Since the inception of the current Valiant Universe, Robert Venditti has been on the front lines. As the scribe of “X-O Manowar,” the publisher’s first and longest-running ongoing series, Venditti has had the opportunity to introduce several new concepts to the Valiant Universe — and he’s about to add one more to his resume. Along with series artist Diego Bernard, Venditti will kick off a new arc in “X-O Manowar” #30 that introduces a new version of The Armorines to the modern Valiant landscape.
Introduced in 1994 in the original “X-O Manowar” series, the Armorines were armored marines who did dirty work for the American government. However, the concept and design of the characters has greatly shifted for the modern Valiant Universe. Created as a reaction to the geopolitical landscape following “Armor Hunters,” the Armorines are equipped with armor that has a vast array of powers, built by an industrialist with an addictive personality.
Venditti spoke with CBR News about introducing the new Armorines through the new “X-O Manowar” arc, the challenges and enjoyment of folding in new characters into a story arc, why the new take on the characters is integral to the pacing of the story and why X-O facing down a brilliant industrialist actually harkens back to the original run of the series.
CBR News: Robert, you’ve got something new coming along in “X-O Manowar” #30: The Armorines, a classic Valiant concept that I understand has a new twist this time around. What’s the concept here and how does it spin out of the events of “Armor Hunters”?
Robert Venditti: “Armor Hunters” is obviously going to be a pretty seismic event in terms of its impact in the Valiant Universe. We’ve had Earth undergo a pretty large-scale alien altercation where you’ve had major cities across the globe like Rome or London or Georgetown attacked outright, and you’ve got places like Mexico City that just got obliterated off the map. The world is reeling from this, and it’s going to change the landscape of what the Valiant Universe is — not just in terms of its characters, but in a wider sense, the political landscape of what a world like that would be as well.
One of the things I appreciate about Valiant’s stories now and going all the way back to the DNA built into the company back in the ’90s, it’s this world-outside-your-window type of situation. I’m trying to look really hard at what the world would be like if this kind of event really happened. How would the UN respond? How would diplomacy around the world react to the idea that the United States is in possession of the X-O Manowar armor? There’s only one of them, and that’s a pretty destabilizing thing for a geopolitical climate. The Armorines are very much going to be born out of a worldwide reaction in response to the U.S. having this dramatic leap forward in weapons tech that nobody else is able to be a part of.
Valiant’s original concept for The Armorines was more of an elite squad of military operatives — but what about the new Armorines? What’s different about them this time around and what makes them well-suited to the modern Valiant Universe?
They have very different power-sets and are much more formidable. They’re similar to the original concept of the original Armorines in the sense that they’re armored marines — but just like Valiant’s done with all their revitalization of all their properties, they’re modern takes. They’re updated and put into our modern world and our modern climate and the stories are being rebuilt in a way that stays truthful to that original concept, but also it’s something that’s relevant to today’s reader. That’s very much what we’re doing.
They’re still going to be an armored force of fighters, but what their power sets are, how they can engage with the X-O, what the fallout of that is, who they work for — are all going to be updated and changed.
This isn’t the first time “X-O Manowar” has been used to launch new takes on older concepts into the Valiant Universe — Ninjak first appeared in “X-O” as well, among others. As you continue the series, what’s the biggest challenge for you in integrating some of these concepts into the overall story?
Well, first of all, I love doing it. Every time Valiant says, “We’ve got this property, what do you think you can do with it?” To me, that’s the most fun aspect of the job, because you get to rebuild these concepts and really be there on the ground floor from day one for rebuilding the Valiant Universe, which doesn’t come along very often. Armorines was something I had my eye on for a long time — who I thought they could be and what I thought they could add to the series has changed a lot over time as we’ve brought in events like “Armor Hunters,” which spiraled out and had effects on other things.
The biggest challenge for me is finding that balance between what the original was and updating it to the here and now, and making it fit into the story in a way that’s completely organic. For example, something like Ninjak — that was our second arc of “X-O Manowar.” [Aric] had just returned to Earth and suddenly, we were putting a ninja into the series. How do you make that fit in an organic way? The answer was, the ninja’s a covert operative that doesn’t realize he’s working for the aliens that want the armor.
It was just about finding a way for The Armorines to fit in organically, and again, it fits into what the geopolitical climate is going to be after “Armor Hunters.” The industrialist who created the technology that the Armorines use is going to be a very integral part of this. He’s kind of an imbalanced industrialist with some addictions and predilections very focused on the X-O Manowar armor because he sees it as the source of all the bad things that have befallen him and his company. He’s going to be the driving force behind The Armorines and how everything is brought together.
It’s interesting that there’s an industrialist that has an addictive personality and is building armor. I feel like I’ve heard of that concept somewhere before…
[Laughs] Yeah, we’re definitely looking at the tropes of the genre. That’s, of course, always the focus of what we do in a lot of things that we write. In a larger sense, going back to the original version of “X-O Manowar” from the ’90s, he actually became CEO of a company called Orb Industries. It was a multi-purpose corporation that did a lot of things; weapons manufacturing being one of them — there are scenes of him in a board room and doing union negotiations in a very Visigoth way. That’s something we haven’t done at all with Aric in the series. He’s been completely recreated as a character where that’s something that’s never going to happen for him. So, in a way, this is a way for him to war — on a subtextual level — with the legacy of X-O Manowar as a character himself.
