Fans of Valiant Entertainment’s “X-O Manowar” know how Aric of Dacia came to bond with the sentient armor that gives him his abilities, and how he’s still alive over a millennium since his birth. Series writer Robert Venditti goes even further back into Aric’s life in “X-O Manowar” #0, revealing how the hero first became a warrior and giving a peek into his relationship with his family and best friend. Along with Venditti, artists Clay Mann and Sean Mann convincingly take readers back to southern / eastern Europe circa the 4th century A.D., where Aric is far from the hardened soldier that readers have come to know.
From the issue’s very first panel, the creators show young Aric to be a squeamish and sheltered son of a sword maker, whose mother seeks to understandably delay her boy’s entry into the battlefield against the Romans. The second panel, in fact, the art team unapologetically shows Aric losing his breakfast in a rather unpleasant manner as he and his brash but inexperienced best friend tend to their task of finishing off wounded Roman soldiers long after a battle has been fought. The story’s first page gives way to a far more disturbing image on the second, but here Venditti highlights the strength of Aric’s character, as he bravely goes about his grim duty while still showing some degree of respect for his fallen foes.
In order to make the transition from bringing up the rear to advancing with the front lines, Venditti has to inevitably but Aric onto the battlefield, and it’s here where the strength of the Aric readers know is first demonstrated. The setup for the sequence is somewhat predictable, but Mann makes it work by initially setting the scene with a beautiful and ominous double pager depicting a horde of Roman soldiers in the distance vs. a seemingly much smaller group of Visigoth warriors, gorgeously colored by Romulo Fajardo. Mann further dynamically renders a brief but tense showdown between Aric and an especially imposing opponent on the verge of slaying his best friend. This turning point is the beginning of the man who eventually donned the armor, and once this is established, Venditti doesn’t chronicle the obvious and likely brutal outcome of the battle, nor does he need to.
Instead, the story cleverly transitions not to present day but to the near future, foreshadowing future events in the series, accompanied by another pair of superb splash pages by Mann, Mann and Fajardo. “X-O Manowar” #0 isn’t an essential issue to have, but all creators involved make a great case to pick it up anyway; in the wake of the excellent “Armor Hunters,” this issue is a nice bridge between that event and upcoming issues, making this a good place for new readers to take a look, and for existing ones to settle in for what’s next.