X-O Manowar has been one of the brightest success stories of the many revivals we've seen in the past several years. X-O Manowar was one of the original launch titles of Valiant back in the early 90s and also one of the most hard-hit by the industry crash later that decade. The relaunch of the franchise brought critical and financial success for Valiant, enough so that they feel confident in investing in the highly dangerous game of a major crossover event series.
Armor Hunters #1 is the first of four issues, a portion of a larger 18-issue arc that Valiant is vying for. As someone with relatively little experience with the franchise, I actually found it to be a fairly interesting and approachable issue. The issue concerns itself with the arrival of two powerful foes looking to hunt down Aric, the handsome armored protagonist of X-O.
The writing, credit Robert Venditti, is snappy and effective. Dialog is direct without feeling too artificial, and the pacing is quite well balanced. The story exchanges settings and tones several times in it's short run-time but never feels frantic or disorganized- each scene is key for establishing stakes and imparting atmosphere. There are some talking robots who are a bit silly in their regimental language, but otherwise, I don't take much issue with any of the writing. It's not mind-blowing stuff but as a functional component within the larger narrative, everything about the first issue's plotting is effective as an introductory chapter.
Artistically I'm quite pleased by the book, though, nothing is blowing me away. It's on the good side of "house style". Character rendering isn't particularly cartoonish, but it doesn't feel as though it's been traced atop a photograph either. Characters are specific and believable, anatomically sound and effectively expressive. Artist Doug Braithwaite is clearly quite comfortable with his human subjects. There's not a lot of action in the book to comment on, but the other segments are quite successful in using framing and palette to match the tone of the writing. Backgrounds can be a bit hit or miss, but the good ones are noticeably good and the weak ones are easy to overlook.
The colors, handled by Laura Martin, are good overall. They're tight and professional, clearly digital but without the gross synthetic gradients that sometimes show up in these kinds of things. Human skin is particularly well rendered, with a nice warmth and subtlety to it.
All in all it's a very strong start to a new event arc, and it's good enough that I'm eager to look back and read more into the characters and setting. It's not a smash-bang-must-read wallet-grabber, but it's easily one of the best books I read this week.
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