EXCLUSIVE: Venditti & Nord Relaunch "X-O Manowar"

Today, Valiant Entertainment announced the creative team for its upcoming relaunch of the "X-O Manowar" ongoing series. "The Surrogates" writer Robert Venditti, alongside "Conan" artist Cary Nord, are rebooting Aric of Dacia for a whole new generation to discover when Valiant launches the all-new "X-O Manowar" on May 2.

Originally published by Valiant Comics in 1992, "X-O Manowar" follows the story of Aric of Dacia, a Visigoth warrior living in the time of the Roman Empire who is captured by aliens and discovers the X-O Manowar armor, the most advanced weapon in the entire universe. Donning the armor, Aric escaped from his alien captors and returned to Earth, only to discover sixteen centuries had passed during his time in space. Alone in the 21st Century, Aric must adapt and learn to live in the future.

Series writer Robert Venditti and Valiant Editor Warren Simons spoke at length with CBR News about the upcoming reboot, the changes to "X-O Manowar," the core character of Aric of Dacia, the expansion of the space aliens now known as The Vine and greater plans for the Valiant Universe.

CBR News: The relaunch of "X-O Manowar" is a big push for Valiant in 2012. What was the impetus to bring the character and the title back for as your first series?

Warren Simons: When I came to Valiant, I took a look at all the characters that we had -- which are the best high-concept driving characters, what are the best stories, what are the characters that historically fans have responded to the most. I think a lot of that's related; there's been a direct correlation between the fan response and a lot of the cool high concepts driving the characters. With X-O, we took a look at the high concept of the story, we took a look at what we wanted to do with the character and it just felt like he was cornerstone of our universe, I felt like the story driving him was really fantastic. He's one of the big players in our universe. He's one of the most popular characters we've ever had. He was definitely someone who came to the forefront when determining what we were going to do with our publishing plan.

Robert Venditti: A lot of what Warren was saying, I feel the same way. Obviously, I'm a big fan of science fiction and I enjoy those kinds of stories, but I'm also a huge fan of historical fiction. How often do you get a character where you can blend those two elements? I think it's a great conflict, to have this guy who was born and bred and lived a warrior, but is used to using a sword suddenly be in possession of this awesome piece of technology that's better than anything the world has ever seen -- and then throw him 16 centuries into the future. How does he deal with that? It's just a great core conflict to have with the character. There are so many possibilities there and so many threads to pull on that jump out at me as something I'm really going to have a fun time writing.

Robert, before you came on to write X-O Manowar, were you familiar with the book or character?

Venditti: No, actually. I didn't start reading comics until around the year 2000. For whatever reason, I don't know why, I didn't read comics of any kind growing up. I wasn't really aware of any of those kinds of things, which speaks more to my ignorance of comics than anything else because X-O was a huge character and still is very popular and very beloved with a lot of fans. So, the fact that I wasn't already familiar with him is on me more than anything else. I don't know a lot about Marvel and DC either, because I didn't grow up with those kinds of things. When Warren first contacted me, I was interested in the idea of writing for Valiant. I went and started looking at some of the characters, reading about them online. Aric was instantly one that jumped out at me as easily compelling and something that would be great to write. There would be so many things you could do with it. I'm familiar with him now, I've done my homework and all those kinds of things. I did a lot of that kind of stuff before I even started writing, even got to the pitch phase. I have a good understanding of who the character is at this point.

While this is a reboot of the original franchise and has no ties to the previous series' continuity, is this a total overhaul of the franchise as a whole?

Simons: We're definitely grounded in the original series as far as being influenced by the core concepts that drove them. Aric is a Visigoth warrior from around 400 AD, a character who grew up in the oppressive time of the Roman Empire. He engages in vicious battles with the Romans -- it's a constant quest for survival. As we'll see, he discovers, basically, an alien fortress. He's captured and he's taken aboard a slave ship. Ultimately, this is the original story and is based in the same core concept that made him such a great character. What we'll see is, eventually, he's able to get a hold of the X-O Manowar armor, the most powerful armor in the entire universe. He returns to Earth and discovers that even though he's only been gone on the slave ship for a couple of years, due to time displacement, 1700 years have passed. As a result of that, he's now a man out of time. He's the most ancient man on Earth and he has the most technologically advanced weapon.

That core concept, which is the same core concept that was in the original series, is something we're using as a major cornerstone, to influence how we're proceeding with the new series. It is a new series -- this is not the next issue of "X-O Manowar." It's a #1, it's a new story and we want to make it a good, new story, where people can read the first issue and not need 20 years of continuity to understand what's happening. By the same token, we also love the original story and think it was brilliant. We don't want to stray too far from the great ideas that helped define the universe in the first place.

