When Robert Venditti's run as writer for "X-O Manowar" ended in 2016, there was no doubt that the character would eventually return to Valiant. Really, the question was how the hero would return, and who would be overseeing that relaunch. Well, we now have our answer: writer Matt Kindt will be entering Aric of Dacia's for a year-long opening storyline which will see him working with artists including Tomas Giorello, Doug Braithwaite, Clayton Crain, Ryan Bodenheim and Mico Suayan. Not only is this a year-long storyline, it's also a guaranteed one, with Valiant already confirming the exact release date of every issue up to one year in advance.
But when the series starts on March 22 2017, what can readers expect? Valiant has previously teased that the story will see several big new changes for the character - taking him off-world, grounding him and developing a much more antagonistic relationship between Aric and the X-O Manowar armor itself. In order to get a full understanding of just how big his plans are for the series over the next twelve months, CBR spoke with Kindt about how he's approaching and structuring his yearlong opening narrative; how the rotating artistic teams will be integrated; and what's coming up for X-O Manowar himself.
Plus: Valiant has shared an exclusive look at four pages of series artist Tomas Giorello's un-inked, uncolored pages!
CBR: Matt, your run on "X-O Manowar" plans to take the character off-world, and completely rebuild how readers look at him. What was it that interested you in starting new with your first issue, with a completely new premise and setting for your year-long opening story?
Matt Kindt: I really just love the core concept of the character – the “barbarian” in a high-tech suit of armor. It’s just a simple and original idea. That’s always been the attraction to the character for me as a writer. But after Rob [Venditti]’s seminal run on the series, the challenge was how to get back to that simple premise and remain true to everything that Rob and the character had gone through in the previous 50 issues - and how do you do that in a way that isn’t contrived and would be an honest progression for the character.
The reality, to me, is that I don’t think a mind – a psyche – from Roman times would be able to handle the stress and the technological bombardment and quick pace of our modern era without eventually having some kind of break. Heck, phones and television, and movies, and just general city living eventually gets to me, and I’m from the 21st century. So the natural progression was for Aric to try to go back to basics. To live on a farm. To get back to some kind of mental “home.”
Of course, he finds that farm on an alien planet in another galaxy – but the story and the events that lead to that development will be slowly revealed over the next year or two.
What kind of story are you planning to tell in "X-O Manowar"? What can readers expect from the series as it begins, and what awaits Aric of Dacia?
We’re going to see Aric stripped down to his basics again. And over the course of the next year we’re going to watch him evolve, but also just revert to the kind of person he is. He wants to be a farmer – he wants the 'simple' life. But there’s a reason he never gets that. Part of that reason is inside him – his nature – but the other element that keeps him from finding peace is actually his armor. The X-O Manowar suit is a factor in his ultimate fate and happiness or lack of.
We’ll see Aric progress from farmer to emperor and beyond – but he’s not the only one that’s evolving and growing. The armor is taking on a more…sentient role. It will be an active participant and a lot of the friction will come from Aric’s relationship with the armor – both literally and figuratively.
In previous interviews, you’ve said that you work story-to-story, and not beyond - but here the first year of "X-O Manowar" is completely planned out, already. Does having that complete skeleton already laid out change the way you approach writing and laying out how the narrative progresses?
I work story to story, but I never work issue to issue. There’s a big difference. I always start out with a fully formed arc or long-form story and then figure out how to break it down into pieces that can fit into issues. That’s the beauty of working with Valiant – they realize that the story is always better served if it dictates the publishing schedule, rather than the publishing schedule dictating how many issues a story has to be.
It’s luxury you don’t really often find other than in creator-owned books. I think that’s also the reason why you see the creators on the Valiant books pouring everything they have into them – it’s not just a writing gig, you know? We’re invested in the characters and story because we’re given the space and tools to really care.
You’re also set in for three-issue story arcs, which is a very specific format to tell stories. How’ve you found structuring the series across the next year, setting it up as a series of three-issue arcs?
I think most of creative decisions are brought on by boredom. If you do something a certain way and it works and then you repeat that way of doing things because it worked…I think you get kind of complacent. And if you’re bored as a creator, then I think your work is going to end up being boring, honestly.
