After acting as the flagship title in Valiant Entertainment's revival in 2012, X-O Manowar is ending with this week's #50, and with it writer Robert Venditti's uninterrupted four-year, 56-issue run with the character.
But what does that mean for X-O Manowar's future at Valiant, let alone Venditti's? Newsarama spoke with the writer about this big week for him and his Valiant charge, the details about this week's final issue, and where he - and Aric - will go next.
Newsarama: First, Rob, congratulations on reaching Issue #50 of X-O Manowar – and in reality, your 56th consecutive issue writing about Aric and his famed XO suit. How does it feel to reach this milestone in your career?
Robert Venditti: Writing 56 issues of a single series isn’t something you get a chance to do very often. Coming into my first monthly series with X-O Manowar, I feel really fortunate to have been able to stay with the character for that long and do the type of long-form storytelling that you dream about when taking on a job like this. I’m happy to have been able to see it through and add so much, not just to the character but the Valiant Universe. Ultimately, that’s the best part of doing these kind of comics. Even when you’re off a book or off a character, you leave a legacy behind. Future writers can pick up aspects of my run and play with them. I’m looking forward to reading the next chapter in Aric’s adventures.
Nrama: I have to ask: You helped launch the Valiant Universe in 2012 with X-O Manowar. Why was now the right time for you to step down? Are you handing the reins off to someone else, or is the title getting shelved for the time being?
Venditti: You’ll get the answers to some of those questions in Issue #50. Some of it isn’t for me to reveal. As far as why now felt like the right time, it just felt like the story had come to a natural conclusion. Aric going from the brash warrior of a people who didn’t have a homeland of their own, to an established king with a homeland - along with a change in his temperament and the type of leader he is - it felt like we had fleshed that out the way we wanted to.
And 50 makes a nice number. It’s nice to say you did 50 issues.
Nrama: I understand writing a character who is not your own creation can be a challenge in terms of understanding who they are while still making them your own - much in the same way a musician will cover a previously-released song. You want to add your signature to the original.
Who would you say Aric was when you were first “inherited” him, and what would you say some of your signature contributions to the character have been?
Venditti: He was a brash warrior: Young, very good with a sword, overly confident, and never really thought about intellectual questions like "Why am I fighting this battle?", "Is there a better way to fight this battle?", or "Is there a way we wouldn’t have to fight this battle at all?". I think as we watched him throughout this series, he became someone who’s still a very accomplished warrior and will fiercely protect what is his, but he doesn’t always have that same knee-jerk reaction toward combat. He becomes almost a peacemaker toward the end of the series, which is where I think Commander Trill becomes such a great antagonist for him. In a lot of ways, Trill became who Aric was; this guy without a homeland who was ready to fight first and take off heads to make it happen. It was nice to show Aric transition from being that guy to having to oppose someone like that.
Nrama: I noticed we see some of that at the end of your story -the comparison of both the two characters as well as the reflection of who Aric was and then became.
Now, we’ve spoken a number of times in the past, and I know you’ve mentioned how these characters will take on a life of their own. Are there aspects of Aric that were especially challenging for you to write over the years?
Venditti: Aric becoming a family man, a husband and father like what we saw in Book Of Death: The Fall Of X-O Manowar, as opposed to the young man we saw at the beginning of the series. I didn’t really plan for that as much because those aren’t generally the relationships you see a lot in comics. The characters tend to be permanent and you don’t want to alter the basic DNA of a character to that extent. The wedding issue, which I thought was a crazy idea when Valiant first approached me with it, became one of my favorite issues that I’ve done, for what I was able to do with the character and his relationship with Saana. That aspect has been what’s surprised me the most.
Nrama: So, X-O Manowar #50 has four separate stories: one from you and what is effectively your greatest hits of artistic contributors, as well as stories from Fred Van Lente and Clayton Henry, Jody Houser and Javier Pulido, and then Matt Kindt and Tomas Giorello wrapping things up.
Was it difficult to share your “swan song” with others? Why opt for the anthology approach versus one final epic issue?
Venditti: It wasn’t difficult, as we’ve done that before with the 25th anniversary issue and the X-O Manowar Annual. Jody, Fred, and Matt are great writers, and I’m happy to share a book with them anytime. As for why go with the anthology format, that’s a question for Valiant.
Nrama: Let’s look at your story now. We’re seeing what appears to be yet another “end of the world” scenario with the Torment wreaking havoc after having seemingly consumed X-O Manowar.
Yet, we come to find they’ve actually come to give and not take. Can you reconcile the actions we see versus what Aric comes to discover during his journey into the Torment?
Venditti: I think the Torment in a lot of ways represent where Aric was. They’re a dying culture, they know they’re dying, and their numbers have dwindled down to these last seven. Everything they’ve ever done and everything they’ve ever experienced is going to die with them if they don’t find someone to impart all of that knowledge and experience to. Their entire existence, as cosmic and wondrous as it is, is going to evaporate. When they land on Earth, they’re stuffing people into their chests and absorbing them, but they’re desperately searching for a way to not disappear from the universe’s memory. From Aric’s perspective it seems violent and world-ending, but from the Torment’s perspective it’s the last desperate grasp at survival and a continuation of their species in some form. I find them to be deeply sympathetic characters.
Nrama: Speaking of a sort of moment of stories drawing to a close... as the issue begins to wrap up, there is a panel at the end of your story where Aric is leaving the Priest and the rest of the Vine to New Loam. The discussion leads towards their good-byes with Aric saying “I very much look forward to returning one day” while the Priest responds by asking “Are you leaving us?”
How much of this was Rob Venditti speaking to his fans?
Venditti: I don’t know if I would put it on that one line in particular, but definitely throughout the whole issue I wanted to give readers a final chapter that would allow me to say goodbye to them. These readers have been with me for years. That idea was a lot of what went behind the structure of the story, bringing in Doug Braithwaite, Cary Nord, Diego Bernard, Rafa Sandoval, and Robert Gill as well. It was a chance to say goodbye to the creators I’ve worked with on this journey. It’s definitely something that runs through all 38 pages.
Nrama: Of course, this isn’t really the end of Aric and the X-O Manowar, as we see in Matt Kindt’s short story. What clues can you provide us about the future of X-O Manowar and its title character?
Venditti: I do know what the plans are..... I’ve done what I’m going to do with the character and my time on the book. I’m handing him off to the next writer. I look forward to just being a reader, being surprised, and experiencing it monthly just like everybody else does.
Nrama: As you prepare to ride off into the blue and gold sunset, Rob, what’s next for you at Valiant?
Venditti: We will be finishing up Wrath of the Eternal Warrior with issue #14 in December, which will mark the end of the story that I wanted to tell with the character. After that, stay tuned!