It’s a question I got a lot in the beginning [of the series], “When is he going to show up at Orb Industries?” And this is a way for the series to tap into a lot of that original DNA, but put a new spin on it so that it’s very organic to the story, and have some fun with it as well.
From the artwork, it looks the Armorines are a squad of armored combatants. Who makes up the unit, and what can you tell us about the armor itself?
The Armorines will present challenges to the Manowar armor that he has not faced before, challenges we have not seen in the Valiant Universe yet. It is going to be Earth-born, but it’s a lot of things he hasn’t faced, and in many ways, it’s Aric coming from where he comes from, dealing with things that are completely foreign to him. That’s the way you attack Aric — you don’t necessarily attack the armor, you attack the person inside it. What are his limitations?
I don’t want to get to into what The Armorines power set is, except to say that it’s something we haven’t seen in “X-O Manowar,” in the Valiant Universe — and maybe not even in the original Valiant Universe. These are new concepts that we’re dealing with.
In terms of the characters inside the armor, they’re military men. They’re very mission-driven, they follow orders and the problem they run into is the orders they’re following come from this imbalanced industrialist who may not be the best person to be in the driver’s seat. We’ll see a lot in terms of who The Armorines are working for, who this industrialist is working for and what his goals ultimately are. A lot of the mysteries are going to be revealed piece by piece, as well as the power set. I’m hoping that the arc, as I write it, will be done in a way where the powers themselves will be treated as revelations. There’s a lot of mystery built into this one.
Looking at the designs for The Armorines, what appealed to you about the general look of the characters?
What really appeals to me about the design was that it had this perfect mix of familiar Earth-born believable weapons tech that we might see today, but pushed to that extra limit where it does seem experimental, like the next level of humans and how they would conceive warfare in an environment where they have things like Harbingers and armor and the potential for extraterrestrial threats. I really felt like the design was able to capture all of those things — something new, but also something relatable.
Diego Bernard — your current “X-O Manowar” partner in crime — is set to draw the issue. What have you learned about writing for Diego as an artist since you first began working with him? How has your style and collaboration evolved since your first issue together?
He’s really great with action and splash pages, and has a really good sense for how he frames those sequences and those visuals. I really try to load the issues with those kinds of things. It works out great, because X-O Manowar, being a Visigoth in a suit of alien battle armor, is a concept that’s rife with that kind of stuff. What I also appreciate about him is his ability to design unfamiliar settings, unfamiliar alien races, unfamiliar things that we really are loading him up with in the “Armor Hunters” tie-in series. In a lot of cases, it’s just aliens that walk through the panel that are never seen again, but he still puts that attention to detail and makes everything unique. He’s just really showing himself to be the kind of guy that can draw just about anything. The pace is a very grueling schedule for monthly comics, so if there’s one thing that I’ve learned, it’s to trust him and have faith in his ability to put out the material and put it out fast, while bringing so much creativity to it. It really lets me off the leash as a writer. It’s almost like I don’t have to hold anything back because I know Diego can handle all of it.
You’ve also got “X-O Manowar” #0 coming down the line, one of the first issues to focus almost solely on Aric as a teenager in ancient Thrace. What can readers expect from the issue? It doesn’t seem as much an origin story as it is insight into the character.
Yeah, “X-O Manowar” as a series is really about two things: the armor and the man inside the armor. Really, there’s a potential for two kinds of zero issues there. You could have one about where the armor comes from — we haven’t completely revealed that, but we built into that a lot with the “Armor Hunters” arc. The zero issue, which will be coming out after the “Armor Hunters” arc wraps up, we’re going to look at the man inside the armor. We’ve done it in bits and pieces through flashbacks, but this is going to focus solely on Aric as he’s sixteen years of age, seeing what life was like for him as a Visigoth the first time he went into battle, exploring that and seeing how he became who he is now.
I feel like it’s a very honest look at the character. I don’t think anyone is born into the world being an expert swordsman. We’re going to see Aric as a teenager very fragile and unsure of himself on the battlefield to the point where he’s physically ill at the level of violence that he sees humanity committing. But because of the time he grew up, there was no choice but for him to pick up a sword. His life, his family’s life, the life of the entire Visigoth culture depended on it. He had to learn how to become a warrior, and it’s about how much extreme conflict and violent circumstances cannot only reveal the kind of person that you are, but also reveal the kind of person that you aren’t.
I’m really looking forward to it, I’m working on it with Clay Mann, and it’s a story that I’ve wanted to write for a very long time. It felt like the right time to do it coming out of “Armor Hunters.”
Wrapping up, you’ve always said you have a plan in place for “X-O Manowar.” As Valiant’s longest-running series, how far ahead are you looking for “X-O?”
The nice thing about “X-O,” and it does make it a little stressful sometimes, is what seems to work for the series is to have a vague idea of where things are going, but not to really map it out in great detail any more than an arc or two ahead. What that allows us to do is be very versatile. For example, I wrote the first arc and had a vague idea of what the second arc was going to be, and when Valiant said, “What do you think about bringing in Ninjak?” It wasn’t so set in stone that I couldn’t work it in. When Valiant wanted to do a company-wide crossover with X-O as the focus, because I hadn’t done everything in such detail and everything wasn’t interlocked, I was able to put “Armor Hunters” right in the middle of it.
We’re planned out right now pretty far in advance in terms of The Armorines arc and the story that comes after that, but we’re keeping it loose and we’re keeping it open, so if something else presents an opportunity, we can drop it into the series then.
“X-O Manowar” #30 hits stores November 19