The Valiant Universe began with the release of “X-O Manowar” #1 in May of 2012, since then the hero who is the last of the Visigoths wearing an alien suit of armor has been the flagship character for the publisher. “X-O Manowar” is the longest running series from Valiant Comics, the hero has been the focus of action figure lines, and the design for the United States’ luge teams’ uniforms. X-O Manowar is the face of Valiant Comics outside of comic books, but in the comics he is so much more.
The events of the Valiant Comics’ four-issue mini-series “Armor Hunters” by writer Robert Venditti and artist Doug Braithwaite take the adventures of Aric of Dacia, a Visigoth warrior from the Fifth Century, and put him center stage at a pivotal moment for the Valiant Comics Universe. The result is the face of Valiant further cements himself as the champion of this world.
The story crafted by Venditti has a nasty group of deadly aliens called the Armor Hunters arrive in Earth’s orbit demanding the Earth surrender Aric of Dacia and the X-O Manowar armor. While Aric tries to talk to them in the interest of a peaceful resolution, the Armor Hunters destroy Mexico City to make an example of their might. Time and again Aric tries to find a peaceful resolution but when that backfires Aric must rally Earth’s unified champions to take the fight to the Armor Hunters directly.
Not a lot of depth is given to the Armor Hunters within these pages. They are a team built like a special forces operation and their motivations are that they see themselves as protecting all life by destroying armors like the one worn by Aric, even if they have to destroy a world to do it. Their leader is stoic and tired of what he feels are endless wars to destroy the armor. The weight of the Armor Hunters missions seems to have been explored outside of the pages of the four-issue main series.
The depth and characterization for this mini-series comes through in Venditti’s exploration of Aric and his relationship to the Earth that is centuries different from the world he was born into. The X-O Manowar armor is the most powerful weapon on Earth. It has bonded itself with Aric and Aric has used this weapon to protect his people the new-Visigoths. He has become a benevolent ruler who wants peace above all else. When push comes to shove and Aric has his back against the wall he takes a new view on just what it means to be a Visigoth.
The artwork of Braithwaite is beautifully detailed and gives the story its gravitas. The characters are rendered clean and clear on the pages where they are instantly recognizable. Braithwaite’s style makes the fantastic elements of the story feel real. Aric is strong and in the Armor he looks invincible, but the art does not need to exaggerate his look to make this so. The art tells much of the story in visual ways from body language to facial expressions. It provides a good narrative flow that helps move the story along as the tension grows.
The artwork is enhanced by the colors of Laura Martin. The palette brings out the richness of Braithwaite’s line by accentuating the mood and the tone of the story. Early on the colors are bright and cheery, but as the danger becomes so great and devastation becomes the norm the colors are dark with heavy red shades that evoke the sense of a war torn setting.
The four issues of “Armor Hunters” were collected along with the “Armor Hunters: Aftermath” one-shot in a new trade paperback, “Armor Hunters – Volume 1,” from Valiant. This collection captures the bigger story beats of the overall event but smaller moments play out in other series that were tied to the “Armor Wars” theme. The core of the story is here and with minimal knowledge of the Valiant Universe you can get in on the story with just this one book. Venditti and Braithwaite work together to give you the main beats of the overall story with links to outside stories that will whet your appetite for more Valiant. Throughout the entire “Armor Wars” series you can see why X-O Manowar is the icon of Valiant Comics.