X-O Manowar was the first book out the gate this past spring in the Valiant revival, and it's the first of their series to tell a multi-part "event" story — "Planet Death," starting with a two-part prelude beginning in January's issue #9, before the four-chapter tale unfolds in full with #11. Newsarama talked with X-O writer Robert Venditti — who's also taking over Demon Knights at DC — about what "Planet Death" means to his series and the Valiant Universe as a whole, possible future plans for Ninjak, and how he's taken to writing an ongoing series for the first time in his career. Courtesy of Valiant, we're also debuting brand-new art from upcoming issues X-O Manowar.
Newsarama: Robert, launching X-O Manowar earlier this year was a big deal for you for several reasons — not only was it the flagship book of the Valiant revival, but it was also your first ongoing, monthly shared universe comic book. How has the entire experience been for you so far?Robert Venditti: It was always something I wanted to do, to try and do a monthly book and challenge myself with that kind of schedule and that kind of storytelling, which is a lot different than the self-contained graphic novel-type stories that I had done up to that point. So when Valiant reached out to me I was really excited about it.
So far it's turned out to be everything I was hoping it would be. It's been a great experience, I love the character, I love working with the artists that I've worked with. Warren [Simons] is such a great editor. What I've liked about doing so much of the creator-owned stuff at Top Shelf, where it was a small company atmosphere, and that's what this is. They've got a real camaraderie, and a real family approach to everything, but on a much larger scale in terms of it being a large universe, and a huge library of characters. It's sort of the perfect marriage of big company and close-knit environment.X-O Manowar
#10 cover.I was nervous about the launch. It was my first ongoing series, and it being the first title that they launched, we all had our fingers crossed that things were going to work out well, and we've all been very happy with the results so far, and we think that we've got a lot of good things coming up.
Nrama: How much of a challenge has it been in terms of defying expectations? Since it's an existing property, there are some preconceived notions about what an X-O Manowar comic is, and the Valiant relaunches are in an interesting position in that they're very closely rooted in the original source material, but also stand on their own.
Venditti: I can't really get wrapped up in those kinds of things. Obviously I went back and I read the original history of the character and familiarized myself with all that, so I knew the foundation that I was going to be building on, but if I tried to sit there and compare myself, or tried to reach some bar that was set by people who came before me, it might be kind of paralyzing in terms of sitting down and doing any work. I can only tell the stories that I like to tell, the way I want to tell them, and hope that readers are going to respond positively.X-O Manowar
#10 variant cover.I do think that Valiant's plan from the outset — to take the original characters, and stay true to those original incarnations that were so popular and had made the characters endure for so long, and not really deviate much from that core concept, but then update that, and modernize it for today's readers, bring in different themes.
For me, one of the things that I felt was really important was to really flesh out this antagonist we have working through the first year of the series, The Vine, and not have them be one-dimensional, and have them by sympathetic in their own way, and understand what their motives are and why they're doing what they're doing.
There's a big push at Valiant to not just keep the original readers happy, but also to bring in new people, as well — with every issue, and every new arc, to make them really accessible, and really be a book that you can pick up at any point in time and read it, and know what's going on, and who all the characters are. Which is, again, something I never really had to do before. That's probably the biggest thing that I've had to work on.Nrama: Speaking of The Vine – they're at the center of the upcoming "Planet Death" storyline, which, with the prelude issues, is six chapters in total. Was it always in your plans for the series? And why is now the right time for a multipart story in X-O?
Venditti: This is something that was always planned. A lot of the framework of what "Planet Death" is going to be was in the original pitch that I wrote for the series. When I was originally launching the series, I would make reference to there being over a dozen plotlines introduced in the first issue of X-O Manowar that we would be building to, and my goal was that at some point, somebody would read an issue and say, "He set that all the way up in issue #1, over a year ago!" A lot of those things are going to start coming to fruition now, with the "Planet Death" storyline.Interior art from
X-O Manowar #9.Of course, things do grow and change, and you come up with new ideas and new ways of doing things. But much of this is architecture that we were planning for quite some time, and we've gone to great lengths to set it up in a way that'll work well and hopefully surprise some people, so we'll see what the reaction is once we get rolling.
Nrama: And again, this seems like a different type of story for you — a six-part sci-fi epic.