Venditti: The core idea of the character is definitely there. The alien race is still there, although we've made some changes. All those kinds of elements are there. I think that, Warren, if you want to agree with me or not, I think one of the bigger changes we made -- Aric is -- Visigoths, the concept of them in the original series was of being a little barbaric and sort of unsophisticated, but they're actually a very sophisticated people. We worked that into this new storyline. Aric, while he's still the same guy, Aric of Dacia, he's still the nephew of Alaric, the king of the Visigoths -- those elements are the same, but he's much more of a tactician, he's much more of a thinking warrior. He's definitely skilled with a sword, but he's not just a guy with a sword. He's got brains, too. That, I would say, is one of the elements we're going to play on pretty heavily, as well as giving a firm background on the alien race, what their larger plan is, why they come to Earth and why Aric is up in their hands -- all these kinds of things. We're definitely building on the original foundation, but expanding on some of those elements.

Simons: I think Rob makes an excellent point. When I first came to Valiant, I was taking a look at "Gladiator" and "Braveheart." Just because Maximus is ancient doesn't mean that he's stupid, and it doesn't mean that he's a savage. One of the things I really responded to in Rob's pitch that I thought was excellent was just ironing out the larger motivations of a lot of the characters in the story and refining some of the high concepts in the book -- just understanding who this character was and how he was different from the character in the initial series while still being dramatically influenced by him.

What new tweaks have you added to The Vine this go-around and what kind of challenges will Aric face in going up against them?

Simons: Rob, I'll let you go in one second, but this is one of my favorite parts of your pitch. It's such a smart reason as to why they're here, why they take Aric and what their larger role is in the universe, but I don't want to give too much away just yet. The Vine is going to be a major antagonist for Aric, as we'll see. They'll help shape his motivations and have a dramatic effect on the Valiant Universe.

Venditti: Yeah, I don't want to do any reveals. I would say that one element of the original series, that original concept of the aliens that I think was just genius but wasn't really utilized enough is this idea that The Vine -- that's the name that we've given the race. I think they were just spider aliens in the original series -- the aliens sort of worship plant life, their culture was based upon plant life. It's mentioned in passing in the original series, but it's not really examined. What would that mean, a culture that worshipped plants? In a way, it's a really terrifying thing. There's this relentless nature of plants; the way they push up through the sidewalk or undermine the foundation of a building. They're slow-moving and they're mindless, but they're relentless. There's a certain terror to that. What would it mean for this alien race and how would plant worship define their culture, whether through their military or what they're trying to do throughout the universe? That's one of the threads that I really wanted to pull on and explore.

Simons: How does it shake every facet of who they are, of how they live, of how they die, of their armies, of their political system, all these very interesting elements. I think Rob really nailed it in the pitch and we'll see that in the series.

It's been quite a while since the last time a single issue of "X-O Manowar" was on the stands -- over ten years, in fact. Why do you think 2012 is a good time to bring back the character and the Valiant universe?

Simons: I think there are a couple of reasons for that. I think there was a reason why Valiant had such a tremendous impact in the industry, initially. I think the characters they have really are exceptional. When I was thinking of coming onboard the company, the first thing that I did was research the IP. The thing that I found, time and time again, whether it was X-O or Harbinger or Bloodshot, the core concepts driving the characters really are fantastic. When you have that, you have the foundation for a really incredible universe. The thing about Valiant is that it's not just about a single comic; it's about the tapestry of the larger universe and how these characters play a role in it. I thought Rob put together a really good pitch that nailed this character.

As far as now being the right time, I think we have great IP here and we have great writers and artists working on them. I think there's always room for story if it's executed correctly in the same way that we see different pieces of IP throughout pop culture, either continuing in perpetuity from 30 or 40 years ago, or being brought back in different media -- whether it's James Bond or Spider-Man or the X-Men; whether it's a comic or a TV show. For me, it's not a question of "Why now?" but "Why hasn't it been brought back yet?"

Venditti: I would say simply that it's always a good time for a good story with good character. That kind of stuff is timeless. There's never a wrong time for that.

Just a few days after the first issue hits stores, "X-O Manowar" is going to be a big part of Valiant's Free Comic Book Day 2012 offering. What do you have planned for that issue?

Simons: Issue #1 of "X-O Manowar" is going to be on sale May 2. Our Free Comic Book Day is going to be available on May 5. It'll have a lettered and colored "X-O Manowar" preview, we're going to have a lot of character designs dealing with not just "X-O," but with other characters in the universe. We're going to have a lot of teasers from some of the other titles, some interviews with creators. It's going to be a pretty jam-packed book that's going to be an overview of the Valiant Universe.

Robert, you're no stranger dealing with technology and science and where the two meet in the middle, as evicenced by your work on "The Surrogates" and "The Homeland Directive." How are you applying those aspects of your previous work to "X-O Manowar?"

