Since its launch in May, Valiant Entertainment’s flagship title “X-O Manowar” has barreled full-blast ahead in telling the story of Aric of Dacia to a whole new generation. “X-O” has led the charge for the relaunched Valiant Universe and it’s about to break new ground for the publisher as scribe Robert Venditti launches the first-ever Valiant event. Announced at New York Comic Con 2012, “Planet Death,” a mini-event written by Venditti with art by Cary Nord, starts up in March’s “X-O Manowar” #11 following a two-issue prologue illustrated by Trevor Hairsine. “Planet Death” focuses on Aric as he dons the X-O Manowar armor and goes on a one-man assault to invade the home planet of the Vine, the alien race who kidnapped him sixteen centuries ago.
Venditti spoke with CBR News about the upcoming event, how Aric’s story progresses to his one-man assault, the breakdown of Vine culture, Cary Nord’s return to the title and how to prepare for a one-man, all-out assault against an entire civilization.
CBR News: Robert, what’s the premise behind the new “X-O Manowar” arc “Planet Death?”
Robert Venditti: What we know about Aric from reading the series up to this point is that he’s a Visigoth warrior taken by aliens from his own time — the year 402 A.D. — at a somewhat famous battle from history called the Battle of Pollentia. What we do know from history is that eight years later, Alaric the First, who is Aric’s uncle, went ahead and sacked Rome. It was a big, pivotal moment in history and certainly a huge moment for the Visigoth people, who had spent a lot of their life looking for a homeland for their nomadic culture. They’d been chased around the Roman empire and here’s the moment where Alaric gets to sack Rome, but Aric doesn’t get to see it. He’s off in space. He’s a prisoner aboard the Vine ships for years and by the time he gets back to Earth with the X-O Manowar armor, he realizes 16 centuries have passed in his absence. All this anger and motivation that’s been eating him up all these years while he was on the ship — the death of his father, the kidnapping of his wife at the hands of the Romans, the anger towards the Roman culture in general for its treatment of the Visigoth people — there’s really no place for him to put that rage, this driving motivation that led him to escape with the armor and return to Earth in the first place.
The idea was with the Roman empire being gone now that Aric’s in the modern day, he still has the urge to sack something. He’s going to go to the homeworld of the Vine, the race that kidnapped him, and it’s sort of an invasion story but inverted on its head. Instead of the aliens coming in and invading Earth, Aric’s going to go and be a one-man invasion and goes in and sacks the Rome of the Vine culture, which is their homeworld called Loam.
There’s a two issue lead-in to the event before it officially kicks off in issue #11. What was the challenge in organically bringing Aric to the point where he has the opportunity to face The Vine that originally kidnapped him?
Once he escapes from their colony ship and he returns to Earth with the armor, I think he — after discovering that Visigoth culture is gone, Rome is gone, the world he knew is gone, history has passed him by — I think what you’d see in issue #5 is this impulse that he has to just go off and be on his own; almost sulk in a way. But the Vine wants their armor back so badly, they come after it and pursue him; first through a team of elite special-ops guys that they hire and then by sending Ninjak, the Valiant Universe’s foremost weapon specialist to go get this armor back. Aric realizes that he wants to go off and sulk, but the Vine isn’t going to let it happen. So, what can he do to get them off his back? There will be other driving motivations that will happen in the issues leading up to the actual invasion of Loam that will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. He’ll just be so fueled with anger at that point, he’s got to focus it somewhere. He’s going to go to the capital city of the culture that he sees as persecuting him.
Obviously, the emotion that’s going through him most is anger and rage, but this is likely going to be the first real chance he’s had at revenge against the Vine. What’s going through his mind as he plans his assault?
What we’ve seen so far is that he’s a bit of a hothead. He’s very skilled in battle, but he doesn’t have the wisdom that comes with experience. His skills haven’t been tempered by age or any of that kind of thing. I think his original impulse would be a scorched-earth approach, but hopefully the tone I’ve set for the series and the things I’ve done with the characters — whether it be Aric or the Vine — there are multiple facets to them. Unbeknownst to Aric, there’s a whole section of the Vine culture that believes Aric, even though he’s not of their race, is this chosen warrior that they’ve been waiting for, for countless years. Their religion teaches them that someday this great warrior will come and don the X-O Manowar armor. No one has, except this warrior that did it previously in the very beginning of Vine history. So there’s a faction that sees Aric as this huge threat and this huge enemy that has to be extinguished in a sacrilegious sort of way. How is this petty human in our most sacred armor? But there’s a whole other faction that sees him as the fulfillment of these prophecies that they’ve been taught to believe in all these years. I think that while Aric’s impulse will be a scorched-earth approach, the way that we’ve set the series up so far is to do things in much more complex ways than that and round them out so you just don’t have endless fight scenes. There’s going to be a lot of other layers to the story.
We’ve already established that the Vine has a pretty solid presence here on Earth that began on the same day Aric was taken into space 16 centuries ago when the Vine planted their offspring in various human cultures across the globe. While he’s off on Loam trying to take the fight to the enemy, there are still going to be a lot of things going on Earth as well. He may be trying to fight the war on one front, but the war actually has two fronts.
