EXCLUSIVE: Inside Valiant's New "X-O Manowar"

Since they announced their return to comics publishing this past summer, the reformed Valiant Entertainment has had readers wondering what's its initial offering would be. And while the particulars of Valiant's first new comic book in over ten years remain a secret, one thing is now known about their launch: the first one's free.

In May, Valiant will unveil the new versions of its superhero characters as part of the national Free Comic Book Day promotion with their "Valiant Comics 2012 Preview" anthology. Featuring new stories starring the likes of Bloodshot, Harbinger and the cover carrying X-O Manowar -- newly redesigned by artist Jelena Kevic Djurdjevic.

Well known to comic fans for her cover work at Marvel Comics, the Senior Concept Designer at SIXMOREVODKA Studios got the call to give X-O a 21st Century facelift from Valiant Executive Editor Warren Simons. In an exclusive reveal of the inner workings of "X-O Manowar" as a hero and series, both Djurdjevic and Simons spoke with CBR about how a sleeker design, new weaponry and a fully realized back story will help reintroduce comic fans to the hero and Valiant's Universe come May of next year.

CBR News: Jelena, I wanted to start by getting your initial reaction to X-O's old school design. Had you ever seen the character or had any familiarity with him, or was this assignment your first contact? What did you identify as the core elements of the design that you didn't want to stray from? What seemed like it could go by the wayside?
Jelena Kevic Djurdjevic: Actually, I saw the character for the first time when Warren approached me with the redesign assignment. I kind of missed out on the whole period of comics in the early '90s which Valiant was part of, but that left me with a bunch of great stories and characters to discover for the first time, and X-O was one of them. When you take a look at X-O's original design, you can see two main, key elements: his body suit and the metal-like armor on top of it, which is something like a primary and secondary shell. And since the armor played such an important part of X-O and his history, the main question was how to change and modernize it while still keeping those key elements. We explored many different shapes, forms and colors with the initial sketches, but we soon realized that sticking to the original design as much as possible lent a great credibility to the character and his history.

This is a very streamlined version of the X-O armor. In what ways was the goal here to simplify the character, and how do you think that fits the conception of X-O as a so-called "brute in a future suit"?
Djurdjevic: Yes, the goal was to modernize it and simplify it -- to reexamine the details and focus on the overall form. The original armor design was kind of dissected into many parts, gadgets and details. I wanted to make a version where X-O doesn't have everything on display, and all the weapons and gadgets and armor plates are incorporated into a streamlined design, so we have a feeling that this incredible technology is built into the actual armor, rather than, perhaps, "sitting" on top of it.

One really striking element of the design as a whole is the X-motif on the chest. There's a symmetry at play. How do you think that visual strengthens the design on the whole?

Djurdjevic: I think that symmetry makes the whole design more iconic, more memorable and more heroic. By adding the subtle X form to his chest, we wanted to incorporate some of the elements of his original design, like the X on his carapace, without making it too obvious and typographic. I felt that since he's a superhero, he doesn't need a logo or a nameplate on his suit so we know who he is. 

Of course, the real standout for a lot of fans is going to be the inclusion of a sword in the mix. What can either of you say about how this futuristic take on his ancient weapon brings to X-O as a concept and to future stories?
Djurdjevic: The sword was Warren's idea, and I'm saying that 'cause I really liked that he wanted to bring something completely new to this redesign, even though it might have been a risky decision because you never know how well the fans are going to receive it or like it. I felt that it was a right thing to do, because you have this medieval superhero in a futuristic suit, and yeah, he can shoot lasers from pulse ion cannons, but seeing him wielding his sword in action just seems so natural for a guy like him. Can't wait to see that! 

Warren Simons: The man inside the X-O Manowar suit is Aric of Dacia, a Visigoth warrior from about 400 AD. One of the elements I discussed with Jelena and our writer is the idea that while Aric has a value system that might be totally foreign from ours, that doesn't mean he isn't intelligent. Just because a predator drone might be incomprehensible to him, that doesn't mean that he speaks in monosyllabic sentences or grunts when he's hungry. When we were developing the character in house, I discussed General Maximus from "Gladiator," or William Wallace from "Braveheart," as characters that might have the same vibe. When Aric gets ahold of the X-O Manowar suit -- the most sophisticated piece of armor in the universe -- he's dropped into a blender. And although the concept of the subconscious might be alien to him, he still has one. How the armor interacts with him -- with his body and his mind -- is one I wanted to address. The sword is part of his culture, part of his time, and even if it manifests subconsciously, it might be natural that this is how he'd interface with this armor -- or how the armor might interface with him. I don't want to give away too much -- how we execute will be seen in the pages of the book -- and I can tell you right now the creative team we have on board is absolutely crushing it. But from a design standpoint, I think Jelena did an amazing job with the sword. You can just feel the energy coursing through it. In a few weeks we'll announce the team, but I've done this a few times, and I can tell you that the work so far has been stellar.

Warren, from your point of view what was most important to get across with this first full image from the new Valiant, and how did Jelena's work here meet your expectations for that?

Simons: Well, I've said it before, and I will say it again: I work in a medium where I am surrounded by absolutely brilliant artists and writers, and they produce extraordinary work at an amazing clip. There's a reason why Hollywood has mined the medium so aggressively, and that's a testament to the great creators that have come before us and to the amazingly talented colleagues I work with every day. Jelena is one of the best designers in the world, and she's put together some amazing stuff for us at Valiant. I think she absolutely nailed this design. But Valiant is more than costume redesigns and beautiful covers. I certainly have no interest in creating comics that have great covers but awful interiors. We've seen that movie before, and it ain't a good one. We're modernizing the Valiant Universe and we're working with some extraordinary creators who are bringing a sense of excitement and commitment to this undertaking.

In the coming weeks and months you'll see designs and concept art from some of the other folks I've been working with. I'm lucky to have a few colleagues in the industry who I consider to be amazing, visionary artists, and I'm pumped up to get these images out there.

It's early yet, but what's X-O's place in the Valiant U? We know there's not a lot of creative and story announcements beyond Jelena's cover hitting now, but in what ways do you consider this piece and this character a forbearer for what's in store with the rest of the line?
Simons: X-O is one of the most popular comic book characters ever created. He has an exceptionally compelling backstory, and while Valiant's height was at the peak of the speculative era, the reason Valiant was able to go toe-to-toe with the industry leaders isn't because of a speculative boom, it's because there's a roster of incredibly compelling characters here.

Aric of Dacia is a man out of time -- a Visigoth warrior who discovers in an instant that 1600 years have passed him by. Now the most primitive man on Earth possesses the most technologically advanced weapon in the universe. It's a brilliant high concept. As for long term, X-O's going to be one of the key players in our universe. While I don't want to give anything away just yet, some of his actions are going to have incredible repercussions on the Valiant U, even if he isn't cognizant that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. And sometimes those reactions have big, nasty claws.

Stay tuned to CBR News for more on upcoming releases from Valiant Entertainment.

Watchmen Artist Dave Gibbons Draws HBO Series' Sister Night

More in Comics