Venditti: I always try to challenge myself by doing new things. One of the great parts of X-O Manowar, that was built into the original concept, is that even though the overall high concept of it is this historical fiction-meets-sci-fi kind of thing, in the original Valiant run, there was a lot of genre jumping around. There were espionage plotlines, and things like that. That's one of the things that I wanted to retain with the series. I feel like we're certainly doing that in the early going, where you have the original four-issue arc, which kind of re-tells Aric's origin story, and it's very historical fiction-meet-sci-fi. But then in the second story arc, we introduce Ninjak, and it's much more of an espionage storyline. I think it's a lot of fun to be able to do that. I think with a lot of characters and a lot of series, they're kind of married to what they are, and it's hard to get outside that box. Here we're going to do it again, where we're going to have sort of a sci-fi epic, which is something we haven't done yet.Interior art from X-O Manowar #9. We're playing with the idea of Aric being this Visigoth who was abducted by aliens from his own time in the early 5th century, a few years before his uncle, who was King Alaric, the actual king of the Visigoths, went and sacked Rome. And Aric missed out on all of that. He had this lifelong adversary in the Roman Empire that he was always battling against, and this hatred of Rome, and what they've done to him and his family, this is the sort of burning fuel that keeps him alive and keeps him persevering in the face of his alien imprisonment. To get back to Earth, and 16 centuries later, Rome is gone, he has no outlet for that. Basically, he's doing what a Visigoth from his time would do, but instead of sacking Rome, he's sacking this new, what he perceives, "empire"-type adversary, which is The Vine, and he's going to take the fight to their homeworld the same way his uncle sacked Rome all those centuries before.
Nrama: That sounds like a story with a lot going on.Interior art from
X-O Manowar #9.Venditti: It's a lot of fun, because you're literally creating an entire culture and an entire world. Cary [Nord]'s working on a lot of that stuff right now; concept designs for what their cities look like, and what their clothing looks like, their architecture, and these kinds of things. So much about comic books is already established continuity, so be able to have a blank slate and just create something like this out of nothing is really a treat.
Nrama: You've worked with a few different artistic collaborators on the book, and Trevor Hairsine is coming in for the two-issue "Planet Death" prelude, before Nord returns to the series. How has that end of the process been for you?
Venditti: What do you say? It's like an embarrassment of riches, to get to work with the guys that Valiant is allowing me to work with, guys like Trevor, and Cary, and Lee Garbett who's working on the final installment of the Ninjak storyline. These guys are all great at what they do.
I don't come from comics. I only started reading them around the year 2000. It wasn't something that I always knew I would do or that I always had planned to write. To find myself in this position a dozen years after I cracked open my first comic book, it's really pretty unexpected and extraordinary. A lot of that credit goes to guys like Warren, and the people at Valiant who are setting me up with these artists who are industry titans. To be able to work with these guys, and see the pages when they come in, it just makes you want to sit down and write more stuff.Interior art from
X-O Manowar #9.Nrama: There is definitely a growing amount of interconnectivity in the Valiant books, so will "Planet Death" have an impact beyond X-O Manowar?
Venditti: Oh yeah, absolutely. It's going to be a big event, not just for X-O Manowar, but for the entire Valiant Universe, in many ways, and probably more ways that we haven't even thought of yet. It's the kind of storyline that's fertile ground for so many things yet to come. Specifically, within X-O, I know what the aftermath of this storyline is going to be, and where things are going to go from there, in the immediate and the long term.
Beyond that, we had all of the writers up at a writers' retreat in early September in New York, so Duane Swierczynski was there from Bloodshot, Josh Dysart from Harbinger, Fred Van Lente from Archer and Armstrong, and myself. You put all those kinds of guys in a room, you just start to feed off each other, you can see how what one guy's doing there can weave over into something over there in another book. That's a large part of what Valiant's trying to do. Part of the reason why we wanted to work for Valiant was because we would have the opportunity to build this interconnected thing from the ground up. That's not an opportunity that really comes along, ever.
Nrama: You mentioned Ninjak a bit — are there plans for the character beyond the current storyline?
Venditti: I think people will see at the end of issue #8, which will be the end of the "Enter Ninjak" storyline, that he's set up with somewhat of a status quo. He will have made some changes throughout the course of the arc in his view on things, as he discovers and learns about the presence of The Vine. There are definite directions for him to go in, all of which we have discussed. Whether or not I'm going to be the one to take him in that direction or not remains to be seen, but I think it's safe to say that Valiant does have some pretty big plans for the character, otherwise they wouldn't have had me introduce him in X-O the way they did.Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!