This is one man against an entire planet. Realistically, what are Aric’s chances against a whole alien home world? How can he tip the scales to balance in his favor?
A lot of that will be fleshed-out in the series. Without going into too much detail, I would just say Aric may go into this thinking it’s just a one-man fight against an entire planet, but it turns out to be something much different than that.
What has the alien race learned, if anything, from their initial capture of Aric? How have they been preparing to face him?
For the Vine as a culture, they didn’t have anything in their playbook for this. They never anticipated anybody would be able to escape with the armor and return to Earth. No one, Vine or otherwise, has worn the armor in countless years. This is a contingency that once Aric shows up, they find themselves scrambling to see how they’re going to deal with this. As is often the case, their first efforts with the black-ops team are inadequate. How they’re going to deal with Aric is going to be a huge driving force not only in the prelude leading up to “Planet Death” and Aric’s invasion of Loam, but also in the aftermath of that. The aliens will come and bring a full force attack with super trained Vine warriors and X-O Commando armor, which is the most powerful weapon that the Vine have been able to create and use on their own. They’ll try to get Aric and there will be an inciting incident where Aric finally says, “This is enough. I’m going to go back and take the fight to them.” Part of that will be a big, huge confrontation that Aric will have with someone from his own past that we’ve been setting up since the first issue of the series. You’ll see characters return, whether it be the Vine priest we saw in the opening of issue #1 or some of the Vine warriors that Aric’s had to do battle with, you’ll see some of these characters come back around. It’ll be too much for Aric. He’ll realize that as a Visigoth, they spend a lot of their time being chased around. He’s done running now. He’s got a weapon that means he doesn’t have to run anymore.
An underlying theme of this whole thing is that one of the things that made the Roman empire so mighty in its day and something that still reverberates in our history to this day is the extent to which it took the knowledge of all these cultures they conquered and brought it into their own. Whether it be through architecture or science or any of these kinds of things, they took the cultures they conquered and used the knowledge base from many parts of the world and unified them under one umbrella. The Roman culture grew stronger because of that. I think the X-O Manowar armor, with all these Vine offspring coming and being a part of cultures all over Earth, has that power as well. It has the knowledge of all these cultures — not just of Aric’s, but of the Mayan civilization, the Chinese civilization, the ancient African civilization and all this history transpiring from the day Aric was abducted all the way up to the modern day. He has all that knowledge in himself. In a sense, the X-O Manowar armor is the Roman empire in a bottle. It is just one man going up against a planet, but it’s one man with the power of an entire empire.
You’re working with Trevor Hairsine for the prologue, and Cary Nord comes back to the series for issue #11 on. How was the transition between the two artists for you?
A lot of that was set up by editorial and Warren [Simons, Valiant Executive Editor] specifically. What do you say? You’ve got Cary Nord, you’ve got Trevor, you’ve got Lee Garbett — I mean, really, as a writer it feels like an embarrassment of riches. It’s an honor to work with all these guys. It makes you want to get to the keyboard and keep writing scripts because you’re so excited to see the pages come in and how the art comes out and what these guys are able to do with these characters. Hats off to everybody at Valiant to be able to bring in this caliber of artists to work with me. It’s something that I really look forward to and I’m really thankful for.
With the recent introduction of Ninjak in “X-O Manowar,” the Valiant Universe is slowly coming together. Can fans expect more Valiant favorites to surface during “Planet Death?”
This particular story will be more of a self-contained “X-O” arc, but looking over the long term of the series — a lot of my original pitch was how I thought X-O could tie in with other characters and how other characters could tie in to X-O. There’s a lot of really strong characters in the Valiant Universe in the books they’re publishing right now. “Harbinger,” “Bloodshot,” “Archer & Armstrong” — I’ve seen and read some of the early “Shadowman” stuff and it’s also going to be an unreal book. There’s really a depth of characters you can use both on the hero and villain side already in print. Beyond that, just multitudes more that haven’t been used yet. There are a lot of plans we have and discussed at the recent writer’s retreat we had in September. Whether people are fans of the original Valiant or readers who are just jumping on with the books now for the first time, there are a lot of things coming down the line in all the books that people are going to be really excited about.
This is Valiant’s first mini-event, which kind of seems fitting considering “X-O” is Valiant’s flagship series. As the writer for the series that’s first to take on these kinds of initiatives, what are your goals when it comes to an event like this?
It’s a lot of a learning process for me. Yes, it’s the first event for the new Valiant, but this is also my first monthly book. It’s my first time writing a mainstream comic series, so it’s my first event as well. My goals are really just to execute it, to tell the story the way I think it needs to be told and to get these concepts that I have and these ideas that we’ve all talked about in the offices over the past year working with the Valiant team — making sure they get onto the page. I think that’s the most important part. Everybody’s really excited about what the intent of the story is, what the high concept is, what the subtext is and that kind of thing. Really, my focus is execution to make sure all that makes it to the page. I think that’s something I’ll always try to do with everything I write. To the extent that Warren and the rest of editorial help me get stuff on the page, it’s a really good team up there.
“Planet Death” begins in “X-O Manowar” #11 in March.