in behind other panels in action sequences. It gives you a real sense of the size and scope of the action.
Venditti: The thing I appreciate about him the most is the emotion he is able to convey in the character’s faces. This entire issue completely rested in Rafa’s ability to show the fear and panic in the pilot’s eyes when he is firing upon the aliens. You can’t get there with dialogue or captions. You have to see it in his eyes and see the sweat on his forehead. You have to feel him trembling. He communicated all of that so beautifully and the entire issue rests on the shoulders of that work.
Magnett: One last question: As you start the next big story arc with X-O Manowar #39, do you see this as a jumping on point? How will it appeal to readers who haven’t checked it out X-O Manowar yet?
Venditti: We work super hard on every issue and doubly so on the first issue of a new arc because we realize these are characters that aren’t immediately familiar to reader. X-O Manowar #39 is a good entry point for that because, even though it may sound otherworldly with aliens and Visigoths, it’s based in a real world situation that we can relate to in our own way. The fear of outside forces and how far you will go to protect your home from things you don’t understand. I think that it’s a good entry point, and hopefully readers will agree.