Venditti: It's funny -- as you go through your career and you do different projects, you find that there's a common thread that sometimes weaves its way through all of your work, no matter how different the genres may be. I guess in everything I've done to date, there has been this aspect of technology to it. I think the process of writing isn't about answering questions, it's about asking them. If I were to know going into the story that this is the stance I want to take on this, and here's how I feel and I'm going to go ahead and write about it -- that's when I think you get into a situation where your story's about to become preachy and your audience knows they're being told what to think as opposed to thinking on their own. When I write a story, it's more like there's a question that I have that I don't know the answer to. Writing it is an exploration of that and, ultimately, a lot of things may not be answers to those questions. One of those questions that I think is common to what I've done so far is this idea of technology and where the line is drawn between good and bad technology. How do we define that? What is the impact of technology on us now and on future generations? Technology has this way of growing exponentially, and before we even know what the impact of something is now, we're already ten steps behind. What effect does that have as a culture?

Somebody like Aric comes an era we would consider by today's standards to be pretty primitive, technology-wise -- even though that wasn't the case. He grew up in the era of Rome, which, at the time, was the most technologically-advanced civilization on the planet. Even the Visigoth people, they didn't even have a homeland. They lived migratory population pretty much roamed around, but there were tens and thousands of them all at once. The sophistication of something like that, to mobilize armies and women and children and feeding everybody is just stunning. To come from that and go to the modern day, 2012 -- not only the technological changes that are there, but to give him an element of technology that's even far surpassing what we have in 2012 is just open to all these ideas about technology and how it affects culture and technological advancement and what the impact of those things are. How does technology different if it's in the hands of Person A versus Person B? I think that's a common element that will be woven throughout the story in addition to a lot of other things.

In the original Valiant Universe, fans experienced a lot of crossovers from one title to another. X-O Manowar, Geomancer, Harbinger -- they had all their own books, but they all also existed in the same shared space. Moving forward, are you planning to introduce any of these characters in the pages of "X-O Manowar?"

Simons: Oh, definitely. We have a great set of characters, here. We have Ninjak, we have the Harbingers, we have Shadowman, we have the whole universe up here. One of the strengths of Valiant is not just the "X-O Manowar" title that's published every month by itself, but the manner in which it exists in the context of the Valiant Universe. The larger tapestry of the universe is something that can bolster the title. We have a great number of characters and we have a lot of fans who are anxious to see them. I wouldn't be surprised if you do wind up seeing, say, a certain character appearing within the pages of "X-O," but all that's to come. The main focus is the first arc of "X-O," Aric's journey from Visigoth warrior to "X-O Manowar."

Venditti: I think one of the really great things about the Valiant Universe is also the quality of the villains. There are too many to name, but I definitely have my eye on some of them. Great heroes are made by great villain,s and I think there's a lot of really strong antagonistic forces and characters in the Valiant Universe that makes it such a quality place to be.

Can fans of previous incarnations of "X-O Manowar" expect any inside nods or Easter eggs in the new series?

Simons: Yes, there are definitely going to be some Easter eggs. It's a new take on the character, but it's the same "X-O" that people know and love. We're going to have stuff that's both X-O-oriented and Valiant-oriented, so keep your eyes peeled for that.

Finally, what aspect about the May launch are you both most looking forward to?

Venditti: I'm just excited to get it out there. This is my first ongoing series of any kind that I've ever done. I'm having such a great time with it. The pages that are coming in from Cary [Nord] are just -- he's such an amazing talent. Every time you see a page, you open them up one at a time and you just can't wait to write more of it. It's just beautiful stuff. It's a great thrill for me. Who would have thought, five years ago, whenever it was, when I published "The Surrogates" and I was still working in Top Shelf's warehouse, that five years later I'd be working on a project of this magnitude. It's stunning. I'm really excited about it and I cannot wait for the fans and for people to see what we've done.

Simons: Listen, being an editor is a lot of fun. It's fun to work with Rob, it's fun to work with the writers and he's absolutely done a great job with the script, but he also has a great history of working on some excellent projects. Maybe not necessarily projects people would associate with being the guy who goes to write "X-O Manowar," but he's doing such beautiful work on it. It's so insightful and intelligent -- he really captured who the character is. Also, seeing Cary's art -- Cary is absolutely knocking this stuff out of the park. Every page that comes in is absolutely gorgeous. Seeing these guys working together in tandem and how the book has been coming together -- it's a very ambitious undertaking, but I think the guys are doing an exceptional job with it. The most exciting thing is just seeing it come together.

Venditti: It's a great challenge and I'm looking forward to it. I can't get enough of it right now.

"X-O Manowar" #1 hits stores May 2.

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