Writer Robert Venditti and artist Doug Braithwaite detail the final battle between the Armor Hunters and the ragtag bunch including Ninjak, Livewire, Bloodshot and Gildan led by Aric, the bearer of the X-O Manowar armor in “Armor Hunters” #4. The Hunters believe the armor to be a viral threat on a galactic level and have come to Earth to destroy it, in no uncertain terms and without concern for collateral damage.
Aric, the primary bearer of the Manowar armor and the object of the Armor Hunters’ quest, has forsaken the armor and chosen to surrender. Realizing the stakes of the battle, Colonel Capshaw of the Military Extraterrestrial Reconnaissance Outpost (M.E.R.O.) pulls out all stops, tries some trickery and proves to be as vital a character to the Valiant Universe as any other in “Armor Hunters” #4. Venditti does not shy away from the physical, mental and emotional toll the Armor Hunters’ pursuit has brought upon all parties, crafting a quite accessible story in the process. Venditti keeps the cast lean throughout this issue (as he has done throughout the series), maximizing story moments for each member of the cast and enlarging the heavier beats of this tale.
Doug Braithwaite makes some more artsy decisions with his layouts and page compositions. Despite the world-changing scope of “Armor Hunters” #4, Braithwaite never commits to a full-page splash, but instead alters camera angle, breaks panel frames or both. For the most part, this is a gorgeous looking book because of those decisions, but such creative license comes with penalties. There are a couple panels that suffer from murky storytelling, as Braithwaite appears to chose more dynamic drawings over smoother story and depicts the point of contact as shown over a shoulder or from behind the aggressor, instead of from a bystander’s point of view, which might be cleaner and more complete. Additionally, Braithwaite has characters bursting out of panels into panels with the same principle. It is a great, dynamic, dramatic effect, but when layered overtop itself, it becomes more like an infinite image repeated inside itself and loses some drama. These are minor nits in Braithwaite’s work, which is carved from realism, packed with detail and decorated with rubble.
Laura Martin augments Braithwaite’s details nicely, adding dust and debris or shine and sheen when necessary. Critical junctures throughout “Armor Hunters” #4 are set against red backdrops, while more earthly hues decorate the battlefield following the skirmish. Her effect choices are sharp and controlled, giving just enough special effects sizzle to the pages. As always, the letters by Dave Sharpe are indispensible. As Aric bleeds after his fight with Primary, a spear thrust through his torso, Sharpe finds the wavering quality that should cause Aric’s voice to quake and employs it, adding just as much to this tale as the words themselves or Braithwaite’s images.
A fight to the very end, the end of “Armor Hunters” #4 shouldn’t surprise anybody with the Armor Hunters’ defeat. However, it comes with an extreme cost and — as Lady Colonel Capshaw says — they are left with a new world in the wake of the great battle. Venditti and Braithwaite have provided as clean and complete a universe-wide crossover as you’ll ever see in comic books, on par with what Marvel Studios executed with its Phase One films. Everyone’s here, but nothing is being forced on anyone and no characters are lost in the journey. Crossover planners everyone should take note and imitate this event’s structure, readers will be thankful for it.