EXCLUSIVE: Venditti Sends "Armor Hunters" After X-O Manowar in 2014

Aric of Dacia has been through the wringer in 2013. At the hands of "X-O Manowar" writer Robert Venditti, the Valiant Entertainment mainstay invaded the Vine home world, Loam; fought the Eternal Warrior in an effort to claim Eastern Romania as a modern-day Dacia; and went up against Valiant's premiere super team, "Unity" -- and his trials are about to get even more dire in 2014. Next May, Valiant starts turning the wheels on their upcoming event "Armor Hunters," which introduces a group of intergalactic hunters dead-set on finding and destroying Aric's X-O Manowar armor in a conflict that spans "X-O Manowar," "Unity" and an "Armor Hunters" event series. Written by Venditti with art by Doug Braithwaite, "Armor Hunters" begins with a prologue in Valiant's Free Comic Book Day 2014 issue and a lead-up in the milestone "X-O Manowar" #25.

CBR News exclusively spoke with Robert Venditti to get a better idea of what to expect as "X-O Manowar" starts on its road to "Armor Hunters," how the series leads up to the event, designing the new Armor Hunter characters, big plans for "X-O Manowar" #25 and more.

CBR News: Robert, "Armor Hunters" is Valiant's big event for 2014. Broad strokes, what can you tell readers about where Aric of Dacia is at when the event starts?

Robert Venditti: Coming out of "Unity," there's going to be a new status quo for "X-O Manowar." It's going to take the book in a new direction, and it's something we've been planning for a long time. Aric is going to be in this position where in the long-form arc of the story so far, he's been fighting for a land for his people and to be the king that he had always intended to be by birthright. He's finally going to have that moment, and when he gets it, he's going to realize that everything that's happened up until now has not been what he thought it was. There are going to be a lot of surprises for him, a lot of changes. He spends his entire time inside this armor, using it as a weapon, using it to establish a kingdom, free his people, beat the Vine and do all these different things -- and all this time, the armor and the person inside it has been in the safest place there was. But he's going to find out that being inside the armor is the least safe place. What it means for the Valiant Universe as a whole and Aric is going to be enormous changes.

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I saw a few of the early designs for the Armor Hunters by Clayton Crain, and they're a pretty diverse crew. Where do they come from and what kind of impact will they have on the Valiant Universe?

"X-O Manowar" #25 is going to be a really big issue, not just because of the significance of the 25th issue being an anniversary of sorts for Valiant, but also in the sense that for a very long time, people have been asking about the origin story of the armor. Where does the armor come from? How is it able to do what it does? This is all stuff that we've known for a very, very long time and we've been waiting to reveal it until the right moment, and that's really what's going to kick off the story. We're going to find out the history of the armor, what its purpose is, what it was created for, why Aric has it, why the Vine had it -- you're going to get the backstory on all of these kinds of things.

Spinning out of that, you're going to realize that just as there is actually more than one suit of X-O Manowar armor in the universe, we're actually going to come to realize there's an entire army of hunters who do nothing but go after these things and destroy them for their own reasons. That's where the Armor Hunters come in. In terms of them being from different backgrounds, you have this super giant robot, which is probably the coolest robot I've ever seen. It's a design by Clayton Crain and it's this giant super death robot that looks like you want to hug him. It's a really cool design that he did. You have all these other Armor Hunters from different cultures as well -- it's basically a bunch of cultures who have come together under a common cause: their sole purpose being to rid the universe of these armors, of which Aric obviously has one. So you can see where the conflict would come into that situation.

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Aric's been through the ringer a bit lately, with Valiant's first super-team coming together specifically to fight him. How will his mental state contribute to the conflict he faces in "Armor Hunters?"

Yeah, he has been through the ringer, and I think it's a fine line with Aric because he's from the fifth century, which was a time where if you had the best weapons, you won the battle and that was just the way it was. He's the guy with the best weapon now and he's stayed true to that cultural upbringing that he's had, which is no longer the way the world works. We don't just go around treating each other anymore. We have that whole idea of mutually-assured destruction. We've learned to deal with warfare in a different perspective that he lacks. His confrontation with Unity is going to teach him some lessons, he's going to get that kingdom that he always wanted, but the interesting thing about the entire history of "X-O" to this point is everybody's been trying to get the armor. When Aric steals the armor so he can escape, the Vine comes after him because they want the armor. Now, Unity's going after him because they want the armor -- everybody wants the armor. What we're going to find out is the guy that has the armor is the guy with the really, really large target on his back. It would actually be better if you didn't have the armor, because the Armor Hunters are going to come after you now. They're way worse than any of these other threats that Aric has ever faced.

Up until this point, we've been led to believe that the person inside the armor is indestructible and almost invulnerable to an extent, but it's actually the least safe place that you would ever want to be.

While this isn't the first event/crossover series that Valiant has published, it's definitely the first spinoff mini that focuses on X-O. You've had a little practice in coordinating crossovers with your work over on "Green Lantern" over at DC, but this seems like it's somewhat of a different beast. What was your approach to structuring the event series alongside the regular run of "X-O Manowar?"

