Valiant Entertainment’s “X-O Manowar” has confronted alien invasions, started alien invasions of his own, fought off the Armor Hunters and clashed with the Armorines — but this March a whole new threat comes toward Earth in the form of an army of killer robots called “Dead Hand,” in a new story arc of the same name set to debut on March 4 with “X-O Manowar” #34, illustrated by Diego Bernard.
That’s right: for the next arc of the series he’s going to be facing off with a single-minded doomsday army of mindless robots. Writer Robert Venditti, it seems, doesn’t do things by halves. So, as the Dead Hand begin to make their approach towards Earth, CBR News spoke to Venditti about how this new chapter of Aric’s story kicks off — along with exclusive art from issue #34.
CBR News: Robert, before we get to Dead Hand, February’s X-O Manowar” #33 went right back to issue #1 and explored the story of Aric’s lost love, Deirdre of Dacia. What kind of impact will this one-shot story have on the character, moving forward towards Dead Hand?
Robert Venditti: “X-O Manowar” #33 gives us some more background on Aric back in his Visigoth days, which is something that we return to throughout the series. One of the things that attracted me to the series in the beginning was the balance between the far-flung epic space science fiction and the very grounded historical fiction that use the same character in both instances. So Aric’s path as a Visigoth effects who he is right now in the present, which would have been inconceivable back then. This issue gives us some time to check in with him in that era.
And it also shows him learning a valuable lesson about how he views the world in that era, and also how probably a lot of people viewed the world in that era — thinking in terms of an isolated kingdom here, an isolated kingdom there, and everybody coexisting independently of each other. But that doesn’t really exist anymore in the modern day. That lesson is then taken further in the Dead Hand arc. You can almost imagine Aric’s Visigoth encampment back in the fifth century as the Earth and the rest of the world being the universe — that’s kind of where he’s at now.
Earth is a very small Visigoth encampment in the wider scale of the entire universe, and that’s the kind of stuff he’s grappling with.
Dead Hand itself kicks off in March, as an army of robots are activated way out in space, and quickly head towards Earth on a mindless, unstoppable mission. What do they want with Earth, and how does this come to Aric’s attention?
Aric has been earthbound for quite a while now, and even though Armor Hunters involved cosmic elements, it was all on Earth, so we’ve been looking for a chance to put him back out in space and that’s what we’re doing here. In earlier times his mindset was very much, “I’m going to live in my camp and if something threatens my borders then I’ll deal with it. Until then, I’m just going to live my life.” Now, he’s going out and confronting the threat before it even reaches his borders.
That’s sort of the new mindset he’s taking on. He learns about Dead Hand and its mission through the destruction of a planet that is going to be very familiar to Valiant readers and readers of “X-O Manowar.” It puts this huge single-minded doomsday initiative on his radar. This is not something he can wait and deal with when it gets closer to home. It’s better to deal with this while its still far away.
He’s gone from prisoner to invader to aggressor, and fought first against and now with Unity. What does he want from the world, now?
Aric’s mission in the beginning of the series was creating a kingdom and finding a home for the Visigoth people. What he learned in Armor Hunters is that the Visigoths aren’t his only people anymore. All of Earth falls under his protection because he’s a guy who’s strong enough and capable enough to do this. So his status quo right now is he’s in the employment of an international, multi-government agency called G.A.T.E. They are the first response to planetary threats, and he works for them.
In this particular mission in “Dead Hand,” he’s going off the reservation a little bit. He knows he has something that he has to deal with earlier, he can’t wait until it gets to Earth. Whereas on Earth he has characters like Ninjak and Eternal Warrior and Livewire helping him out, he’s the only guy that can go in space. So he’s fighting this battle on his own unless he can find an army to battle with him.
One of the things which keeps the book unpredictable is that there is a cosmic element to the character – at any moment he could fly out into space. After the Earth-based Armorines storyline, are you viewing this as a chance to go cosmic again?
We’re tying together two of the biggest cosmic mythologies we’ve established in the series so far. One will be the Vine and their culture. The other will be the Armor Hunters and who they were. We’re going to get a lot of deep background on the Armor Hunters in terms of what Dead Hand is and what its function is. And how that impacts not just Earth, but also the Vine, who are also sort of in Earth’s neighborhood if you will. These are two very key elements of the story.
