Writer: Robert Venditti
Artist: Robert Gill
Valiant Entertainment

X-O Manowar was the first title published in Valiant’s May 2012 relaunch, a Visigoth kidnapped by aliens who pilots a science-fiction suit of armor. As space opera or classic super heroics, it’s been fine, but the book has stood out in the way it depicts Aric of Dacia’s struggles to adapt to the modern world. He doesn’t understand why he can’t just conquer Romania or punch out his enemies, and given the power of his suit, the book is often capable of making the reader feel like he or she is in a room with a toddler holding a loaded gun. One of the best examples of this was collected in volume 2 of the relaunched book, a four-part story introducing Ninjak to the new Valiant universe. A British ninja with no obvious superpowers outsmarted the man who could fly and exposed a network of alien-human hybrids waiting to take over the world. Since then, X-O and Ninjak have fought against and alongside each other in the pages of Unity. Now, in The Kill List, Part 1, the pair of headstrong men reunite to finish what they’d started, and it pulls all the best parts of 2012 into this week’s pages.

The book opens with a terrific tense action sequence that looks like a terrorist attack until Ninjak reveals that it’s part of a response to a global awakening of alien sleeper agents. In flashback, X-O grudgingly sits with the cocky ninja and Alexander, the sleeper with a conscience he met in Ninjak’s introductory arc, as Unity advisor Neville Alcott outlines a plan to use subterfuge and spycraft to protect the world from alien “plantings.” Our hero can’t really do subtle, so his old frenemy in purple is on board to walk him through espionage lessons. Though the scene appears more calm than the attacks of the cold open, Robert Venditti gives Manowar the excellent dialogue, “If I seem rude, it is only because I do not wish to look away from the assassin. He has ways of killing everyone in this room. It is his nature.” Aric has grown so much over the course of this series, shouldering the responsibility of his rule and learning modern temperance, and bringing him back into contact with Ninjak is a great way to mark that development. The rest of the issue continues this fascinating relationship of respect and fear each hero has for the other.

In contrast, Venditti has a running storyline that Aric and his Visigoth people are learning to live with people they had never expected to. In the arc collected in the ninth trade paperback, X-O Manowar saved a small portion of the alien Vine race and has agreed to let them share the farmland his countrymen have made their new home. While this barbarian king swallows his pride and allows the Armorines (antagonists of volume eight of his series) to help him maintain peace between the humans and the creatures who had kept them as slaves, a young boy in a cardboard “armor” invites a young Vine boy to play “X-O Manowar versus the bad guys” with him, and the friendship they forge should warm the heart of any invested reader.

Valiant knows how to do great buddy stories. Archer & Armstrong (soon to be relaunched as A&A) and Quantum & Woody blend action and comedy, and team books like Harbinger and Unity show heroic camaraderie. But X-O as a character is more interesting as a king displaced in time, and the decision to let his team-up be about tension and responsibility allows this book to go thematic places no other Valiant title can reach. Fans of X-O Manowar and Ninjak are in for a treat as these two roll toward this year’s landmark X-O Manowar #50.

Next: Valiant Teases 2016 Events

X-O Manowar 43 comes out Wednesday, January 6, from Valiant Entertainment.