It is a different beast, mostly because it's an event miniseries, which I have not done before. That does make it sort of a different animal, really in terms of just fleshing out the story -- it's going to encompass more than just the event miniseries. It's going to encompass "X-O Manowar," it's going to encompass "Unity" and potentially things beyond that as well. It's just really a matter of doing a lot of planning in advance. Getting into the writers' retreat with the other Valiant guys, taking with [managing editor] Warren [Simons] and [CEO] Dinesh [Shamdasani] on the phone, talking through story beats, just making the thing as airtight as you can; also making sure that each individual chunk -- whether it's the "X-O Manowar" chunk, the "Armor Hunters" chunk or the "Unity" chunk, all tie off their own through line, their own narrative with the greater scope of the larger story that encompasses everything. So it is a lot of coordination, but as I said, it's something we've been planning for a very long time. We've known for over a year that things were going to lead to this sort of event, so we've been very careful about the way we've developed the threads in "X-O Manowar." All of these threads that are out there, people don't even realize, all these subplots are all going to be tied together in the story. It's really going to be a great, almost finale -- if you will -- of this very long-form story arc of "X-O Manowar" that will then result in a brand new status quo and a whole new era for the character.

Doug Braithwaite has gotten a chance to draw X-O in the pages of "Unity." Seeing his take on the character, what excited you most about getting to work with him on "Armor Hunters?"

He's a phenomenal talent. I remember the first time I saw the very first pages for "Unity," which Valiant ended up releasing as a preview. You'd turn the page, and you'd see Aric hovering over this reporter woman, he's got an RPG shell crushed in one hand -- it was just a great rendering of the character. It wasn't just the action aspect of this warrior in a suit of armor, but also the emotion of it. Doug is just really able to nail these things. He's a super great guy. I was able to meet him at New York Comic Con this year, and I'm really looking forward to working with him. He's done "X-O Manowar" covers in the past, he did a lot of covers for the second arc of the series -- not just X-O, with "Unity," he got the chance to draw the meat of the Valiant Universe. Whether it's Eternal Warrior, Harada or Ninjak -- he does a phenomenal job with all of them.

It seems like this is going to be an event that encompasses the entire Valiant Universe, anchored by "X-O Manowar" and "Unity." In terms of "Armor Hunters," how much did you get a chance to play with the other aspects in the Valiant Universe?

With a story like this, when we were all sitting down talking about it, it was very much from the beginning a situation where the story was never going to be limited in terms of what characters were involved and how they were involved -- it was a matter of following the narrative in the direction that it took us. When we got to those points, those risky moments, we always did what was in service of the story and making the story the best story it could be. So all the resources were always on the table and the way all those resources get applied and the way they get used remains to be seen. But we have some really, really interesting ideas and ways to use characters that I don't think people would have seen coming. There are a lot of surprises.

Actually, one of the most fun parts of working on a project like this was finding out how the puzzles come together and those moments of surprise when you realize you have this piece that you didn't realize was there, and then it jumps out at you. That's what makes working on projects like this so much fun.

The Valiant 2014 Free Comic Book Day special will specifically tease what's coming up for "Armor Hunters." What was your approach to crafting the information revealed in the FCBD issue?

I think the aim of the Free Comic Book Day issue is to introduce people to who the Armor Hunters are and what their goals are -- why they're doing what they're doing -- and what's at stake, which is everything. Also, to make them sympathetic, which is something that I try to do in all the stories that I write. I feel like the Vine, even though they were the villain for the first fourteen issues of "X-O Manowar," you still understood where they were coming from, and they were somewhat sympathetic. While you didn't side with what they were doing, you at least understood their motives and could relate to them in some way. That's very much what we're going to do with the Armor Hunters as well, and I think that's what's so great about the DNA of the Valiant Universe. You read a story that's going right now -- like "Unity" #1-4 -- Aric is a villain that wants to take over the country of Romania and has to be stopped before he starts World War III. You read "X-O Manowar" and Aric is this guy, who's a Visigoth king trying to find a homeland for his people. Who's the hero and who's the villain? That's really a part of Valiant's DNA going back to the '90s and it's part of what makes this such a great company to work for. To be able to work on an event like this and introduce an entirely new cast of characters in these Armor Hunters, which has never been seen at Valiant -- it's great to introduce elements like that.

With "X-O Manowar's" 25th issue coming down the line and looking back over your time with the character, what's been your favorite aspect of working on the book?

I remember when I got hired by Warren back in 2011, in my head, I was like, "Man, I hope I can make it to issue #12. If I somehow make it to issue #24, I'll really feel like I succeeded." I had never done a monthly book before. I felt like I had the ideas, but I had never tested myself in that monthly format, and it's a very different animal than doing standalone graphic novels. To be in a position where I'm talking about issue #25 and an event miniseries spinning out of it, and already knowing that I have issues planned out through #30, I feel very blessed and very fortunate to be able to work on the book as long as I had and to really build a continuity from day one, develop this character and put my stamp on it. I don't know what else to say -- I have a lot of thanks for Valiant for taking a shot on someone that was kind of risky. To be able to still be on the book and turning in stories and have them be happy with it, I feel like I'm paying them back for that risk they took on me.

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Is there anything else you can tease about your plans for the 25th issue?

This is going to be -- in a lot of ways -- the issue that everybody's been waiting for. It will really give you that history of the armor, which literally, since the very first issue came out I've had fans and people asking me and speculating and wondering where the armor comes from, what the story is behind it. That was a very significant moment in the original Valiant Universe -- it was "X-O Manowar" #0, which told the story. Ours is a very, very different version of that -- it's a clearly new take on the armor and what it means. But the answers are going to be in this issue. You're going to find out what the armor is all about, what the Armor Hunters are all about -- which is the key piece to the puzzle. It's going to be a big, big issue.

One thing I would say is something I always try to keep in mind as I've been developing this series over close to three years is that the name of the book is "X-O Manowar," and that's the armor. It's a story about the armor. Aric is the guy that's wearing it, so he's the main character, but it's always been a story about the armor, and we're going to find out exactly why that's the case beginning with issue #25.

Valiant's "Armor Hunters" event begins in Valiant's FCBD 2014 offering in May and continues in "X-O Manowar" #25.

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