I’ve been doing 4 and 6 issue story arcs for a long time and I think there’s a kind of predictability to that structure that I wanted to shake up. The beauty of a 3-issue arc is it gives you the luxury of playing with time a little more. You have less space to tell a particular chapter so there’s as much fun in deciding what isn’t in an issue – and what takes place between issues that you don’t see – as it is fun to write the actual issue.
Creativity by omission. It keeps me interested. I think that’s why I’ve tried a lot of things over the years – to scare myself and keep an edge. I’ve done graphic novels with no captions and no scene-cuts. I’ve done stories with no flashbacks and in real-time, stories with no words, stories with only word balloons. All of it really just as a way to try to find a new way to tell a story and to really show off – not myself – but what comic books as a medium are capable of.
Knowing ahead of time who will be drawing each arc - and with several of them being guys you’ve worked with before - does that offer you greater opportunity to plan each arc separately, tailor it slightly to each of their strengths and styles? Is the plan for each arc to change in genre, style?
Yep. It’s why the Valiant creative work-environment is so attractive to me as a writer. I feel like I can really have a hand in the final product when the book goes out with my name on it. I’m not at the mercy of what artist was available and could hit a deadline – we’re making good books that will hopefully stand the test of time. Being able to schedule artists a year in advance allows me to write directly TO that artist. It makes all the difference, knowing the strengths and likes of the person that’s going to either make or break the issue.
You can have the best description and most flowery and detailed script ever written, but it’s the artist that makes it sing – the artist that makes the actors 'act' and makes the thing fun to read.
You’re also introducing a specific change in his relationship to the armor. What kind of mindset does Aric have in this series with regards to the armor he wore?
It’s definitely antagonistic. There’s a point he (and a lot of people I imagine) get to with technology where it stops being a 'tool' and either becomes an obsession and a love – or it becomes a bane and a curse… or in Aric’s case – a burden. Everyone loves their cell phone, as a rule, but what if your phone started having opinions of it own started offering you un-asked for advice? The next time you drop it in a toilet… it might not be an accident, is all I’m saying. That’s where we’re going to find Aric and his relationship with his armor.
He’s been a character forced into violence ever since Valiant revived the series, so do you see this as an opportunity to move away from that constant threat, and instead spend more time with Aric, the person, outside of the suit?
Aric’s violent history and experience is definitely going to be addressed. We’re going to get a lot of Aric out of the armor…and sort of next to the armor…and be figuring out if the violence is a result of Aric or a result of the armor. There’s an interesting correlation between Aric, the armor, and the violence he finds himself faced with and inflicting. But Aric also has a different background and his relationship with violence is inherently different than how we view it.
I think that’s the key to writing his character – you have to be careful not to put a 21st century viewpoint on Aric. He has a 5th century view of violence and culture. I had a lot of fun doing research to get into his head. I read a lot of Visigoth law in preparation. I really felt like the way into his head and his culture was to read the actual recorded Visigoth laws and how they viewed human rights. Sounds dry, but was actually really fascinating. Not as barbaric as you’d imagine, honestly. Pretty advanced for their time especially in regards to women’s rights.
Who’ll he be interacting with? Given that he’s on a new world, you have complete free reign to introduce new characters and explore new aspects of his personality. Can you tell us anything about who he’ll be meeting on this distant world?
We got a chance to really build a world from scratch – something I’ve been wanting to do for a while. We designed everything – flora and fauna and three unique races that inhabit the planet, along with their customs and physical peculiarities. Aric is a curiosity to those he meets – an outsider, so we’ll get to sort of hold a mirror to ourselves through alien eyes. And the beauty of having Aric in an alien setting is that it really allows us to feel Aric’s alienation as a man out of time. We can see that he’s a man out of time when he’s on Earth, but putting him in an environment that is alien to us as well as him will really put us in his shoes. We’re as off-balance as he is.
And finally, with Aric being gone for so long, as well... will his absence start to be noted back on Earth during his year away?
Definitely. He’s the second strongest character in the Valiant Universe (Divinity is number one – but I’m open to discussion on this topic!), so he leaves a big vacuum that no one can really fill. He’s going to be sorely missed, which will make his return - if he ever does return - that much sweeter. But maybe he’ll never be back…
That’s a story for year two…
"X-O Manowar" #1, by Matt Kindt and Tomas Giorello, arrives March 22.