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Tag: The Surrogates

New Comics! And a Look at X-O Manowar #1

A couple quick notes:

First, an apology to all the folks who commented on the last few posts I put up. I had the settings emailing the wrong address for moderation, so I was unaware they were waiting for me to OK. I’ve updated the settings, so that shouldn’t happen again.

Second, for someone who’s kicked the superhero habit, I sure have a big pile of books on my desk. Take a look:

Some of these are comp copies, some are more indie-style comics that I’ve bought. I have bought a few superhero comics to sample, as well. The real difference is that it took about three months for the stack to get this big, when it used to take two or three weeks’ worth.

X-O Manowar #1

Anyway, there’s some interesting stuff in here. Let’s start with X-O Manowar from the revived Valiant Entertainment. This is the first release from a publisher with ambitions toward making a dent in the superhero audience dominated by Marvel and DC. It’s a polished comic book, but it also is aggravating in that it’s a great example of everything I think superhero comics are doing wrong these days.

This is an extra-size issue, with 29 pages of story in it. The story, by Robert Venditti of The Surrogates fame, is done well but it’s awfully decompressed. It’s an origin story, of course, that is essentially the same as it was in the original X-O series, though with a lot more details added in.

For those who didn’t read the original Valiant series, this series follows a barbarian from 402 AD named Aric who is abducted by these spider-like aliens and held in suspended animation for centuries before escaping to present-day Earth with possession of the aliens’ greatest weapon, a living suit of armor.

The biggest problem is not enough happens in this issue. We get lots of backstory on Aric and the problems he has in the fifth century, but we get barely a glimpse of the alien suit and we never get to see Aric wear it, use it or any hint that the action will move to the present day. In short, we get almost no idea what the series is going to be about or even what its style will be once we get out of the origin. Plus, I’m not certain what the story gains from all the extra info about Aric’s past. He’s essentially supposed to be Conan in Iron Man’s armor, and a historically accurate portrayal of the fifth century seems unnecessary.

The art by Cary Nord and Stefano Gaudiano is clear and well-drafted, with good coloring from Moose Baumann. But it also doesn’t stand out as particularly stylish or energetic, and that is perhaps a function of the pacing of the story itself.  

In contrast, the original X-O Manowar #1 (Feb. 1992) begins with Aric’s escape from the spider aliens, and shows his arrival on Earth, his first encounters with modern people and technology, and he gets to use the suit a lot to kick some alien ass. That issue also was drawn by the outstanding Barry Windsor-Smith, so it has some real flair to the art and drama to the storytelling that a lot of the contemporary Valiant titles lacked.  Even looking at X-O Manowar #0 (Aug. 1993), it manages to tell in a single issue the story that this new series only gets started on, with a lot more action. It boasts some early Joe Quesada art, and also is a particularly nice-looking book. The hardcover edition that came out a few years back is a great way to check these stories out. It also includes an early issue of the series penciled by Steve Ditko.

I doubt I’ll be back for another installment of this book — it’s just easier to wait and pick up the trade if I hear this turns out well. I am interested in Harbinger #1, as that was my favorite of the original Valiant titles and I’m curious to see if it’s any good. I do hope Valiant does well — it would be good to have another solid publisher in the business, especially if they are successful enough to eventually branch out with some new characters, titles and series.

‘Pariah’ slickly covers familiar ground

Pariah is indicative of the current state of indie comics: It’s a high-concept story that’s slickly produced and has some kind of movie ambition and/or Hollywood connection or talent behind it.

First, the book itself. Pariah #1 starts with Brent Marks, who we’re told is a “Vitro,” which makes him superhumanly smart. Completely isolated from other Vitros, he lives a miserable teenage life in Ohio, where he can’t meet girls at high school and hates his brain-dead parents. But he’s also got this idea for a working interplanetary spaceship and has started building components for it in his room. Then, an explosion at a weapons research laboratory that employs a large number of Vitros releases a deadly toxin in the air, making Vitros persona non grata. Brent runs afoul first of some bullies, then of the law and is captured for what is certain to be a nefarious purpose.

The high concept here is the idea of Vitros, which is based on real world research that indicates genes can be modified before birth — i.e., in vitro — to achieve certain genetic outcomes. I wish this had been explained in the book itself, though. I learned this fact from the press kit that came with it.

(As a total aside, this was one of the best press kits I’ve ever seen for a comic book release. It included several professional-quality press releases, bios of the creators, a bookmark, printouts of reviews, a hand-written note from the publicist, a copy of the book and even synopses of upcoming issues.)

The book is well done on every level. The writing is good, with snappy and believable dialog and instantly recognizable characters. The story is by Aron Warner, who was a producer on DreamWorks Animation’s hugely successful Shrek series, and Philip Gelatt, an up-and-coming comics writer.

The art is excellent, which is no surprise since it’s by Brett Weldele of The Surrogates fame. The production values are top-notch. And it’s a nice book overall.

Which leaves me thinking about the big picture, and that’s where i wonder where this is all going and whether it’s going to be worth the ride. The synopses of issues 2-4 indicate they will be very similar, introducing other Vitros in other parts of the country while undoubtedly slowly advancing an overall plot. The series is meant to run 12 issues, so I imagine there’s a finale in mind along with plans for an eventual movie or TV version.

But the biggest problem is this effort still feels incredibly familiar. The troubled teens with powers has been done to death in comics from X-Men to Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan’s Demo, which is the comic Pariah reminds me of most.

The good news is that this is loads better than any other stealth movie as comic book idea I’ve seen in ages. The bad news is that for all its slickness, it doesn’t offer anything new or different enough for me to want to come back for issue two. And that’s exacerbated by knowing that the next three issues will mostly introduce three more Vitros and the meat of the plot won’t really get started until at least issue #5. That’s a lot of time and money at $3.99 a pop to ask of an audience.

For more info on this book, including a preview of the first issue, visit www.pariahonline.com.

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