It's all-out action in the Valiant manner! X-O Manowar #9 starts the prelude to "Planet Death!"
"It is only a weapon – and all weapons can be beaten!"
Most of the time, when a character in comics utilizes a powered suit of armor in his adventures, said armor doesn't serve as much more than as an extension of the character wearing it. The issues of man/machine interface kind of get glossed over in order to get to pages and pages of the hero kicking ass. X-O Manowar, however, stands out from the pack. Here, the titular suit of armor means something profound to both hero and villain. For Aric of Dacia, the Visigoth warrior abducted and imprisoned by The Vine, an evil alien race given to warfare and military might, it was a way to get away from his captors and to fight their agents here on (present-day) Earth. For The Vine, however, it's much more. It's a religious artifact, one that's worshipped by priests as an almost divine entity (how appropriate for a race for whom might makes right). What's really sticking in the craw of The Vine is the fact that this holy suit of powerful armor has bonded with someone from a "lower" race, and that it's now being used against them. That has led to a bit of a crisis among their ranks.
As X-O Manowar #9 opens, this crisis is front and center. Military leader Admiral Xylem wants the Manowar armor destroyed at all costs so it can't be used by Aric anymore, while the priesthood believes that such an action is sacrilege. Writer Robert Venditti uses the Manowar armor to elucidate for the reader just what drives The Vine and its civilization. As a race, they are all about destruction and conquest, but there are still differences amongst the different powers in the civilization in how those goals are to be achieved. We'll most likely get to see even more of The Vine's civilization in the upcoming "Planet Death" storyline in X-O Manowar, which promises that Aric of Dacia will head to The Vine homeworld and bring the fight to them. For now, we have the first part of a two-issue prologue to that story in issue #9. The Vine is carrying out an all-out assault of Earth in order to get to Aric, so he needs to fight back. Throughout the run of X-O Manowar, Aric has been gaining new powers and abilities as he's gotten more and more proficient with the armor. In issue #9, when he suddenly does something he never could before, he confronts Admiral Xylem, who informs him that "many have tried to bond with [the armor] – none have survived. It is why the priests fawn over you. They believe the armor has chosen you. That it somehow deems you worthy of it." He then pointedly adds "I say the armor is broken. It is a sham." In this scene, Venditti illustrates the different sides of The Vine's belief system, establishing that although they are singularly evil, they do not possess a monolithic credo and that there are philosophical conflicts among the different factions of their culture. It's all heady stuff, and hopefully Venditti will make it a point in "Planet Death" to really fill out what we know of The Vine, and show more of their civilization.
For now, though, it's time to do battle. X-O Manowar #9 is in many ways a war comic, and the artwork by Trevor Hairsine and Brian Reber more than bear that out. Hairsine's gritty, textured pencils really bring the brutality and danger of the story to the forefront, while Reber uses a muted, muddy (in a good way) color palette to establish a mood of foreboding and the sense that things are about to get really dirty and bloody. The second half of X-O Manowar #9 is a super-powered brawl between Aric and the forces of the invading Vine, and it's all rendered in a savage, bone-crushing way, leaving no room for doubt exactly what this comic is.
X-O Manowar #9, like every issue of the series so far, is a purely entertaining jolt of ass-kicking goodness. It's an adrenalized action-adventure comic, but it's action with a brain. The book is really about how worship and belief systems clash with modern day martial practicality. It also serves, as can Marvel's Iron Man, as a treatise about the way technology extends human ability and experience, often in unexpected way (while Admiral Xylem believes sees only "the weapon," believing it can simply be blown up, he fails to understand that the man wielding the weapon is the bigger threat). Mostly though, it's about loud action and explosive spectacle. It isn't always easy to combine all of that, but X-O Manowar #9 solves that very easily and in an entertaining package.