Gimmick or Good? - X-O Manowar #0

In this column, Mark Ginocchio (from Chasing Amazing) takes a look at the gimmick covers from the 1990s and gives his take on whether the comic in question was just a gimmick or whether the comic within the gimmick cover was good. Hence "Gimmick or Good?" Here is an archive of all the comics featured so far. We continue with 1993's chromium cover for X-O Manowar #0...

X-O Manowar #0 (published August 1993) – script by Bob Layton and Jorge Gonzales, art by Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti

As fate would have it, Valiant’s X-O Manowar series was at its most successful thanks to two men who were some of the most controversial editor-in-chiefs in Marvel comics history. Valiant’s predecessor, Voyager Communications was co-founded by Jim Shooter, who’s probably best compared to Lord Voldemort (he who shall not be named) by anyone who worked in the Marvel bullpen in the early 80s. When Valiant started publishing original titles in 1992, X-O was one of its first series (with Shooter and former Marvel artist Bob Layton getting scripting credit). Due to the unexpected success of the title, in 1993, Valiant published a zero issue origin, which featured pencils and cover art from an up-and-coming artist named Joe Quesada. Quesada, of course, would later be credited for saving Marvel from bankruptcy in the late 90s – bankruptcy that was caused, in large part, to the collapse of the speculator market from an oversaturation of “gimmick” comics that were not the treasures collectors thought they were when these issues first flooded the marketplace.

With its chromium cover (and gold edition variant), X-O Manowar #0 sold more than 800,000 copies in the 1990s – not too shabby for an independent publisher. Speculators rushed out to buy this issue specifically due to the rising prices of back issues, which were in short-supply thanks to low print runs. I was able to grab my copy of the series out of the quarter bin at a local comic book shop. I guess my economics professor was on to something with that whole supply and demand thing.

But what about inside the comic?

Manowar #0 is unquestionably an origin issue as it tells the tale of Aric, the Visigoth warrior who swears vengeance on the Roman empire after his father is beheaded and ends up captive on an alien ship filled with bloodsucking spider creatures, and how he comes across the Manowar armor. In terms of introducing a character and his universe, this comic does a really solid job mixing story with some striking Quesada visuals, explaining a fair amount for readers unfamiliar with the series, while giving them enough of a taste to leave them wanting more. As for me personally, I’ve never been a huge fan of mixing ancient mythology/bastardized history with dystopian science fiction themes. But that’s just personal preference and not necessarily a knock against the execution of the story.

Let’s talk about the art some more here as I think it’s the true selling point for the comic. I know at “Gimmick or Good” I’m supposed to focus on the interiors for my final verdict, but I don’t want to sell the chromium cover short. Unlike most Marvel and DC chromium covers, the effect on Manowar #0 isn’t just some gaudy embellishment done to add an extra dollar to the sale price of the comic. The chromium is well integrated into the comic’s cover in a way that almost feels organic. Palmiotti’s inks are fantastic as well, giving the cover an almost hand-painted look.

Inside, you can see why Quesada would go on to be such an industry superstar. The art is far from perfect – some spreads are a little more cartoony then others – but there’s a sensibility to a lot of these visuals that just exudes an “it” factor. The opening sequence, which shows the formation of the Manowar armor sports some stunning sci-fi imagery. There’s no disproportionately-drawn bodies or swiss-army bazooka cannons being lugged around by anyone. Just some trippy, fun cosmic visuals of guys getting consumed by mystical space armor.

Attention must also be paid to Palmiotti’s inks. I love the artistic splash of red in the panel that shows the silhouette of a young Aric cutting into his first “Roman pig” soldier. I guess I’m a sucker for that whole “bright-color-contrasting-a-black-and-white-visual effect.”

Later in the issue, Palmiotti also effectively uses red and blue hues in full page saturations. In this one splash page depicting Aric putting no the Manowar armor for the first time, Palmiotti goes full red, giving the visual a Kubricikan 2001 Space Odyssey effect. The illustration is also obviously helped by the level of detail in Quesada’s pencils.

As I already mentioned, I do have a hard time with the story. Layton and Gonzales have this habit of making Aric sound like a caveman who speaks in monosyllabic sentences, rather than a mighty warrior and leader from 400 A.D. The tone of Aric’s dialogue is also grossly inconsistent as he speaks more coherently and intelligently on dry land when compared to his overuse of phrases like “hard skins” and “fire-light” after the spider aliens capture him.

Still, this is one of those cases where the art figures more into my final verdict than the actual writing as I really enjoyed this comic from a visual standpoint. It’s readily apparent that a lot of deliberation and care went into this comic from the pencils and inks department from the front and back cover all the way to the last interior page. And because I’m assuming I’m not the target audience for a Visigoths vs. aliens comic book story, I’m going to wager that some of you out there are bigger fans of the writing than I am.

Verdict: Good

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