You’re joined by artist Diego Bernard for this new storyline. What does his style bring to an arc like Dead Hand? How have you found working with him on the series? What’s the collaborative process been like?
Diego’s great — he does so many things so well. He came on with issue #23, so he’s been on the book longer than anybody else at this point. We really have given him some hard stuff to draw. With the “Armor Hunters” tie-in storyline in “X-O Manowar”, every issue was on a different world and had different aliens. With “Dead Hand,” we’re certainly not making things any easier. We’re introducing a lot of new designs, robots and other characters.
The versatility he has to bring a lot of that to the page, and to handle the action as well, it’s great to be able to work with him.
How did the design of the Dead Hand come together? Did you have any specific ideas for how they should look and act?
In this storyline, one of the things I’m most excited about is we’re introducing a whole cast of new Manowar armors from all different worlds, really interesting designs. Really just being as creative as we can and trying to think outside the box as much as we can with a lot of these sorts of things. Not just in terms of how they look, but where they’re from or what their backstories are, a lot of which will be addressed going into the future of the series.
These are characters that aren’t human, they aren’t all necessarily bipedal, and there are all different sorts of stuff here. That’s visually what I’m most excited about seeing.
It’s interesting that there’s a storyline called “Dead Hand” (a phrase associated with the Cold War) at a time when Valiant are also publishing a new series featuring a Cosmonaut, “Divinity.” Is that just a coincidence, or is somebody at Valiant a history buff?
To my knowledge it’s a coincidence. These are the eras in which we grew up, and these are the frames of reference that we all share, and not just in the halls of Valiant, but really as a readership. These are all touchstones that we all know what they are and what they mean, so these are the influences that we draw on. All writing, and all art if you’re doing it right, is largely autobiographical — it grows out of what you’ve done and what you’ve seen and what you know. Just being a part of that collective consciousness is probably where those similarities come in.
Aric has fought some huge odds before, but this time the emphasis seems to be on the fact that these drones have nobody controlling them, or complex agenda. They’re mindless, soulless killing machines, with no sense of compassion driving them. What made you want to use them as the aggressors for this new storyline?
Just the idea of Aric going up against a force of nature, something that couldn’t be reasoned with, something that could wipe worlds clean and take down star systems. It’s an interesting box to put yourself in as a writer, to put your character in that type of situation and see how they react and how they overcome it. And also how you can imbue something like that with character, and give it a purpose that almost makes it sympathetic even though it is mindless and driven on death. There’s a rationality to it, an objective that they’re trying to achieve and these are the things that Aric has to come to grips with.
Have you been surprised by the journey the character has been on over the past three years you’ve worked on him, and the ways in which he’s developed and changed under your pen? What have you most enjoyed about getting to develop him for so long a run?
With the first issue of “Dead Hand,” I’ll be 35 issues into the series. To be honest that’s longer than I thought I’d be on it. It was my first monthly series and I didn’t know. I hoped I would make it a year. I really hoped I would make it two years, so to be on it this long is great. While that first issue laid down some subplots that we still haven’t dealt with, I think that the first major arc of the character had its conclusion with “Armor Hunters.”
Now we’re entering a new phase where he’s going to have another long-form arc. I don’t want to say we’re in uncharted territory because we’ve been planning things out and thinking about them long term… It’s just not anything from when I first sat down to plan out the book. I didn’t know I’d be fortunate enough to be with the character for this amount of time.
For one, it’s the ability to build a mythology from the ground up, not just in the sense of “X-O Manowar,” but in the larger Valiant Universe. Opportunities don’t come along too often where you get to build an entire universe around you. To be able to do that, and have such a long run, and have so much out in front of me, you feel like you can really put a stamp on this character and it will carry through even after you’re gone. Beyond that, being able to introduce characters to the Valiant Universe, whether it be Ninjak or the Armorines, have Eternal Warrior show up, or do something like Armor Hunters — which was a part of the series proper, but was an X-O Manowar-driven crossover — you feel like you’re adding something to the universe.
To have other characters show up, like GIN-GR who first appeared in “X-O Manowar” #24 and now appears in “Unity:” that’s the stuff that’s the most fun. It goes beyond what you put on the page and it starts to take on a life of its own.
“Dead Hand” starts in “X-O Manowar” #34, scheduled for release March 4 from Valiant Entertainment.
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